Why is this interesting? - The Monday Media Diet with Mark Cho

On fashion, politics, and behavioral economics

I first met Mark Cho (MC) in Hong Kong when I was a customer of his first outpost of the Armoury on Pedder Street. He’s become a good pal, and a person with incredible taste not just in fashion and craftsmanship, but as you’ll see in his MMD, many other things. He’s been sidelined from his typical Hong Kong, London, New York flight migrations (along with many other stops throughout the year), but we caught up with him to learn about how he’s keeping busy. And it is indeed interesting. Enjoy. (CJN)

Tell us about yourself.

My name is Mark Cho, I am passionate about men's style and clothing, particularly of the classic, tailored variety. I'm the co-founder of menswear retailer: The Armoury, based in Hong Kong and New York, and co-owner of Drake's, an English menswear brand. I've been taking care of my two babies for over ten years now and have loved every minute of it. I am also somewhat known as a watch collector and have been in or made various interviews, articles, photographs, and videos in that space. 

Some things that are constantly on my mind: 1.) The concept of hospitality and community within retail, 2.) What goes on in a person's head in the run-up to a purchase, 3.) Where is the world of tailored clothing going and what can I do to stay relevant. 

Describe your media diet. 

This year especially, my media diet has been relatively poor. I used to spend 75% of my year on the road, shuttling between my various stores, operations, and suppliers and I would use the time on the road for reading. This year, I have mostly been in Hong Kong. I have found myself reading less and what I do read is often not particularly significant. Given the duress of the fashion industry this year, my energy has been focused on new ways to present what we do at The Armoury and the conclusion I reached is that video is incredibly important and relatively untapped. I have spent an unexpectedly large amount of time on YouTube, something that I never used to do other than to watch Tiny Desk Concert. I started doing a lot of IGTV bits on my personal account and have recently started putting a lot more effort into our YouTube channel. As part of doing video, we had to teach ourselves how to do everything from building up our equipment set up for video, to lighting, to editing, to presenting on video. It has been quite successful and has definitely moved the needle for the business. Some things I've been watching:

NPR Music, home of Tiny Desk Concerts among other wonderful things - 

Marques Brownlee, current tech news and reviews  

Veritasium, science discovery

DIY Perks, DIY tech and engineering

Forgotten Weapons, I'm not a gun enthusiast by any means but something about these old weapons and the way the presenter talks about them is quite fascinating

Video Game Dunkey, really absurd, funny video game reviews

You might have noticed this list of channels has nothing to do with my job. Anything to do with creativity in a style or clothing sense, I'd rather just deal with in person and with physical items at my fingertips. Right now, video is interesting to me because of its ability to saturate attention in a way that only text, audio, or still images on their own could never do. While I enjoy the content of these channels, I am also fascinated by my own relationship with them. Cynically, I think saturating attention is another word for engagement. 

What’s the last great book you read?

I really enjoyed Between Two Fires by Joshua Yaffa. It's a collection of profiles of Russian people trying to navigate life in Putin's Russia. I am Malaysian Chinese but grew up in the UK and the US. I spent some time living and working in China in the early 2000s and the state is woven into life like nowhere else I've lived, as you might expect from "communism". Reading Between Two Fires, I found many similarities between the Russians profiled and my own experiences with mainland Chinese people. There is always a balance to be struck between how principled you want to be, how wealthy or successful you want to be, and how in jail you want to be. The state is intrinsic to all these choices regardless of who you are. Given Hong Kong's political unrest these last few years, the book offers a glimpse of how people might live under a very different political government. 

What are you reading now?

I try to pick up anything from the field of Behavioural Economics. Thinking, Fast and Slow by Danny Kahneman remains one of my favourite books of all time. I am finally getting around to reading Nudge by Cass Sunstein and Richard Thaler. Thaler was a contemporary of Danny Kahneman and Amos Tversky, the forefathers of Behavioural Economics. While Kahneman covered a great deal of theory, Thaler and Sunstein's book is very much about application, i.e. how to influence people's choices while taking into account their irrationality. It feels very relevant today given Covid, people's reactions to it, and also how they will react to the vaccine as it becomes available.

What’s your reading strategy when you pick up a print copy of your favorite publication?

Just start at the beginning and read to the end. Or ... give up halfway and go back to Instagram.

Who should everyone be reading that they’re not?

I think Colin covered this already but Ametora by David Marx is excellent. Ametora is about the adoption of American style by the Japanese, how Japan has preserved it, and how it has gone on to influence Japanese fashion exports decades later. Aside from the fashion history and Japanese culture aspects of the book, what really interested me was the cozy relationship between brands and the media that was far more symbiotic than what western journalism might have considered acceptable in the past. In a way, it foreshadows what we have today, with a very blurry line between salesmanship and journalism in the social media world. 

What is the best non-famous app you love on your phone? 

Photography is a big part of my life and one of my main cameras is the Ricoh GR III, which I would highly recommend to anybody who enjoys taking photos. There's an app supplied by Ricoh called Image Sync for wirelessly copying images from the camera to the phone. It's janky as hell but it just about works. I like the app because it keeps my Ricoh GR III relevant to my life. I much prefer its images over a phone camera's images but I also appreciate the immediacy of a phone camera. At least with the Image Sync app, I can see results quickly and share them quickly. 

Plane or train?

Train. Shinkansen in Japan is always a pleasure.

What is one place everyone should visit? 

Assuming you are invited: my living room in London. It's very nice. I miss it a lot. 

Tell us the story of a rabbit hole you fell deep into. 

I had a very complicated incident involving purchasing a rare watch only to find out years later it was stolen property and then having it confiscated from me. It's way too long a story for this newsletter but I wrote it up here

Thanks for reading,

Noah (NRB) & Colin (CJN) & Mark (MC) 

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