October 4, 2021

“I have a weird job.”

Ask Yena Kim what she does for a living and that’s how she’ll begin as she reaches for her cell phone. “It’s futile to explain what I do,” she tells me over a video chat from her Brooklyn home on a summer morning. “The more I say, the more ridiculous it sounds. I just pull up my Instagram and say, ‘This is my dog. This is what I do.’ There’s always an immediate shock.”

The aforementioned IG account is for Menswear Dog, which showcases her 11-year-old Bodhi. More than 400,000 followers tune in to the Shiba Inu’s page to see him rock mens’ clothing. Whether he’ll be serving face in a vintage chunky turtleneck fit for a brutal winter, throw on a  chic in Saint Laurent biker jacket, or donning a Brooks Brothers blazer fit for a power lunch on Wall Street is anybody’s guess.

Yena’s long-winding path to becoming one of the leaders in the dog influencer space is a unique one, beginning with her childhood. Born in Korea, her family moved to India when she was 7, where she attended boarding school in New Delhi. At home, she owned quite a collection of Earth’s little creatures–birds, turtles, and rabbits. Kim would even bring dogs in from off the street. After a stretch of sadness due to one passing, her father began giving them away without notice once they reached their latter years to avoid young Yena experiencing the hurt again.

Due to India’s regulations, she was only allowed to spend 45 minutes on the Internet daily. She’d use the bulk of it to handle school assignments, then scramble to satisfy her jones for U.S. pop culture–ripping music off Napster and sleuthing out some clips of Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. 

It was no surprise to her friends when she headed to the States for college, choosing to attend New York’s Rochester Institute of Technology to major in Graphic Design at first. But a year and change later Kim opted out, transferring to The Fashion Institute of Technology in the heart of Manhattan. While at FIT she interned at acclaimed fashion houses like Oscar de la Renta, Calvin Klein, and Ralph Lauren, where she landed a full-time role as a Women’s Black Label Beading & Embellishments designer upon graduation in 2011.

A job fresh out of college at arguably the best American fashion brand ever is a dream come true to many. Back then Yena and Bohdi, a 2-year-old pup at the time, would hang out only when her hectic schedule permitted. Throughout our chat, Yena refers to Bodhi as “the love of my life,” cheerily recalling how they met when asked.   

During a FIT schoolday afternoon, Yena visited an Upper East Side pet shop, as she did every so often. She was “possessed” when the tiny Shiba Inu first glanced her way. “His look said, ‘You’re going to take me home.’ I couldn’t leave.” Despite the fact she was totally unprepared to have a dog, Yena left with Bodhi. “I bought everything I needed that day,” she says.  

New York City may be known for its crowded streets, and eventful, sleepless nights. Surprisingly, it can be quite lonely, too. Especially when your family is across the globe. Bodhi helped Yena feel at home away from home. When she’d get back in from a long day at work, there was a bouncing bundle of fur ready to welcome her. But the benefits of their pairing only began there. 

One rainy day she looked over at Bodhi, who was relaxing by her window. “I had menswear laying around,” Kim remembers, “and he was just being his handsome self.” She reached for her phone to snap a few pictures. It was then that Yena had a thought that would flip her life upside down: “What if I put a jacket on him? What would he do?”

She figured Bodhi would scurry away. He didn’t. Instead, “he started giving me all of these angles. I got so excited. I pulled the treats out and it was like a party.” Naturally, she posted her photos to the only forum that mattered back then: Facebook. And the results were, to be frank, humbling. Not because the snaps of Bodhi didn’t get any likes. They got a ton. Actually, the numbers her dog garnered vastly outweighed the amount of attention Yena would get when she posted pics that featured her.  

“The power of dogs,” Yena says through laughter now, “Whoa! I was like, ‘I’ve never gotten that number of likes on anything before. Nobody cares about my personal life.’ But this dog? People were like, ‘Oh, my God!. He’s so handsome! This is so cool!” Those early images of Bodhi in a cardigan and necktie springboarded Yena into action.

Her then-husband immediately set up a Tumblr page and Instagram account. It wasn’t long before GQ featured Bodhi. At the top of 2013, the magazine said he’s got “more style than some of our two-legged friends.” Almost instantly, Yena had two full-time jobs–Fashion designer Monday through Friday from 9-5 and manager to an Internet-famous dog with the remaining time. She and Bodhi suddenly were raking in interview requests and invites to private showings from fashion companies. Big brands began reaching out to her with “free” clothes, hoping that she’d put them on Bodhi. Back then the influencer market was virtually non-existent.

“No one was monetizing their Instagram posts,” Yena says. “This is before legit agencies were doing that. I didn’t even know my dog’s rate.” From the outside, it looked like she was flourishing in two worlds with her Ralph Lauren gig and a dog that was being written about by marquee publications. But she learned quickly: “Getting featured doesn’t mean you can pay your rent.”

