What does a heritage pewter brand with a legacy of 133 years have in common with a streetwear brand founded less than a decade ago? A lot, it seems, as the collaboration between Royal Selangor and Pestle & Mortar Clothing proves.
Just before the splashy opening party at Royal Selangor’s Pavilion KL flagship store, Royal Selangor executive director Yong Yoon Li and Pestle & Mortar Clothing (PMC) CEO Hugh Koh are wearing the RSXPMC limited-edition capsule collection. Appropriately dressed with a streetwear flavour, Yong has on the Worker Shirt and Koh is in the Worker Jacket, both are looking relaxed and enjoying an easy camaraderie while fielding questions.
Koh was invited to visit the Royal Selangor Visitor Centre for a talk and orientation tour that gave him a sense of the connection between the two brands. “We all know Royal Selangor — a Malaysian household name — which particularly resonated with me for PMC. Our unique selling point is championing our culture and heritage through our clothing as a medium of storytelling about Malaysia,” Koh says. “It is what makes us unique. Hearing the Royal Selangor story — with its 133-year-old legacy — I felt there was an opportunity to work together with them.”
Despite the age difference between the two brands — PMC was established just eight years ago — Koh sought to find common ground to tell the story. “About eight months ago, I reached out to Yong who, fortunately, had heard about us and we started talking.”
Yong says his strength lies in bringing people together to facilitate the collaborative process, working closely with Koh’s team. “I involved the experts in the organisation, such as the design studio, to deal with the graphics and product development (of the embellishments and buttons), the marketing team to help with creating the merchandise and customer experience and the retail team for sales execution,” he says.
Royal Selangor — founded by pewtersmith Yong Koon (Yong’s great-grandfather) in the burgeoning tin-mining town of Kuala Lumpur — has grown from a cottage industry into the world’s largest pewter manufacturer with stores and distributors in more than 20 countries. Sharing similar traits of passion, grit and entrepreneurship, though separated by a century in their establishment, PMC — started by three friends who are passionate about streetwear and determined to show the world what Malaysia is capable of — has grown from selling a handful of T-shirts into one of Asia-Pacific’s top streetwear brands.
To kick-start the collaboration, Koh was granted access to Royal Selangor’s archives and library where he found plenty of exciting graphics and photographs, and got a chance to hear the stories behind them from Yong’s team. “That was how we selected the graphics that provided the inspiration for the design of the collection,” he says.
“These visuals are from the era when Selangor Pewter (what Royal Selangor was called then) was growing from the early 1940s to the mid-1970s, while Malaysia was striving to become an industrialised nation,” Yong says. “The inspiration came from the growth of the nation and from the growth of our companies. I thought PMC executed it very well in this tight collection to tell the story,” Yong says.
The collection comprises four garments, a tote bag and a cap, with each item featuring an embedded, bespoke Royal Selangor pewter piece. The 50-piece limited-edition all-black Worker Shirt is a style classic that suits all age groups while the Worker Jacket showcases a visual of a tiger on the back — appropriated from Tiger Pewter, what the company was called before being renamed Selangor Pewter.
The PMC signature Pocket Tee has a hammered surface on the pocket and on the back, a graphic of Royal Selangor’s delivery van in 1962. A van shown in front of Royal Selangor’s first factory in Setapak during the 1970s is also on the visual embellishing of the collection’s Heritage Tote Bag.
“That picture on the tote was taken when we started to distribute across the country in the early 1970s. I remember my grandmother telling me that she used to pack the van with merchandise the night before and drive it to Seremban the day after. There were very few women van drivers in Malaysia then and that was a really nice Volkswagen Kombi,” Yong says. “At the back of this tee is the actual artwork from the van, reinterpreted by Hugh’s team in terms of fonts and cut.”
The other t-shirt in the capsule collection is the Beautifully Crafted White Tee, featuring a pestle and mortar depicted in a style similar to the illustration of a pewter tea set used on Royal Selangor’s plastic bags during the 1960s and 1970s. Rounding off the collection is a Dad Cap with PMC’s iconic flying mechanic logo in hammered pewter.
“This collection is the coming together of two companies over a period of six to seven months, working together and making sure we infuse it with each other’s ideas and what we believe in,” says Koh.
Indeed, a lifestyle collection is not something one associates with Royal Selangor, which is famous for its pewter products such as drink and tea ware, decorative and gift items, picture frames and licensed collections with Disney for Star Wars and Marvel and DC For Batman. “The intention here is to shock and awe,” says Yong. “This is one of the very few true collaborations, where both brands sit down and knock out everything from the design to how the collection should look and be delivered to the marketplace. It was all done in a very short period of time.”
Koh, who trained as an architect and started PMC with friends as a hobby, has seen his label grow to encompass five brick -and-mortar stores and other e-commerce outlets, with family support. He says the opportunity for PMC as a relatively young company to work with Royal Selangor has afforded him the experience of seeing how things are done on the other side. “It was really great as my team and I learnt a lot over the past six months.”
“I think, at the end of the day, both brands have played a part in preserving Malaysia’s heritage. We are very proud of the collaboration as Malaysia’s culture has inspired the RSXPMC capsule collection in a relevant way, through these visuals from the era of the nation’s early days,” Yong concludes.
This article first appeared on Feb 26, 2018 in The Edge Malaysia.