Illustrator Teddy Kang on shifting into the fashion industry and learning to see where life takes you

Art director, designer and illustrator Teddy Kang has had an eventful couple of years. Since the pandemic, he's moved from Toronto back to China, working in new creative fields and rediscovering his routes as an illustrator. We met him to hear how his work and life have evolved.

We're big fans of Teddy Kang here at Creative Boom. Previously, we've looked at how his delightful illustrations literally burst with colour and life, but it's been a few years since we caught up with him. During that time, his life was turned upside down due to the global pandemic, and he shifted his creative focus. And he's got plenty of advice for people thinking of doing the same.

Like pretty much everyone else on the planet, Teddy's career was thrown a curve ball in 2020. Having worked as a freelance illustrator in Toronto, Canada, for nearly six years, he decided to move back to China, where his family has always lived. And thanks to a twist of fate, he soon landed a full-time position as a senior director and creative lead in the fashion industry.

Thanks to this new position, Teddy worked with some of the biggest names in luxury fashion, including Cartier, Gucci, Givenchy and Piaget. He's even collaborated with popular celebrities, top-notch commercial directors and photographers, as well as giants in the fashion industry. "It's been a wild ride for the past three years!"

With Covid-19 having wound down, Teddy is beginning to take on more illustration projects again as he transitions back to the profession on a part-time basis. In doing so, he can continue exploring advertising and fashion as an art director and creative while pursuing his first artistic passion. "It's been quite a journey!"

A career change into the fashion industry wasn't based on a whim, though. It's a field that he has long been enamoured with and drawn towards. However, it was never his goal to work in the sector. "It was all a happy accident and unexpected," he tells Creative Boom. "My work caught the eye of a French creative director doing big things at an international French-based advertising agency in Shanghai's office."

"Funny thing is, I didn't have a fashion-related portfolio at all," he adds. "My focus was more on FMCG and lifestyle. But this creative director had trust in me from the start. He saw potential and convinced me to give it a shot. I've always believed that life's a journey full of surprises, things that don't always go according to plan. So, I took the chance, and to my surprise, it was a fantastic ride.

"I found myself perfectly competent for the job, loving every moment and giving it my absolute best. Life's full of twists, and this was definitely one of the best."

Despite not being armed with a relevant portfolio, Teddy was not phased about stepping into the fashion industry. Partly because he does not believe there is a clear line that separates creativity in various creative fields.

"One day you can be an illustrator, the next day a designer, and three months later an art director, and a year down the line, you might switch back to being a graphic designer," he says. "It's all part of creativity, and it's the creative mindset that matters."

"However, I have noticed differences in how I ideate and execute my creative work when transitioning between roles, particularly from being an illustrator to a fashion creative. The process of creating fashion commercials is way more crazy and complex compared to working on a full-page illustration. Numerous people are involved in a fashion project, and if one thing goes wrong, everything can go wrong.

"Therefore, I always have to make sure with the team that there are zero mistakes from the initial concept and ideation to the presentation, on-set shoot, and the official release of the commercial."

This workflow means that in Teddy's role as an art director and creative lead, his responsibilities vary from day to day. "They go from developing the big idea and concept to selecting models, presenting ideas to clients, styling celebrities, and overseeing shoots with directors and photographers, plus supervising the post-production process," he explains. "All of these aspects fall under my duties. Not an easy job, I would say."

Not easy at all. And of all these responsibilities, Teddy says his biggest challenge is the constant uncertainty. "Clients can change their minds daily and give feedback that can be tricky to interpret," he reveals. "Sometimes, they don't even know what they want themselves.

"Celebrity choices can shift from one day to the next, and tight deadlines are the norm, especially here in China, where everything moves lightning-fast. We might have to whip up new creative assets just a day after getting feedback on the previous version. And when we're out shooting, time is often super limited, so we can end up looking crazily dishevelled. But we've got to stay cool and organised.

"I've tackled this challenge by simply getting used to it. There's no secret trick – it's all about adapting to the fast and unpredictable pace of the fashion world as you go along."

But as you can see from Teddy's recent illustrations, it's not all fashion. Food plays an increasingly significant part in his work as he has seen an influx of clients from the fast-moving consumer goods industry. "They reached out to me before and during the pandemic," says Teddy. "Even magazines have commissioned me to create food-related illustrations."

Regardless of his industry, Teddy has a very straightforward approach to taking on a client's assignment. "First, I thoroughly read through the brief, or in the case of editorial work in magazines, the story," he says. "If there are any questions, I discuss them with the assigned art director and designer to ensure clarity.

"Then, I dig deeper into the ideas and concepts. Once I have a clear vision, I start sketching. I usually create more than two sketches for the client to choose from, along with a detailed explanation of my ideas.

"After the client approves the sketches, I proceed to the final stage, and then it's a matter of submitting the project and enjoying a well-deserved rest with a smile! That's if I'm lucky enough and the client does not need further revisions."