Home-grown brand With TJ jazzes up traditional Chinese styles with a modern twist

Co-founders Lim Thong Jean and Goh Yuan Qi share their goals to popularise cultural wear, not just for festivities but in everyday life.

Worn on their own or paired with a partner’s ensemble, they are guaranteed compliments for those unafraid to express themselves (Photo: With TJ)

The Chinese New Year (CNY) season is upon us once again, and whether you have had your outfits prepped since last December or accepted your status as a last-minute shopper, now is the time to unleash your inner fashionista. What better time than the Dragon Year, said to symbolise authority and good fortune, to celebrate tradition while embracing modernity? In terms of style, look no further than home-grown clothing brand With TJ to see how it is done.

Established in early 2022 by the brand’s business manager Lim Thong Jean and creative director Goh Yuan Qi (better known as Key), along with a third founding partner who prefers to remain incognito, With TJ began as a means for the former neighbours to express their love for thoughtfully designed clothing. “In Chinese, there’s a term called ‘缘分’ (yuánfèn or fate) which I strongly believe in,” Lim says. “It’s like kismet brought us all together.”

Since the beginning, CNY has played a key role in the brand’s identity. “I had the thought it would be great if we could turn the cheongsam into something greater,” Lim recalls. “Together, we said, ‘Let’s do it!’ and that’s how our first collection came about.”

As the brand’s main designer, Key was more than keen to put her background in fashion design and passion for the partners’ shared culture to use. “I’ve always enjoyed working with oriental elements,” she says. “The three of us happen to be Chinese, so I like to take the opportunity to pay homage to our heritage every year.”

Titled Spring is Here Again, the label’s debut Lunar New Year collection in 2022 highlighted rouge and blush cheongsam tops with pleated high-necks, paired with skirts and wide-legged pants. The rich tones, often worn for luck and prosperity in Chinese culture, were matched with the unconventional choice of round satin-covered bridal buttons.


Key (left) and Lim (Photo: Shahrin Yahya/ The Edge Malaysia)

The following year, the label released Resplendent, which played with oriental details like floral prints, brocade and pankou (Chinese knot buttons). This line also marked the introduction of the CNY menswear line, with each piece made specifically to match a feminine counterpart. “We noticed many of our lady customers wanted to match their looks with that of their partners, and earlier we did not have options for them,” Lim notes. “In our second Lunar New Year collection, we introduced menswear and customers loved it.”

The 2024 CNY collection, “Dragon’s Hour”, once again honours traditional Chinese style codes but delivers them in a form suited to modern consumers who want more out of their special occasion outfits. Easily mixed and matched Leaflet tops with cutouts around the neckline offer a youthful look, becoming charmingly impish when paired with the scallop-edged mini skirts that mimic flower petals. The dressier (literally) shopper can choose from two flirtier styles with Mandarin collars and mid-thigh hemlines: an elegant maxi cheongsam that accentuates the figure or an A-line relaxed cut that comes with a self-tied tassel waist belt.

For men, there are short- and long-sleeved variations of a button-down shirt with a Mandarin collar. Much like those in the women’s line, the loose-fitting tops come in a range of plain-hued silk satin or elaborate brocade with botanical patterns. Worn on their own or paired with a partner’s ensemble, they are guaranteed compliments for those unafraid to express themselves.

When asked about the collection’s highlights, Key points to the buttons, a detail she will “always be experimenting with” in CNY designs to come. This time around, filigree and iridescent bubble beads take the place of pankou, harking back to With TJ’s Cruise 2023 collection made in collaboration with a local indie jewellery artist who specialises in colourful avant-garde beadwork.

For Lim and Key, it is the little details that set them apart from the many fashion brands on the market. In terms of silhouettes, With TJ evokes the historic beauty and significance of Chinese cultural style but allows more flexibility through separates that can just as easily be worn beyond the new year, further freshened up by contemporary points that mesh old and new. “With traditional wear, you can’t divert very far from the original concept,” Key says. “It needs to be respectful enough [for the wearer] to attend social functions, but we keep it a little cheeky with fun buttons and cutouts.”


The “Dragon’s Hour” collection honours traditional Chinese style codes but delivers them in a form suited to modern consumers who want more out of their special occasion outfits (Photo: With TJ)

Ultimately, the partners’ goal is to popularise cultural wear, not just for festivities but in everyday life. “In contrast to Malay and Indian communities, we Chinese don’t tend to wear our traditional clothes very regularly,” Key observes. Lim agrees, saying, “In other countries like Japan or Korea, people sport their cultural clothing very proudly whereas you don’t see many Chinese locals in cheongsam or samfoo on a daily basis.”

That said, the pair have noticed a shift in recent trends. “The demand [for traditional wear] is growing a lot at the moment, especially following what’s happening in China where people are incorporating oriental details in their clothing,” Lim says. Key explains a popular keyword, which translates into “neo-oriental style”, that has recently taken Chinese social media platform Weibo by storm. “One obvious way to achieve this is to use traditional textiles on modern cuts. For example, an everyday blouse made in brocade or a modern material with cultural details.”

When asked what they see in the future of CNY fashion, the partners know what they like. For Lim, separates are the way to go. “It invites people to wear cheongsam more regularly,” she says, gesturing at her own outfit — the Leaflet top in a rich aubergine matched with plain black slacks. Key, meanwhile, dreams of “simplified oriental accessories”, like jade jewellery and zodiac motifs, worn with contemporary pieces. “Modern wear with subtle traditional details can be really fun,” she notes.

At the end of the day, CNY style for both of them connects to what they value most about the season — family time. Besides making one look and feel good, clothing serves as a conversation starter, and a means to bond and connect with those around us. Some of Lim’s and Key’s best memories include dressing up in matching outfits with loved ones and spreading joy to friends and relatives through their designs. As Lim says, “it’s really special when all of us get together during this time”, and (with) With TJ, how true that must be.


Check out With TJ’s designs at withtj.com or swing by its booths at Isetan Lot 10 or Parkson Elite in Pavilion KL.

This article first appeared on Jan 29, 2024 in The Edge Malaysia.

Follow us on Instagram