October 27, 2014

M.R.K.T. is about the thriving urban streets of the world, where creativity radiates, unconventional ideas are tested, and uniqueness is encouraged. The brand was founded in 2010 by a Harvard trained architect as a way to challenge conventional fashion trends. By creating bags and accessories inspired by architectural concepts of clean and pure forms derived from function, structure, and experimental geometry, the aim is to push the boundaries of design and function.


Tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do. My name is Tom Pen. I am a Harvard trained New York architect who moved to Shanghai 11 years ago. While running my firm there, I started a bag brand called M.R.K.T. four years ago. I use architectural principles to design our bags using unconventional animal friendly materials.  Our main material is high quality industrial felt. The felt bag idea is partially inspired by Joseph Beuys’ sculpture “felt suit”.

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What are some recent, upcoming or current projects you are working on? We are always experimenting new materials, shapes, and functions for our innovative bags. I am now working on our FW15 line with our in-house design staff.

How did your interest in art or fashion begin? In high school, when I learned that there are no rules in art, I immediately took interest. Of course I found out later that there are indeed rules…

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#1 fashion don’t? I hate Tevas and Crocs, other than that, just not be “not conscious” about how you present yourself to the world. Personally, I haven’t wore a pair of jeans since 1994, but that’s my personal rebellion against grunge at that time. I may wear jeans again, but for sure none with holes in them.

If you had to explain your work or brand to a stranger, what would you say? We make urban lifestyle bags that respect traditional forms but use unconventional materials and vibrant colors. Our primary material is industrial felt. I love this material because it’s colorful and it gives our bags a wonderful 3-dimensional quality and clean cut details. Aside from its aesthetic attributes, industrial felt is great because it’s very light, water resistant, anti-mildew, anti-static, and it’s recyclable. We use only the best quality felt from our German supplier: finest fibers and most dense fabrication. Our use of heat treated felt is unique in the world bag making.

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What is your process like? We do everything in-house: from design to pattern making (with help from laser cutters), to mass production, to sales. Although we are a small company, we insist on full controlled vertical integration to insure quality, originality, and cost control.

What artists or designers are you interested in right now? Swiss and Spanish Minimalist architects.

What’s your favorite thing about your city? Cheap talent.

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What are your thoughts about the fashion scene in Shanghai? “Fashionistas” in Shanghai for the most part are followers rather than trend setters. There, however, is a revival of 1930’s Shanghai girl look in the clubs these days that is quite appealing. 

What was the last collection you saw that stuck out to you? Not sure. I only remember seeing a women’s trench coat in an Hermes shop window recently that I thought was brilliant.


What is your beverage of choice when working in your studio? Water.

What are you really excited about right now? At work, I am excited about our new collection. Some cool new colors and designs. I am also excited whenever we fix design flaws of previous collections. If non-work related, I am excited about the upcoming football season.

If you hadn’t become a designer what do you think you’d be doing? I would probably be a real estate developer or a flipper.  


What are you listening to right now? Bastille and Chopin Nocturnes.

Can you share one of the best or worst reactions you have gotten as a result of your work? The head of Saatchi & Saatchi Asia bought one of our bags recently.  He loved it so much that he tracked me down and ask me to sign it.

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