Even with no sure path of how to turn her passion project into absolute financial gain, Yena leaned even more into the Menswear Dog business. So much so that the day job was starting to cramp her style. Just months removed from that first GQ story, Yena burned through all of her vacation and sick days at work, meaning that if she was going to keep the pace she and Bodhi were moving at the time (boasting new stories in TIME and on CNN), she’d have to make a big decision.

“Do I really want to stay at this really amazing full-time job where I could probably have a stable future,” she asked herself. “Or do I want to have the adventure of a lifetime with my dog where I don’t know what’ll happen but I’m excited about it?” She wondered how she’d pay her rent without a steady paycheck. She feared how her folks would react if she quit her hard-earned position. “Imagine explaining to my Asian parents,” she says, “that, ‘I’m going to quit my job to work with my dog.’”

With less than one month’s salary saved, Yena resigned from Ralph Lauren. Without that big job at the well-known company, she immediately felt a lessened sense of self-worth. “It was weird,” Yena recalls. “When you work for a company like that, you wrap much of your identity up in that title and role. So the question that comes when you don’t have that job anymore is, ‘Who are you?’ If I’m not the person who works at Ralph Lauren sketching, who am I?” It didn’t help that with the new-found time she had to invest in Menswear Dog, she’d come across negative comments on her posts. “I don’t know what the big deal is,” one head-scratching hater tagged. “It’s just an iPhone photo of a dog.”

Yena says the snide comments, the urgent need for rent money, and the identity crisis lit “a fire under my ass.” She kept believing. Supportive parents helped, too. “If you have confidence,” they said, “go do it.” Yena learned proper photography skills thanks to a collection of YouTube tutorials and proper school courses. She adores the memories of those days. “I was working hard and I was focused because I didn’t have a choice. Yena also shored up on the business front, learning how to maneuver in the murky world of digital celebrity.

With her accrued knowledge combined with her knack for styling and successfully surfing from the bygone era blog-era of #Menswear when simply rocking a blazer or an ascot separated the common man from the natty one into this post streetwear, almost anything goes moment fellas are thriving in now, business is booming.

Various brands reach out to her and Bodhi to use their products as he coolly sports a look that fits the spirit of the work. “I tap on the ottoman,” she says of her prep process for a photo shoot, “and he knows it’s his time to shine.” Some water, few doggy treats, and some chill electronica tracks are all he needs to be good to go. 

Though it seems like he’s a highly obedient dog, Yena reveals that such is not always the case. “He’s not well-behaved at all,” she says. “He’s incredibly charming. But you can’t control him.” Some of his lowlights include peeing on the expensive carpet of a Stetson showroom, chewing up thousands of dollars worth of shoes, and leaving “very spiteful revenge poops” when he doesn’t get enough attention.

Their love endures, “accidents” be damned. Yena’s courage to drive toward her dream of a wild career turn has not only allowed her to spend quality time with her bestie but also grow tremendously as a creative and explore “new curiosities.”  She’s a full-fledged Digital Consultant now, helping others wheel through their online endeavors easier than she did.

She may be taking on new roles, but don’t expect her to ever get off track. From time to time, Yena gets calls asking her to appear on zany new pet TV shows with potentially problematic dog moms and dads. She always declines. The only new addition to the business is that her other dog Luc is sneaking into her and Bodhi’s content. The 2-year-old Jindo Yena adopted from Korean K9 Rescue because “he’s so cute” is been showing interest in Bohdi’s shoots. Time will tell if he becomes a pro model like his bud.

“I always focus on the quality,” Yena says, “content that feels good, is about dogs and stylish fashion.” That equation has proven successful so far. Why stop now?

“Fashion can be difficult for some people,” Kim says of why she thinks Menswear Dog continues to thrive. “You kind of compare yourself with whoever is modeling what you’re seeing. There’s none of that when you’re looking at [a dog, Bodhi], who’s so different. You look at the clothes more carefully.”

When Yena first started out with Bodhi business, she was timid about sharing it with friends. “There was a point,” Kim says, “where I’d think about how my friends are doctors and I put clothes on a dog. I was embarrassed.” Those feelings don’t exist anymore. Today she knows what she and Bodhi bring to the table and provide to his fans: Happiness. One flip through the New York Times–another renowned publication the pair has been featured in–reveals that life is hard for many. We could all use a reason to smile. Enter Menswear Dog.

“Now I can talk about it joyfully,” she says. “And own it.”

Story penned by Brad Weté

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INDI Staff October 4, 2021
October 4, 2021

Ryder McLaughlin | all photography by John Marquez | Story penned by Brad Weté

My head is spinning with amazement overload, trying to understand Ryder McLaughlin’s mindset during those ever-pivotal junior and senior years of high school. It’s typically when most teens are fantasizing about what college will accept them, effectively beginning their transition into adulthood and, eventually, the workforce.

