You may know Eugene Kan as the authority on sneakers – his former role at Hypebeast made him a staple in footwear culture and streetwear. Since then, he co-founded MAEKAN and made Hong Kong home ⏤ a city where it’s paramount to strike a balance between the grind and the things that matter in life. Having grown up in Canada in a small suburban neighborhood, Kan found acceptance on the soccer field. We caught up with him on the nature of competition, evolving perspectives and of course, talked sneakers.
Having grown up playing soccer and then turning professional in Hong Kong, how has your relationship with the sport changed over the years?
Soccer has basically defined and created an identity for me ever since I was a kid. As an Asian kid growing up in rural Alberta and then playing club in Edmonton, it taught me a lot of things that I still really believe in today. For better or for worse, Eugene off the pitch vs. on the pitch are two very different people. I’ve looked back a lot, and probably done some questionable things ⏤ not necessarily as a dirty player, but the way I’ve approached the game on the field, the trash talking, all of it. I was always curious why it was like that. Where did the desire to compete, the anger, the aggression come from? I think part of this was enforced by myself as a kid because for the most part, if I could win on the pitch, I couldn’t have anybody take anything away from me. It was the equalizer for the kid who, on the outside, was usually the lone Asian.
Even now, a lot of the things I do, I feel a need to step it up. If things fuck up, it’s really on me and nobody else. I had a coach in university, Len Vickery, who really instilled a drive to do things at an extremely high level. That’s definitely been something I still think about. I don’t really think he understands the level of impact he’s had on me more than 15 years later.
What drove you to the world of footwear and sneaker culture?
As a kid, I was never fully confident with my abilities, among other things. I felt like footwear was something that could give me a leg up. The technological aspect of design to help improve performance was what drew me in. Whether it was the adidas Predator or Finger-save goalkeeper gloves…As I got deeper into it, the story behind the sneakers, the regional aspect of relevancy, and how it was critical to youth culture really sealed it for me.
“If I could win on the pitch, I couldn’t have anybody take anything away from me. It was the equalizer for the kid who, on the outside, was usually the lone Asian.”
What was it about this particular sect of youth culture that you identified with?
Youths are always looking for that point of differentiation and trying to build clout amongst their friends and social groups. This all happens before we actually figure out what we want to be known for (or at least this was the case for me, anyways). I found myself loving sneakers because of the reactions I’d get from the people around me, but also, it felt very natural because I loved performance footwear anyways. Fashion has this powerful ability to draw people in and communicate something without any words.
How does activity fit into your list of priorities?
The one thing I consistently make time for is to go and play soccer. Barring a business meeting or traveling, I always make time for it. If anything, I’ve recognized that I need to get as much soccer in as possible ⏤ and hopefully at a decent level before other things creep in (aka responsibilities). Health & wellness as a whole has always been something I’ve been big into whether it’s diet, supplementation or just general wellbeing.
Throughout the years, my goals around working out have changed. Having a better diet, I feel that I can do less in the gym, and spend more time doing things I enjoy. I can also maximize my time in the gym with better programming and supplementation.
What do you do to keep your physical and mental states in check?
I’d like to think that years of playing high-level sports has created a relatively high threshold for mental and physical stress. There really isn’t any secret sauce, it’s just pushing yourself on your own terms vs. letting an outside situation dictate your performance. What I mean by that is, if you treat every day like practice, always increasing intensity, volume, whatever it may be, when outside stimulus come into play, then you’ll hopefully be ready.
“Sometimes we have to realize that the ultimate goal is sustainable activity and that commitment trumps inconsistent, individual outcomes.”
In the past, you’ve talked about identifying outwardly as a jock in high school. How do you identify in today’s multi-faceted landscape?
I’m an expert generalist. I try my best to know as much as possible, not necessarily to achieve a level of expertise but more so to hopefully make sense of the connected world we live in. It’s not necessarily an element of digital connectivity, but more so, how do the things in this world interact with each other in seemingly disparate ways.
How does your identity reflect on your wardrobe choices?
I’ve shaved down my wardrobe into essential items that are all black and can be randomly chosen without questioning whether I’ll like them or not. It makes traveling a lot easier and removes some of the cognitive load of deciding what to bring. It’s as simple as a bunch of the same basics from the same brands for underwear, socks, t-shirts; and then one rain jacket, one hoodie, one crewneck sweater, etc. It’s incredibly simple but very efficient.
You were along for the ride when we built LANE EIGHT, how does the term ‘everyday athlete’ resonate with you?
When LANE EIGHT started conceiving this brand, this concept (which of course we helped out with at MAEKAN) made a lot of sense. It definitely resonates more now because my goals have changed since I was younger and playing sports competitively. Sometimes we have to realize that the ultimate goal is sustainable activity and that commitment trumps inconsistent, individual outcomes.
Photos by: Kara Chung