More than just a T-shirt idea
Pestle & Mortar is created from a mix of talent and instinct, and is fast becoming a popular indie brand in KL.KUALA LUMPUR, April 12 — An architect, a photographer, a Mass Comm graduate, and a business planner. Mix them up, and what do you get? That’s right, a fashion label. As its name suggests, KL-based streetwear brand
“When Arnold and I were younger, we were into the same subcultures in high school: skateboarding, clothing brands, music,” says Hugh Koh of the label’s genesis in 2010. “We’ve always talked about creating our own clothing label, and one day I said to Arnold, are you serious about doing this? And we were.”
The brand was founded by Arnold Loh (the Mass Comm graduate, who’s now a DJ with Hitz.fm), his brother Arthur (the photographer), and Hugh (the architect). Recently, they added Mark, Hugh’s brother, as the fourth partner to handle the finance and marketing.
Though none of them have a background in design and art, their collective passion and eye for good design was enough to kickstart a successful clothing brand that, this year especially, is going to become more than just a hobby or side business.
They knew from the start that it would take more than a giant logo slapped across their shirts to make Pestle & Mortar a success. They needed a relatable identity, and decided from the get-go that it would lie in people’s collective ties and identities as urbanites in Malaysia.
This explains the images that adorn their “KL Through Our Eyes” T-shirt designs: there’s one depicting ice-cream potong; a photo of Lorong Haji Taib; biscuits from the pasar malam — pieces of nostalgia that give a picture of what it was like to grow up in the Klang Valley.
“When we were first starting up our own brand, we wanted to create something that was relatable to Malaysians,” says Hugh, but admits now that “they can’t be into that direction too much” with orders coming in from outside Malaysia, including Australia, US, and Singapore.
“It was interesting to see orders coming from abroad,” says Mark. “What has happened in the past, they see it as an unconventional souvenir that you wouldn’t find in the usual places like Pasar Seni.”
Keeping locally relevant while expanding abroad, being exclusive and indie while ramping up; these are some of the conundrums that Pestle & Mortar faces this year, as the partners look to grow the label into something more than just a part-time business.
For starters, they’ve brought on Mark, who’s organised a game plan for their launches. “When it first started out, they were just using paper and pencil to jot down what they sold, and when I asked if they were making money, Hugh would say ‘Got la, we sold some’,” laughs Mark.
They now have a year-long plan in launching collections, instead of the haphazard way it was done before. “We’re trying to do four releases this year,” says Hugh, adding that each collection would carry about 18 T-shirt designs, each with a limited release to maintain its essence of exclusivity — a key factor in maintaining their indie fanbase. The partners even recruited a full-time graphic designer, Syafiq Sumardi, to help them visualise their ideas.
Arnold stresses that their T-shirts are made from scratch, meaning that the shirts are locally made from bales of cotton instead of printing on ready-to-wear blank t-shirts by Hanes, for example. “We source out the cloth, cut it, print the design, and then sew it together. As a result, the T-shirts we have is suited for the Asian build, which is smaller than a typical Western fit,” Arnold says.
Future plans for Pestle & Mortar include a line for Oxford shirts and windbreakers, which would see them learn from start new manufacturing and design processes. They have also lined up several collaborations, and are excited to see how their next one with photography studio Redd Bullets turns out.
Until then, you can visit their website or showroom at 22, Lorong Dungun, Damansara Heights, Kuala Lumpur. Pestle & Mortar can be purchased through their website and selected third-party sellers such as Zalora, or Fashion Valet.