Pestle & Mortar Clothing co-founder Hugh Koh unveils new flagship store and plans for the future

He also talks about best business lessons learnt and the destinations he plans to explore this year.

Hugh Koh, co-founder of cult streetwear label Pestle & Mortar Clothing (All photos: Pestle & Mortar Clothing)

Options: Congratulations on Pestle & Mortar Clothing’s new flagship store. Tell us about its concept, design and why you chose APW Bangsar as the location.
Hugh Koh: PMC Kuala Lumpur is designed to provide an experience from the moment customers step in. Microorganic-shaped windows are scattered around the façade to create a perfect frame for our storytelling pieces, allowing the products to stand out like art pieces. This standalone store also acts as a community hub where we will house the in-store exclusive range, have activities such as our Custom Lab, and host monthly events. We have always championed highlighting local talent, and also intend to use the space as a platform for other personalities and brands to host events for their own communities. This location is significant to us as it marks PMC’s return to Bangsar, since our previous flagship in Telawi closed its doors in 2018. APW Bangsar is a bustling space that encapsulates the PMC lifestyle, and is a place where one of our iconic Smashing Weekends was held back in 2014. Definitely a full circle moment!

It has been 13 years since you established the brand. What have been the best business lessons it taught you?
It has been a journey filled with both highs and lows. Throughout, I learnt several valuable business lessons that I hold close to my heart. First, it’s important to never stop dreaming and have a vision for the future. Second, investing in your team is crucial. Third, taking time away from the business to reflect on both the successes and challenges is essential. Lastly, starting strong and cultivating the discipline to finish even stronger is key to achieving success.

What would you do differently if you could?
Focus! Looking back over the years, I’ve learnt that focusing on our strengths and core competencies is crucial for success. We’ve had the opportunity to explore various businesses, ranging from a multi-label store, Major Drop, to brand distribution, and even a cafe. However, it wasn’t until later that I realised the importance of focusing on our creative strengths, and prioritising the development of our own intellectual property, which is Pestle & Mortar. If I could change one thing, it would be to have focused on these key areas from the start.


The standalone store also acts as a community hub

What was your original ambition in life, though?
From a young age, I was aware of my passion for art and originally envisioned a career as an industrial designer. I was greatly inspired by designers such as Marc Newson and Karim Rashid. My father, who is an architect, once shared with me the idea that while an industrial designer cannot be an architect, an architect can pursue any path they choose. This perspective resonated with me so I decided to study architecture. It turns out that my father was correct, and I am now working in the fashion industry.

What are your personal favourite ways to spend time in APW and the surrounding areas?
I am a coffee enthusiast, and Pulp cafe is a must as it is one of my top five favourites. Over the years, APW’s food options have greatly expanded and some must-try establishments include Jus, Waig by Chipta11a, and Olivia Deli. I also particularly enjoy taking a leisurely ride through Federal Hill, starting from the slip-road off Jalan Bangsar. The rolling hills surrounded by historic homes provide a peaceful and calming experience.

What’s your favourite Pestle & Mortar item to wear right now?
Our team recently designed a new collection of striped, button-down shirts that are perfect for the warm weather here. The lightweight material ensures comfort in the heat. Personally, I like to style these shirts with simple ankle chinos and a PMC cap for a look that is both presentable and relaxed.

How do you feel when you see Pestle & Mortar being worn by others?
Throughout my career, I have maintained a strong sense of excitement and pride, especially when I come across designs from our earlier days. It is always a wonderful feeling to see that they have been well-preserved over the years. If I am within reach, I like to show my appreciation by giving them a fist bump.


The flagship store also houses the in-store exclusive range

What’s your playlist like these days?
When it comes to music, I enjoy listening to a diverse range of genres, but one consistent theme in my daily playlist is jazz, specifically fusion. I am particularly fond of artists such as Kokoroko and Yussef Dayes.

What are you reading right now?
At the moment, I am preparing for an upcoming trip to Spain in July, so I have been researching and reading about interesting places to visit, as well as restaurants and bars I’d like to experience.

So what’s on your 2023 travel radar?
In 2022, I was heavily engaged in travelling for work purposes due to my involvement in the NFT project ‘The Tiger Archives’. This year, I have made it a priority to balance work with leisure and focus on spending quality time with my family. As a beach lover, I have a trip to the Maldives planned for later this month, and I am also looking forward to a 660km cycling journey with my brother in the beautiful regions of Costa Brava and Girona, Spain in July. These trips will not only provide me with a much-needed break but also a valuable opportunity to reflect and gather new perspectives on how to drive the business forward.


NFT project ‘The Tiger Archives’

Is there a book you always reread?
I have a preference for podcasts over books, and one particular podcast I often revisit is Simon Sinek’s Start With Why. I find a deep connection with the concepts shared and it has become one of my foundational principles in life, both in my business and personal endeavours.

Describe a perfect weekend for you.
I have a strong passion for gardening and make the most of my weekends by dedicating time to maintaining my garden and rejuvenating various sections of it. To stay active and healthy, I begin my mornings with a workout, run or bike ride. During the day, I also take the time to plan my workweek and set my goals. In the evenings, I typically spend time socialising with friends, which often includes dinner and exploring the latest cultural events in Kuala Lumpur.  


This article first appeared on Feb 20, 2023 in The Edge Malaysia.


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