Style News

The Flag Twins: 'Fashion Saved My Life'

The Flag Twins: 'Fashion Saved My Life'

Loud. Boisterous. Businesskids. Pretty faces. Creative moguls. These are just a few of the words that the Flag Twins use to describe themselves in the hour that we chat over Zoom – the new norm for interviews in times of Covid.

It’s a week after their shoot for FLANNELS, which the duo concepted, art directed, executively produced and starred in – as the twins tell me, they ‘do a lot’: ‘Why plant one seed or two seeds when you could plant 10?’ says Kevin. On the other side of the screen, the pair are, true to form, hanging out in their second home, one of London’s most prolific member’s clubs and the final scene of their campaign, Ned's Club London.

It’s been a big couple of years for the Peckham-raised Ghanaian twins Karlon and Kevin Bonsu. The duo has starred in huge campaigns for the likes of Vogue Italia, Hunger, GQ, and Vetements. Add to this that they also DJ, run a creative agency, have launched their own content platform Mission Statement Magazine, and the fact that Karlon has just retired from the world of banking at the tender age of 21, and you begin to see; they don’t easily fit into any boxes, nor do they want to.

With their sights set firmly on dominating the fashion industry, they talk about growing up in Peckham, their biggest inspirations, and how fashion changed their lives.

Tell us about the concept behind the campaign…  

Karlon: We wanted to tell a story. The first location was Peckham (Peckham was where we originally grew up) and as the campaign moves, it takes you to different places in our lives. We started in Peckham and ended where we are now [at the Ned] – it’s a journey. It’s one of the first campaigns where we got to tell the real story of us. I like to say we’re “loud ghosts”. People know who we are, but they don’t know who we are. This was a great opportunity for us to showcase who we are for real.  

What was it like growing up in Peckham? 

Karlon: Let me put Peckham into perspective; 10, 15 years ago Peckham wasn’t a nice place.  

Kevin: That’s not to discredit where I’m from… anyone can tell you that for free. But the best part about Peckham is the people. Peckham is the place that I will always call home. I feel like I have a sense of duty to make sure that I’m the best version of myself, to tell people when they say, ‘where did you come from again?’ To say ‘Peckham’. Sometimes the media takes away from the real riches of what Peckham is about. Peckham is not rich in finances but it’s rich in community and people and culture. But we don’t highlight those things.

How has your upbringing fuelled your creativity? 

Kevin: We’re Africans. In the respect where Africans are united in not only struggle but much more circumstance. As an African and as a Black man, I feel like that creative juice is instilled by the culture and the experience. I think because our culture is not mainstream it seems a bit “cooler”.

Karlon: Being African is obviously a big part of it, but in general in our life, something that’s been rooted in us is to create greatness. Every part of this campaign, whether it was in Peckham or it was in The Ned or it was in Bank, all those places are where our creativity is embedded. For example, when I’m in Peckham I’m much more fuelled by the culture, when I’m at The Ned I’m around some cool people, and when I’m in Bank it just reminds me of where I wanted to go.  

What we’re doing right now isn’t mainstream. In respect that you don’t get kids who - I’m not blowing up my own arse - but you don’t get people from single-parent backgrounds who change their life around. I’ll be honest with you; we were bad kids. We could have gone one of two ways and thank god we’ve gone the way we have gone now.  

Kevin: It was either you’re dead or you’re in jail.  

Karlon: That was the sort of options you had to deal with. It’s silly but it’s real. I think for us to turn that around and do what we’re doing now and being where we’re at, at the age of 21, it’s a spectacle. 

The shoot definitely has the feel of Janette Beckman’s rude boys’ photography of the ‘80s. Where does your inspiration come from? 

Karlon: We’ve taken a lot of our inspiration from a lot of '90s, '80s, '70s, '60s characters. We take a lot of inspiration from the past. It’s called layering. We layer a lot of stuff. We love to take an original concept and flip it on its head. It’s about the times, thinking what would that look like in 10- or 20- or 30-years’ time? A lot of our influences come from what has already happened and how we interpret it for today.  

What does fashion mean to you? 

Karlon: Fashion is not just one thing. Fashion is more than looking good in clothes. It’s appreciating expression. It’s appreciating that you can be yourself. It’s also appreciating that wherever you come from, there’s one common denominator that binds us all, which is obviously about looking good and making sure that you can express yourself. Fashion saved my life because it was the moment that we didn’t care about opinions anymore.  

Kevin: Coming where we come from… fashion was never something we were around. The only fashion that we wear in Peckham is tracksuits, but also what it’s associated with: the gangland. Something as minor as me just dressing weirdly to the other men signalled that I wasn’t a target – either by the police or other kids in the area. It meant we didn’t have to be in that bracket. 

Fashion saved my life in the respect that it allowed me not to give a toss about opinion.  I feel like nowadays, an opinion could kill you. You feel like you have to live to a certain expectation. Fashion just allowed me to put two fingers up to the sky and say: ‘I don’t care.’ I’m less conscious, I don’t think too much. My state is much freer and much more expressive. As opposed to thinking ‘I’m not as good as him.’ 

