As any well-attired gent knows, there’s a huge gap between fast fashion and the price tag that comes with bespoke tailoring. That’s exactly why friends Tobe Fong and TC saw an opportunity to develop something in between and bring something new to the market. The two built their friendship on a shared passion for sartorial splendour, and later began their business based on personal need: Craftsman Clothing is a sustainable, luxury menswear line that focuses on high-quality outerwear. (You may have already seen it featured on The Rake and MR PORTER.) We spoke to the Hong Kong-based company’s co-founders open up about their childhood aspirations, how a “normal” day plays out, and what it takes to run a successful startup in a competitive market.
Names: Tobe Fong and TC Ng
Profession: Co-founders of Craftsman Clothing
Industry: Fashion retail and eCommerce
Startup since: 2015
Tell us about your business. What do you do?
TC Ng (TN): We’re , a rather new brand from Hong Kong specialising in men’s outerwear. We believe luxury is defined by quality design and manufacturing. Our products are personalised using the finest materials — Italian or Spanish leather, RiRi zippers, genuine horn buttons and Bemberg lining with customisable details.
Tobe Fong (TF): We also have goals to expand it into other sectors such as our own whisky brand or barber shop down the road.
Tell me about your best and worst day at work?
TF: Generally speaking, a good day would be when you are in momentous work flow to get a lot of things done, when sales are rolling in and you get invitation emails to be featured in magazines, when reputable retailers are interested in your brand or when a celeb represents you. Worst day would be when the factory deliveries don’t turn out as expected. It’s a waste of time and money!
TN: Any day that I can help people, solve problems and make significant contributions are my best days. And disappointing people are the worst days.
What do you do when you’re not at work?
TF: I like to hit the gym, learn martial arts, attend music festivals and concerts, travel, etc.
TN: That doesn’t happen. I don’t think I have ever taken a proper break, as working on social media is already enough to consume your life.
Looking back now, what would you have done differently?
TN: With the power of social media, we should have started to put our ideas in motion earlier. We may have hesitated a bit at the start as we were fearful we may fail, but now we realise that it’s just a part of the process that will lead to you to success.
TF: I wish we would have launched our eCommerce platform way sooner than just selling on Instagram the first two years!
What is a normal work day like?
TN: A lot of communication. I feel like I talk to people 24/7.
TF: Get up at 7am, hit the gym, breakfast, meditate, then work in 45-minute time blocks until around 7pm or 8pm.
What advice would you give to someone looking to start up?
TN: It’s important to understand your customers’ needs if you are looking to start a business. Be unique and different from others. Focus on a rapid growth plan with sustainable profits, as that is what is going to differentiate your startup from a small-sized company.
TF: Start early, there’s no better time than now. If you must learn, learn simultaneously while you are doing what you do. Also, stay in the game. Whatever you do, don’t give up!
What would you be doing if you weren’t doing what you do now?
TF: I’d still be running a startup I guess. Probably something in wellness perhaps, but owning a clothing brand has always been on my agenda so it’s hard to imagine doing anything else.
TN: A financial salesman.
As a child, what did you aspire to be?
TF: James Bond!
TN: I wanted to work in the banking and finance industry. That’s why I chose to study economics and accounting since high school. It is relevant to reality and society by understanding how the world works. Mathematics has always been my favourite subject; it’s challenging and I like to solve problems.
What has been your biggest hurdle?
TF: Being a shy introvert.
How did you overcome it?
TF: I previously worked as a financial advisor and that definitely helped. I have also attended a lot of networking events and initiated more conversations. I guess as a business owner, introversion and shyness aren’t real advantages.
Why did you decide to base Craftsman Clothing in Hong Kong?
TF: I was born in Seattle but raised in Hong Kong. I was in the States from middle school to college; when I graduated, I wanted to come back and spend some time with my family. Also, Craftsman initially began with all products made in Hong Kong. Besides, there’s a definite logistics and tax advantage. Hong Kong also has a rich history in textiles and craftsmanship, and I want to remind people of that.
TN: I think Hong Kong has always been defined as one of the most successful business centres in terms of location, economy, policies and people, but most importantly, Tobe and I are based here with our production team and crafters with over 40 years of experience.
If you were to invest in another startup, which would it be?
TF: I am actually starting a new company selling watches that are powered by solar energy. There are very few, if any, aesthetically pleasing solar-powered watches out there and I want to change that. So, my own. Does that count?
TN: An e-Payment platform that helps handle cross-border payments. In addition to the digital and mobile payment tool offered by PayPal, an easier platform that streamlines international payments will be super helpful for companies to make payments for vendors from all around the world.
What are your goals for 2019? And in the near future?
TN: One of our main goals is still to increase our brand awareness. We have been doing a lot of influencer marketing to connect us with the right audiences. Expanding our retail distributions, both online and offline and wholesaling, are our focused strategies for 2019.
TF: This year I am very lucky to have met some people who are able to mentor me and help accelerate my business. My goal is to triple our revenue from the previous year. We are also going to exhibit at Pitti Uomo this summer, and we look forward to get into one of the biggest retailers in Japan.
How hands-on are you?
TN: Both Tobe and I are extremely hands-on, as that encourages a deeper understanding of every single task in the pipeline and helps increase engagement and moves us forward.
TF: Very! When we first started, it was just me and TC doing everything ourselves. But this year with more resources, we grew our team which helped to lighten our workload a lot. That being said, I’m still really hands-on!
How do you define success? Do you consider yourself being successful?
TF: Everyone has a different definition of success. When I first graduated, I was very money-driven and I was working long hours every day. I neglected other aspects in my life such as my relationships and health. As I grew older, I learned that you have to be patient and trust the process. If you put in the work, success will follow, so live in the moment and enjoy the ride! I wouldn’t say I’ve reached success yet, but I am getting there!
TN: I’d define success as happiness and personal achievement. It is not about how much money you make but the contributions you make in your life.