For those in the know, "Cho!" is a pronouncement of Ping-Pong success. A Chinese word meaning both "yes" and "ball," it’s a celebratory exclaim-and-fist-pump uttered by avid pongers when they score a point. It’s also a significant design motif for Thompson Punke, a new Ping-Pong clothing brand from ex-JWT creative James Cooper and NYC design agency Red Antler that hopes to bring more style to the average ponger’s life.
The line was born of Cooper’s life-long love of Ping-Pong and an utter disdain for the chosen garb of the sport’s diehard contingent. "Ping-Pong is growing really quickly and it’s played a lot by teenage kids. But they’re all wearing this gear that’s horrible," he says. "It’s like this garish ’80s, synthetic stuff—the kind of thing Andre Agassi would have worn in his worst fashion phase. And they’re not cheap, but people wear them because they want to be part of this scene." Ugly, uncomfortable, and expensive being a poor combination, Cooper adds: "I’d always thought there was room for a brand that was a little cooler than that, that had some attitude, could be more fun, have a bit more soul and have Ping-Pong at its heart."
Taking inspiration from other streetwear lifestyle brands—and named in homage to Hunter S. Thompson and the punk roots of both James Cooper and Red Antler creative director/partner Simon Endres—Thompson Punke is meant to speak to the hardcore with it’s use of "Cho!" and nods-and-winks to pongers, all the while being appealing to the masses.
Considering many nouveau pongers hail from Brooklyn, the spiritual home of all things fashionably ironic, Thompson Punke has a readymade fan base with the borough’s vibrant Ping-Pong movement. But as Cooper says, "that’s not going to make us any money." Instead, the idea is to create a brand from Brooklyn that will appeal to a wider, though still admittedly niche, audience.
In the broader scene, Cooper has his sights set on the creative industries. There’s scarcely an agency, design studio, or tech startup without a Ping-Pong table on-site, and while it might seem like a frivolity, Cooper extols the virtues of workplace pong. "There are reports that says if you’re working and you need to take a break, the best thing you can play is table tennis to spark your brain. It can also be a great social lubricator. I always feel I have my best conversations with friends or colleagues over a game of Ping-Pong because it’s one of those things you can do while chatting at the same time."
As a brand, Thompson Punke is well suited to speak to the particular audience it hopes to attract. "One of the things I like about the brand is that it infers there’s some guy lurking behind it," says Endres. "Whenever we’re working on it we always think, what would Thompson do?" Correspondence also comes from the desk of Thompson Punke and the clothes labels read from the brain of Thompson Punke.
To further the brand’s persona, a Ping-Pong fanzine will be printed on the tissue used to wrap each item of clothing, and Cooper says a DIY tablemaking kit is on its way, making it easier than ever to get in on the game.