If I’m understanding him correctly, at age 17 Ryder’s first goal was to be a professional skateboarder. At that point, the Moorpark, California native had been kick-flipping toward the dream since the sixth grade, when a skate park opened next to the junior high he attended. That being a lofty goal, of course, he had a more-so realistic, humble, and sane Plan B. If skating didn’t pan out, Ryder thought, he’d become a … stuntman?

“Pretty much,” McLaughlin says nonchalantly over a video chat on a summer afternoon. His father did it for a stretch, so “I grew up jumping off buildings into crash pads from two or three stories up. We’d learn how to repel off the side of a building. That was one thing I always thought I would do. Even with CGI, people are always going to be needed to do stunts.” He’s not wrong, I suppose. It’s just not often that you meet someone who’s been so committed to driving on the road less traveled.

“I never thought about college,” he says. “I don’t think my parents really cared. My dad was a cowboy, more of a work ethic guy. He thought that would get me further than a degree would.”

“I do everything. I’m an artist. I don’t want to live in a box.”

As a kid in Ventura County Ryder had a wide range of hobbies, dabbling in magic, Rubik’s cube mastery, and special effects makeup. But it’s when his older brother started skating that his true passion came into view. He spent all of his free time at the skate park, where the number of friends he had far outweighed the ones he had at Moorpark High.

Back then a good day for him meant driving an hour to Los Angeles to skate with friends in the Valley or on Fairfax, which is where he eventually met Mikey Alfred, founder of skate collective Illegal Civ. “Ryder immediately struck me as original and unique,” Alfred says over email. As McLaughlin became more of a familiar face, Alfred asked him to join the crew.

In the early IC days, Alfred filmed and produced their skate tapes, mish-mosh clips highlighting well-executed tricks, massive wipeouts, and brotherly camaraderie among the homies. On the side, he also produced skits, nabbing close, albeit inexperienced buds to do a bit of acting.

When actor-director Jonah Hill brought Alfred on as a producer for the coming-of-age skate film Mid90s, Mikey helped bring Ryder on for the role of Fourth Grade, stooge friend to Sunny Suljic’s lead character Stevie.

The whole acting thing just happened. “I made skits alone as a kid,” he admits, “But never thought about it seriously until Mikey asked and I was like, ‘Sure that’d be fun.’ I joined IC because I liked the guys and to rep the company with their boards. And now we’re making movies.

This year Illegal Civ released their debut feature-length film North Hollywood, directed and produced by Alfred, who chose Ryder to star as the lead. In Hollywood Ryder plays Michael, who aims to achieve the same goal Ryder once had: skate past college and into pro stardom–despite the wishes of his father (played by Vince Vaughn).

Now 23, McLaughlin has the acting bug. He recently linked with INDI to film a short for us––Ryder’s Skate Academy. Playing an alt version of himself and showcasing his comedic chops, he teaches two eager students (friends and Illegal Civ mates Aramis Hudson and Sunny Suljic) how to be a major skateboard star like him.

Ryder with Illegal Civ friends Sunny Suljic and Aramis Hudson

Jokes aside, McLaughlin’s got another film role lined up to close 2021. Acting provides him an opportunity to explore different parts of himself. “I’m very outgoing with my friends,” Ryder says, “But I’m chill when I’m out in public. I don’t come out of my shell.” He suspects that’s why skating and acting pique his interest.  

“They give me a pit in my stomach. Acting is a whole new world. Something clicks and I’m not the same dude. I go into entertainment mode. I love that fight-or-flight moment before the director yells ‘Action.’ It’s exciting. I get to live a bunch of different lives. Everybody has these emotions and characters inside of them. It’s important to let those breathe.”

“I’m not sure how to put it in words really,” Alfred says, trying to describe Ryder’s star traits. “I feel like Ryder has that spirit, that ‘it’ factor.’ The future will tell all. Ryder is already an incredible artist in many ways. I’m stoked for him and his future.”

“Down the line, I’ll do music,” McLaughlin says, confirming his varied skill set. Quiet as kept, he spends his downtime getting inspired by production wizards like late Hip-Hop titan MF Doom or synth-pop Toronto duo Crystal Castles. Then he creates his own tunes in that spirit. Clothing is another lane Ryder’s wheeling into, taking over Illegal Civ’s merch as Creative Director and “making some stylish stuff.”

It’s clear Ryder’s only goal is self-actualization, to become all he wants to and can be at his speed, without restriction. Six years ago he wanted to be a skater. Since then he’s ollied himself into Hollywood stardom. In time, who knows? Maybe you’ll be rocking a shirt he designed or turn on the radio only to find out he produced the song booming out of the speakers. We’ll see.  

“I do everything,” Ryder says. “I’m an artist. I don’t want to live in a box. And if I do, it’s going to be a big box.”

Story penned by Brad Weté

Ryder visited our LA headquarters to see our debut EV. Seems like he’s into it, right? We’ll be able to show it to you… soon. Stay tuned.

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INDI Staff October 4, 2021