Malaysian Streetwear That Began With LANSI Caps
Not everyone has the privilege of having solid capital to launch a startup.
Fortunately, there are many ways to do this, such as finding investors or just saving a job.
Shen personally drained his RM 5,000 savings to venture into his first startup, LANSI in 2009.
Much of that amount even came from his PTPTN loan.
With the 5,000 RM he had, he made 300 caps in 4 different colors with the LANSI brand on them during his last semester of college.
Scribbling the word “Lansi” on his blank trucker cap once sparked the idea of his own streetwear brand.
At the time, Shen wasn’t even sure his caps would sell, but if they didn’t, he figured he’d just get a full-time job after graduation.
“I ended up working full time immediately after I graduated from an advertising agency as a designer with all my hats hanging in the corner of my rented room… for almost a year! he said.
But it wasn’t the last time we saw these LANSI caps.
Marketing the Lansi way
At first, Shen struggled to find local streetwear stores to wear and sell his caps.
The stores were only interested in international brands at the time.
So, Shen tried a little Facebook trick to get his hats out.
He created a Facebook group and named it “If 5000 people join this group I will tattoo LANSI on my body“.
Pretty bubbly, and not quite your standard brand marketing. Surely enough, he gained 3000 subscribers in 2 weeks.
However, Shen wasn’t really going to get through the clickbait he set up.
“I did a sneaky switcheroo and changed the band name to just LANSI and posted pictures of my first LANSI picks in the band.”
“That’s how I sold my first hat to a stranger (we met at Low Yat Plaza) – through this group,” Shen explained.
While some may have been disappointed with the click bait, people have actually started ordering his LANSI caps through the group.
Shen didn’t even wait to break even with his first batch of caps before reinvesting the revenue into making t-shirts and a second batch of caps.
With the growing demand, the odds were finally with LANSI and his startup took off from there.
Be less Lansi and more real about the Biz
Shen predicted that the hype around the LANSI brand would eventually die down, so he started The Swagger Salon in 2010.
The Swagger Salon served as an online streetwear store and a suitable e-commerce platform to process their transactions.
Shen’s friends Jason and Jian helped him create The Swagger Salon at first, but didn’t want any sharing because they didn’t want their friendship to be jeopardized because of business.
When cap sales were not going anywhere at first, Shen worked full time as a designer and copywriter at an advertising agency.
Even when his brand became more popular after this Facebook trick, he knew well enough to stay in his full-time job instead of becoming a thug like he did before.
However, 4 years after the Swagger Show started, Shen realized that juggling business and work was becoming stressful and time consuming.
This led him to quit his job in 2013 for his company.
In 2014, the Swagger Salon flagship store was born in Shen’s hometown of Penang.
For Shen, it was an ode to the cool t-shirt shops he and his friends from high school used to hang out after school and on weekends.
Stay out of your comfort zone
Since the RM 5,000 PTPTN loan, Shen has never accepted any investors or partners.
Although he finally has a streetwear store, he doesn’t stop there.
Shortly after the launch of their flagship store in 2014, the GST took effect and affected their cash flow by changing the spending behaviors of consumers.
They faced difficulties from 2015 to 2016.
However, this downside prompted Shen to tap into a completely different industry: cocktail mixology.
Seeing that this was a growing trend and that they had some space in the back of their clothing store, Shen set up a speakeasy cocktail bar in 2016 called The Backdoor Bodega.
So on weekends, Shen was in the store in the afternoons and evenings, selling pins and making cocktails at the speakeasy at night.
Their monthly income these days varies on average between RM35,000 and RM50,000.
Almost 50% of that comes from their cocktail bar, which has fairly consistent income.
Although the bar hasn’t been in operation since MCO’s inception, they’ve launched an online store to deliver their cocktails and sell pins.
Fortunately, their online clothing sales and third-party clothing production are still stable despite the lockdown.
Buying local is a two-way street
While entering the international market may be the goal that many streetwear brands set for themselves, Shen wants to do the exact opposite.
He thinks buying and supporting local brands is a two-way street.
“If we are to celebrate how consumers should support local brands, local brands should also seek to grow and contribute locally.”
“Produce and collaborate locally instead of outsourcing, and focus on the local consumer market instead of looking beyond and trying to appeal to an international market,” he said.
Being a constantly growing brand, it’s no wonder that Shen doesn’t settle for just one streetwear store.
“I believe in building the Georgetown Swagger Salon beyond just a clothing store, but also as a community center of sorts.
He wants to start hosting mini rap battles, collaborate with the art scene, and raise the standards and appreciation of the local design community.
“If there’s anything that this pandemic and this lockdown has taught us, it’s that it’s the people around us who are going to support us – and who will need our support most during these difficult times.
Shen, founder of LANSI and The Swagger Salon
- You can read more about The Swagger Salon here.
- You can read more about other Malaysian startups here.
Featured Image Credit: Shen, Founder of Swagger Salon
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