As twins have you always had similar taste? 

Kevin: Maybe not the same taste in women… we’re like yin and yang; different but together. We come from different backgrounds - he’s financial, I’ve always been creative. That’s what it’s about: different but similar. We need to complement each other. If we were too similar, we’d clash. If we were the same it would be so boring, like wearing the same jeans and the same t-shirt. We’re not your conventional, ordinary twins.  

Karlon: We’re twins with a bit of sass, man. I think what we’re trying to do is change the meaning of twins. I like something he may not like, and he may like something I may not like, but we always come together when it matters.  

What about when it comes to your style? 

Karlon: Our fashion sense is quite similar. I’m a bit of a classics man. I love classic tailoring, like the oversized baggy bottoms and what not… 

Kevin: I think our style has changed. Going back five years ago, my style was very basic. It would have been a standard hoodie or a standard jumper with some jeans and some Air Force 1s.  

Karlon: Yesterday he was wearing a suit with shorts.  

Kevin: Suit, shorts, t-shirt. My style is very clean but unorthodox. I like putting stuff together that you may not necessarily think of. I don’t wear clothes, I wear pieces. Our clothes should be put in a museum - they are timeless.  

You really value clothes… 

Kevin: It’s very simple: because we never had it.  

Karlon: I can tell you why: one, we never had it, and two, clothes are currency. If you have zero pounds in your pocket but you look bloody attractive in some good, clean clothes, who is to say you’re not a millionaire? Clothes are a second frontier in that respect. Not just to look good if I’m going on a date, but it’s a sense of pride.

What does occasion dressing mean to you? 

Kevin: For us, personally speaking, we love a good time - that’s an occasion. There’s a sense of how the occasion dictates what we wear: the practicality, the style.  

Karlon: You can see in the campaign. The Alyx [1017 ALYX 9SM] pieces brought a much more regal feel. When you’re wearing Alyx you want to feel like you’re the man, you want to have a bad boy dinner. It’s fun.  

Kevin: The common denominator is that the clothes make you feel gooood. Every single style [from the campaign] made me feel good. The quality, the way I was wearing it, and the styling was cool. They were all different bits and they wouldn’t all go for the same occasion, but they all made us feel f**king amazing. That’s what clothing is about: making you feel good about yourself, regardless of the occasion.  

In 2020, are there still any rules for formal dressing? 

Karlon: I think the new formal means you don’t have to wear a tie.  

Kevin: No tie, it means relaxed. You can be relaxed and still formal. I think there’s always this notion that to be smart you have to do X, Y, and Z, but no, there’s a new smart because there’s a new wave, a new generation coming.  

Karlon: Take your top hat off. That’s it. That’s the new formal; take your top hat off. Take off your tie. Have your socks matching your shirt. Still respecting tradition but putting your own twist on it.  

So where will we see you in the next five years?  

Kevin: The aspiration for us is just to be creative moguls. That’s the exact term. Because it means that I’ve had so many different experiences across the board. I have so much influence and network. 

Karlon: How do you describe somebody who is corporate but also a very creative person? I think that’s what we want to adhere to. What we call ourselves right now, apart from the creative brokers, is ‘businesskids’. We’re not businessmen. I’m a man, yes, but that term is a bit too old. I want to bring a certain sexiness to entrepreneurship. An entrepreneur is someone who believes in what they want to do, believes in destiny, and executes it. That’s what we want to be.  

Kevin: In the next five years, I see us taking over. We are going to take over, it’s not even a thought, we are going to take over.  

This month is Black History Month. There’s clearly still so much to be done, but do you feel like there’s been a tangible step change in the fashion industry this year following the protests around the Black Lives Matter movement?

Kevin: More stuff like this needs to happen. What needs to happen first and foremost is we need to take action. Yes, we need to talk about it, but the discussion has been done. The first thing you probably learn in your history lesson is slavery, so I don’t think we need more awareness, what we need is more action. What can we do ourselves to support it? No one is saying go above and beyond; do you. As a Black person as well, continue being the best version of yourself because that then reflects on us as a whole people. 

Karlon: I think it’s about instilling entrepreneurship. And, being a Black person in today’s society, there’s never been a better time to be alive. It’s a time when we’ve got more people on our side and more people looking at us. Where people see disadvantages, I see massive advantages.  


How would your friends describe you?

Kevin: Loud, beautiful, crazy.  

Best feature? 

Both: Our skin 

Karlon: That shit glows. No spots, no makeup.  

The best thing about London? 

Both: The people  

Favourite place in London? 

Both: Ned's Club London

The last song of the night?  

Karl: Alex Isley - What Lovers Do

Favourite brand? 

Both: Alyx  

Favourite occasion to dress for? 

Karlon: Smartwear. I love scrubbing up and people saying, ‘omg you look so different.’ Yeah baby I can do both.  

Where will we find you on a Saturday night? 

Kevin: Soho or Chelsea. I’ll be in Chiltern [Firehouse]  

The best piece of advice you’ve been given? 

Karlon: Stay true to yourself.  

Kevin: Make decisions as if you were facing 100 men, not one.  Never forget where you came from.