HEY, YOU’RE COOL! NGOCKHANH NGO
“In 10 years you can still put on something that I put together”
Ngockhanh Ngo might be the American Dream made real. The child of a Vietnamese war prisoner who came here as a toddler and was raised in the projects, he’s started his own viral brand and broken into corporate America. His personal clothing line, Made by Ngo, is how he made his name, but he took a break for a design position at Urban Outfitters. Now the proud product of Columbus, Ohio, is poised to make a comeback with an expanded vision. You can also check him out on Instagram @madebyngo and @realohioplayer. We caught him on the phone to talk about Dipset, Ohio State, Braxton Miller and more. Read up:
To start, how do you pronounce your brand?
Just “Made by N-G-O”. Ngo is my last name, pronounced “know”.
So where are you originally from? Is fashion something that you grew up loving? How did that all come to be?
I was born in Vietnam and came to America when I was like 4. My dad was in the Vietnam War, he was a prisoner of war. So eventually the U.S. had a program where they’d have people come to America. I grew up in the projects with nothing. But growing up my mom always made sure I looked presentable when I went to school. As I got older and started hustling, I just kind of made things work for myself. I always had an eye for fashion and a thing for sneakers.
So what was your first piece you made that you wanted to release for your brand?
My first hat. It was called a floral America hat. So pretty much it was a hat with the flag with floral print. I put it out for $65 and it sold out in like 3 days at a boutique called Milk Bar in Columbus.
What’s the connection between Dipset and Cam’ron and Columbus?
Growing up in high school Dipset was like something that you wanted to be a part of. Even in high school, I was wearing Jeff Hamilton’s and shit.But Cam’ron literally used to come to Columbus. I remember I used to go to this spot called “The Hoop” to play ball with my friends and one time he was hooping with a couple of his boys. So Cam’ron, believe it, or not represented Columbus better than even Lil Bow Wow. He even once said, “I be in Columbus, I never seen Bow Wow.” It was like a really big thing, especially because at the time Dipset was on fire. Everyone wanted to dress like Juelz Santana or Cam’ron. When I made the “I Feel Like Killa” shirt, it was getting big and out of hand, but what I mentioned on the back of the shirt made it stand out. It was natural because I was such a big Cam’ron fan: “I get it in Ohio,” “Paid in full.” I got a lot of influence from Kanye’s “I Feel Like Kobe” shirt. It touched me and I wanted to show that I really have love for Cam and The Diplomats and what they really did for Ohio.
Tell me about your design process.
I design everything myself. From getting ideas, to sketching, to graphics. I also cut and sew. That’s another big chapter that I wanna move forward to. I do pretty much everything. The concepts… everything. I even model my own products.
What’s your biggest inspiration?
My favorite designer is Ralph Lauren. I like to keep things very classic. Like in 10 years you can still put on something that I put together and it will still look cool.
Tell me about the “Only Hustlers In Ohio” pieces… It was pretty big.
It was a big thing. It was dope because it was obviously an acronym for “OHIO” but it just clicked. It was dope for me because I travel a lot and I wanted to create something cool that represented where I’m from but in a cool fashionable way. I just wanted people to know that Ohio has cool people it’s not just farms and cows or whatever.
Ohio State University is obviously more than just a school to you guys. What’s the connection?
With Ohio State, when people bring up Buckeye nation it’s honestly really real. In 2016 I went to a bar in Tokyo where there were lots of tourists. My boy casually mentioned he had just graduated from Ohio State, next thing you know some dude in front of him was like, “Yo! I graduated from Ohio State too!” In Columbus, the Buckeyes mean so much because we don’t have an NFL team, we don’t have a NBA team. Cleveland got the Cavs, the Browns, the Indians. Columbus only has the Buckeyes.
You have a lot of former Ohio State players that are now in the NFL wearing your stuff like Braxton Miller and Ezekiel Elliot.
I’ve known Braxton since he was in the 8th grade. I feel like he’s the best quarterback they’ve ever had and not just because I know him. With Ezekiel, I’ve never been one to go out of my way to be on some dickriding type shit. I’m all about building organic relationships. People started to know me because I was really tight with Braxton. So I just started meeting people through genuine relationships.
So where were you when you saw the Braxton Miller spin move against Virginia Tech?
I was in Tokyo and had to wake up at 8 a.m. to watch the game. I was gonna go to a bar but was too tired, so I streamed it on my Macbook. During that time Braxton was going through a lot of shit, but got a lot of redemption with that game. I texted him, “Yo, your fuckin shit is on fire right now bro!”. He posted a photo right after the game and got 36,000 likes on it. I told him to take full advantage of this momentum. So I made a highlight video of the spin moveand he posted it literally an hour after the game and it went crazy. Then 2 Chainz posted it, all these celebrities reposted it. It was a big part of his journey that year. I remember the day I signed my contract to work for Urban Outfitters, I was doing design over there, I hit him up. I’m like “Yo, I just got my contract, now it’s your time to get yours”. We were just kind of feeding off of each other’s energy. That’s what’s dope about having homies that are doing things, it’s not about competing or anything. It’s encouraging and feeding off of each other. Now he’s with the Houston Texans.
What was it like being at Urban Outfitters?
I interviewed with them twice for assistant design positions in wovens and landed a job when I was in Tokyo, so I moved to Philly. The journey with Urban was kind of crazy. Just being recognized for doing your own little thing. At the end of the day, my goal was to be able to work for a corporate company that fit my aesthetic. But transitioning to Philly it was kind of a lot. I had a shop in Columbus that I couldn’t manage while I was in Philly. I wanted to focus on my career and took a break from my personal stuff. Now I’m doing my own thing but I got to see how the design world in corporate America. There were days when I was happy and there were days where I wasn’t.
What’s next? Keeping it more home and street or expanding to higher fashion?
I wanna take it to the next level. I have friends in the industry and I know the cost and what it takes. You have to have a budget… it’s so much more. Really get into doing runways, putting dope pieces out. That’s definitely something I would love to see happen. Virgil Abloh, who started Been Trill and took off with Off-White, is a person I look up to. Went from a graphic t-shirt to having Off-White. I’m confident as a designer and putting out real pieces. I’m also realistic and know it’s gonna take time. I’m planning to put out a private label, like a brand under a new name. I have plans for putting pieces out soon, I’m just kind of at a point where I want it to happen when I’m ready. I have something special I’m working on that will be coming out. I’m working on vintage pieces, I’ve been collecting a lot of vintage items. I wanna continue doing MadebyNgo. I’ll always love doing Ohio things but there’s more to me than just that and I’m ready to do it.