“We started out by just selling the shirt, telling [consumers] that it’s the best shirt you will ever own that is affordably priced, but then the engagement was really low. We realised then that people would not buy the product alone — they wanted to buy a story,” says C K Chang. After sharing his story, his brand, Oxwhite, went on to amass an incredible following — 21,000 customers and 15,000 shirts sold to date.
The tale begins with Chang feeling unfulfilled in his job at his uncle’s company. “For 10 years, I was in the retail industry, in wholesale and distribution. Then one day, I asked myself, what kind of role model do I want to be for my children? During my employment, I had never felt proud of what I was doing,” he says. With successful entrepreneurial role models such as Steve Jobs and Elon Musk in mind, Chang decided to take the plunge — he quit his job and began researching the kind of business he wanted to set up.
“Through working for my uncle, I came to know that a lot of the world’s luxury products are not expensive to make. They’re just expensive to sell,” he says. Also, through personal experience, he found that being well dressed was an expensive affair that rarely included the right fit.
“It was difficult to find a quality fitted shirt for Asian physiques. You could look at brands like Brooks Brothers and Hugo Boss, but their shirts are made for Westerners. Often, with my height, the sleeves are too long, the shirt is too long and there is a lot of excess fabric. Then, when I look at Asian brands, their workmanship is not of international quality,” says Chang.
This inspired him to come up with affordable, world-class men’s shirts for Asian build. He decided to approach ZiKang Tai, the founder of Fitgear, a company that makes premium outdoor apparel that is easy on your wallet. Tai became Oxwhite’s co-founder and marketing lead, adapting a similar business model used by Fitgear to sell luxury shirts.
“We didn’t have enough capital for four months of production and we didn’t have a customer base. So, I decided that we should only use the pre-order model like I did before [with Fitgear],” explains Tai. For this reason, the sale of Oxwhite shirts began as pre-orders that would take up to three months to produce before being delivered to the customers, and they cost only RM69 each.
Extensive research became the first order of business. “We found that the average office worker buys three to five shirts each year, so it’s a product with a high retention rate,” says Tai.
Chang travelled to Europe, America, Japan and many other places to examine the cutting and fit of shirts by major brands. He also tested out different materials and styles. “There are a lot of companies making normal shirts but for non-iron shirts, there are less than five factories in the world that can make them. Through our perseverance and the recommendation of friends, we found one factory in Bandung, Indonesia, which manufactures for big brands,” he says. “We then had a few hundred fittings before we found perfection.” Oxwhite’s shirts are made from Supima cotton, which is durable and perfect for our hot weather.
Chang originally wanted to name the company Porter Club and thought that he could conduct a trademark search on his own but thankfully, he heeded the advice of his manufacturer. “I told him that I did the search myself and he said, ‘No, ask a lawyer to do it for you and I give you one more day to make sure we are okay to make the label.’ We called my lawyer friend who did a search and we found that we could not register the name Porter Club. So, we had 24 hours to get a new name,” he says. In that time, Tai came up with the name Oxwhite in reference to oxford whites.
Now that Oxwhite’s model has proved to be successful, it has ready stocks for customers who prefer not to wait. Still, as Tai puts it, “the longer you wait, the more you save” — ready stocks that can be delivered in three to five working days cost more than the pre-ordered ones.
Labelling itself as a luxury lifestyle brand that focuses on modern business essentials, Oxwhite has expanded its range of products to include men’s pants, men’s plus-size clothing and, recently, women’s white shirts. “Forty per cent of our daily enquiries came from women who asked, ‘Where is my white shirt?’ It took me six months to develop it because I didn’t know what I was doing.
I travelled and brought back samples and worked with one of Malaysia’s leading stylists, Andrea Kee, who helped me develop the shirt,” says Chang. With 1.5% Lycra for more flexibility, the Oxwhite women’s shirt comes in a slim fit or a relaxed fit, and has an extra button that prevents gaping at the bust.
Oxwhite practices honest pricing, listing the cost of everything from the materials to the shipment and packaging as well as its profits. Having amassed a sizeable following on Facebook, the business has an active community that interacts with it and provides constant feedback. “Our return rate is less than 1% because our consumers choose to believe in us and we nurture them. We have a big Oxwhite community that actively tells us what they want. The community participates in the design process,” says Tai.
In the future, Chang and Tai intend to increase their product range by adding other business essentials such as backpacks. “We will have Samsonite and Tumi-quality backpacks that are affordably priced. New products will be on a pre-order basis first. Once we can prove there is a demand, we will stock up,” concludes Chang.
This article first appeared on June 17, 2019 in The Edge Malaysia.