Katherine Li Johnson
Interviewed by holland via Facetime in Tunisia
Where do you live, what do you do?
Right now I feel like a Bedouin of warmer climates, like I just spent 2016 living in India and Bali, and the last month hopping between Los Angeles and Miami. I work with fashion and retail brands, mostly focusing on how not to fuck it up too badly in Asia.
Can you explain transient happiness to us?
It's a mental state where you just enjoy the ride. Realize that moments pass quickly so be present, don't let ego get in the way, keep your mind open and find happiness in constant curiosity.
What excites you about the city you’re in today?
I'm in Los Angeles. The manufacturing culture is special - everything from the big factories and dye houses to young people making things like leather sandals in a shared studio space on North Broadway. There are a lot of interesting neighborhoods: late night food and karaoke in K-town is a comfort zone, I like going into the herbal shops in Chinatown and getting yelled at in Cantonese, the little Thai malls on Hollywood are fun to cruise around. I also like the loud and heavy Persian shabbat dinners where everyone's talking over each other in Farsi, and the megalomania of some personalities that you meet here. There's a humor to the polarity of LA.
What do you think we’d like to know about you?
Wild cross cultural chaos - my dad's from New York and my mom is from Hong Kong, my paternal grandfather was Swedish, paternal grandmother was from South Carolina, and her second husband was an Ashkenazi from the Bronx. The family stories are all over the place, they range from escaping German occupied Poland to heated Mahjong competitions in Wan Chai flats in the 60s. I grew up in Queens, New York in the 90s, so when I'm back there it's like Air Maxes, the J train, and bachata on blast all day. I lived in Tokyo for six years. I speak Japanese, Mandarin, and Cantonese really badly, but I'm always practicing.
If you could change one thing about your industry what would it be and why?
Well, I mean, let's think about the impact that the garment industry has on our environment - all the water waste, the pollution, the transportation cost, and the aggregate of how this affects our planet. Make less, make it better, treat your factory workers well. I think young people understand this and new brands are trying something different; but the wastefulness of the industry is so indoctrinated into the status quo that it's a hard sell for current executives, as well as consumers. We all just want to buy and collect more shit, it's like a global hoarding problem.
Who do you think is changing the game?
Cyrill Gutsch at Parley for the Oceans is always coming up with a project or scheme to reframe the conversation about marine conservation. Ryland Englehart and Lauren Tucker at Kiss the Ground are exploring a thoughtful perspective on regenerative agriculture. What Bryan Johnson is doing with brain function at Kernel is blowing my mind, and I like the cultural high-low bridge that Aaron Bondaroff is building with Know Wave. But then also I feel like right now it's less about individuals and more about idea sharing and the internet and thinking globally. The entrepreneurial bubbles and youth culture in places like Bangkok and Seoul and Mumbai are on my radar because they're shifting what's socially acceptable in deeply rooted cultures. There's so much energy moving around right now, I feel like we should throw this question over to a subreddit and let the nerds go wild.
Funniest thing you’ve seen on the Internet?
Right now I'm really feeling Kalen Hollomon's instagram.
What do we need more / less of tomorrow?
More tolerance, more thoughtfulness, more people that care about math and science and art and music, definitely more turmeric and ginger shots. Less narcissism, less people in line at Whole Foods, less traffic on like every LA freeway.
What do you want to do next?
Eat a big bowl of curry noodle soup; I think I'm catching a cold.
What would you like to know about us?
I want to hear about your biggest fears and travel plans.