The founder of kattoe, a home-grown apparel brand, says their mission is to turn the world into cats. On their website, you’ll find t-shirts and tote bags with the Nissin boy as a cat, beloved fast food mascots as cats and even Vincent Van Gogh as a cat. We sit down with kattoe’s founder, Max Chionh, to find out more.
Can you tell us a little about yourself?
Hey there, my name is Max Chionh and I’m the founder of kattoe. I also co-founded MAAD Creatives, a graphic design agency with my wife where I am the Creative Director.
Who is behind kattoe?
I am the only one involved with kattoe – for now! From idea, to illustration, to print, to mail – just a passionate one-man-show.
How did kattoe come about?
In the design industry, the final product is what emerges after many meetings and revisions following input by the client. Creative control is surrendered at the door since the client has the ultimate say. Working in this industry for more than 15 years can be a tad draining as you feel less and less inspired.
Kattoe started out as an outlet for my ideas and my passion for design and cats.
Is kattoe a full-time gig or is it just one of the things you do?
It’s both a passion project and a sideline. It also helps to occupy any lulls there are in my schedule, although the lulls are lessening thanks to my increasingly mischievous 19 month old toddler.
What does the name ‘kattoe’ mean?
As the brand takes inspiration from Japanese culture, the initial idea stemmed from the word ‘catto’ – which is the way the Japanese would say “cat”. I tagged on an “e” behind so it sounds like “a cat’s toes”. Because toe beans!
What was it like setting up shop during the height of the pandemic last year?
As this was a ‘passion project’ in which I did not have a lot of time for, I was not comfortable investing too much financially. So, I launched a Kickstarter project sometime in October 2019 with 5 designs to choose from.
Unfortunately, the Kickstarter failed and I set it aside.
When the pandemic hit, it took a toll on our agency business. We suddenly had a lot more time on our hands. That was what led to kattoe’s official launch.
It’s obvious that you very much approve of cats. Can you tell us how you came to be in favour of all things feline?
Growing up, I had always wanted a dog for a pet, but things changed along the way.
In my late teens, a stray cat started walking into my house on a regular basis, which was on the 8th floor. I started feeding it, which led to even more visits. Eventually, my mum decided she wanted to keep it and we named it Jessie.
Years after Jessie passed on, my sister-in-law informed me of a stray kitten she was fostering and asked if I wanted to adopt it. I jumped at the opportunity and named him Olly. It’s been about 10 years, and Olly is still living with me.
You say your inspiration comes from all sources. Do you have a growing list of things you’d like to eventually turn into cats?
The list is virtually endless. So little time, so many things to turn into cats! I have some designs that are finished that I’d like to revisit and revise, since I’m not 100% satisfied with them. The time it takes for me to launch a design is pretty substantial.
Some cat-themed boutiques also have products for cats. For example, Monmoncats has scratching boards and food bowls. Are you considering adding cat products in the future??
I am not entirely sure what the future holds for kattoe at the moment, to be honest. I would love to expand to more products, but only products that allow me to inject some creativity. I would not sell a 3rd-party product with just the kattoe logo on it, which means I would have to design the product or at least design a print that goes on it.
What is your process like? Must there always be coffee, a certain kind of music? Are you most productive during a certain time of day?
My daily routine used to include a morning dose of black coffee without sugar. Unfortunately, I had to drop the habit due to some sensitivity issues after I developed asthma. I work best at night but only because the office is quieter, which means there are less distractions.
You place an emphasis on the fact that your products are made from 100% organic and printed direct-to-garment. What was it like trying to find a supplier that works for you, that is also eco-friendly?
I try my best to be environmentally friendly in everything I do. Kattoe’s adult tees are 100% organic, which adds to the cost of production – another reason why my cost is so high! However, I see value in balancing all that. In Singapore, we seem to have adopted a buy-and-throw culture. If clothes are too cheap, people tend to buy more without thinking.
This leads to increased production and tons of wastage.
Tell us more about Kattoe Design’s collaboration with Salipuma!
We started following each other on Instagram as we liked each other’s work. One day, I saw one of her designs – Judith and the Head of Holofernes – where she transformed the subject of a painting into a cat. I realised that it fits kattoe’s concept of ‘turning the world into cats’ perfectly!
I commented on her work and said it would look great on a tee, so she suggested that we print her illustrations on kattoe tees. So far, those tees include ‘The Scream’ by Edvard Munch, ‘The Milkmaid’ and ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’ by Johannes Vermeer, ‘Self-Portrait’ by Van Gogh, and ‘Judith and the Head of Holofernes’ by Gustav Klimt.
What are some of your most popular products?
Salipuma’s ‘Scream’, ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’ and ‘Self-Portrait’ are quite popular. For kattoe’s original designs; ‘CQYD (Chu Qian Yi Ding)’, ‘Catzilla’, ‘Chinese Vampire’, ‘Paws’ and ‘Kanagawa Wave’ are our best-sellers.
Finally, what would you like Singaporeans to know about running your own creative business?
Every business requires stamina.
It’s less about the big things you do ‘in the moment’, but the small things you do on a regular basis – similar to a relationship. There are many businesses that thrive by doing simple things well. You may have a ‘big’ idea, but no business survives without the little things and the stamina to keep doing it.
The best way to achieve this is to work with others. Finding the right people to work with, in my opinion, is more important than an creative idea you can come up with.
After all, you can choose to be an island, but if you can’t build a boat, you won’t get anywhere.
That’s all for this week’s #LocalBrandSPOTLight!