Flying high with South-East Asian pride

The brand name itself says it all. It derives from the background of a team that comprises mostly South-East Asians — a pestle and mortar can be found in pretty much every Asian household


The ‘Lucky Charm’ luggage tag features the 4 elements to ensure the universe works in the wearer’s favour

“I CAN wear whatever I want. You’re not my stylist,” American singer Khalid once said on Twitter some years ago.

Apparently, someone did suggest that he could be in style if he wore Pestle & Mortar, a South-East Asian brand that had its origin in Malaysia.

Nevertheless, with or without Khalid’s endorsement, the brand is now one of the forerunners in streetwear after being around for a decade.

The brand name itself says it all. It derives from the background of a team that comprises mostly South-East Asians — a pestle and mortar can be found in pretty much every Asian household.

The essence of the name is also very much like the ingredients that are mashed up using a pestle and mortar to be fused into one unique flavour that is now the “Pride of South-East Asia”.

Typically, one would assume that the person behind the name would come from a reputable fashion institute.

However, who would have thought that the co-founder of Malaysian brand Pestle & Mortar Clothing was actually an architecture student?

Hugh Koh actually spent his younger days in Australia completing his bachelor’s degree in Applied Science in Architecture from Curtin University.

The ‘Colours of SEA’ 3-pin set designed by Mam

Upon graduation, he worked in several architecture firms in both Malaysia and Australia.

It was not until 2010 that Koh’s interest in fashion began when he and a couple of friends started selling and designing T-shirts.

Today, after 10 years, Pestle & Mortar has become a popular brand in the region and beyond, true to its mantra, “Pride of South-East Asia”.

The three friends are also from various industries with different experiences that have been grinded, crushed and fused by Pestle & Mortar, resulting in a very unique fashion statement.

“We are a storytelling company first and a clothing brand second. We at Pestle & Mortar use our apparel as a canvas for stories and we aim to spark conversations through our designs and ultimately show the world what South-East Asia is capable of,” Koh said.

Pestle & Mortar’s big achievement came when American singer Khalid’s stylist, Ann-Marie, approached them as she wanted the superstar to wear the Malaysian brand.

The timing was also right for the brand as Koh and his team were launching a new collection.

That also led Pestle & Mortar to numerous collaborations with other famous brands.

Last year, the Malaysian brand collaborated with KFC to celebrate the cultural collision between our nation and the American fast-food chain.

The designs that were resulted from the collaborations included a mix between old-school Malaysian prints and patterns, and contemporary streetwear style.

Pestle & Mortar also collaborated with Royal Selangor International Sdn Bhd as they are both a Malaysian household brand.

Mamablues features the ‘Eye of SEA Tee’ which is an eyeball on a black shirt

PMC x AirAsia: SEA Pride

Together with AirAsia Group Bhd, Pestle & Mortar recently introduced the “PMC x AirAsia: SEA Pride” collection. The launch took place recently at the RexKL, Kuala Lumpur (KL), witnessed by Koh and AirAsia head of brand Rudy Khaw.

“We tried doing things together before, but we never quite landed something until now. And what really hit it off was that we wanted to create a project that we felt represented, what we stood for, what Pestle & Mortar stood for, and it was really about something that represents Asean as a whole,” Khaw said.

He added that AirAsia has always been a supporter of talents and dreams, and the airline has been doing it so far through sports and music.

“We wanted to use our brands and this collaboration as a means of creating a platform to showcase Asean talents, this time for artists and designers alike,” Khaw said.

The collaboration is also a good opportunity for the partners to push and create all kinds of lifestyles, as well as to collaborate with like-minded brands that define pop-culture in the region.

“This partnership has opened up opportunities for regional artists and designers to collaborate and showcase their work on our extensive network as well as online,” Khaw said.

He added that this collaboration would hopefully encourage more young South-East Asian designers to find new ways to express themselves as well as their heritage.

“This collaboration with AirAsia is extremely special to us as we kick off our year-long 10th Anniversary Campaign with them. At the same time, we get to highlight the South-East Asian region through the eyes of seven different storytelling artists,” Koh said.

The Naga 5-panel cap designed by Tarr

Seven Artists, One Collection

Seven clothing and accessory items are featured in the “PMC x AirAsia: SEA Pride” collection, namely three unisex T-shirts, a five-panel cap, a luggage tag, a bum bag and a set of three pins.

The collection is designed by seven artists from all over South-East Asia who were given full creative freedom to express and portray the essence of the region through their eyes.

“When we actually approached this project itself, the first thing that we told them in terms of the theme was South-East Asia. I guess each of the artists including ourselves sort of derive inspiration from many different things.

“In our particular case, our designs actually based a lot on South-East Asian icons,” Koh said. The artists are the Pestle & Mortar team from Malaysia, Lisa Mam and Peap Tarr from Cambodia, the Thai Mamablues, Don’t Blame the Kids from the Philippines and Singaporean designer Sam Lo.

Designed by Pestle & Mortar, the “Flowers of SEA Tee” displays each national flower from the region as they are placed in different pestles and mortars.

Cambodia is represented through two different products for the collection which are the “Colours of SEA” three-pin set designed by Mam and the Naga five-panel cap, designed by Tarr.

The “Colours of SEA” shows both traditional and modern elements of Khmer patterns.

These patterns can be seen in carvings at the Angkor Wat temples.

The designers also pay homage to the South-East Asian vibrant tropical colours, jungles and the flora.

Tarr’s Naga cap has traditional Cambodian patterns with a modern graffiti style in an abstract Cambodian “Naga” intertwined together.

Featuring the region’s culture of luck and superstitions, Lo designed the “Lucky Charm” luggage tag. It features the four elements to ensure the universe works in the wearer’s favour.

Representing the Philippines, clothing apparel brand Don’t Blame The Kids is in charge of the “Dream Big, Start Small” bum bag which displays elements of the Sampaguita flower.

The ‘Flowers of SEA Tee’ displays each national flower from the region

Mamablues features the “Eye of SEA Tee” which is an eyeball on a black shirt. If you look closely, the eyeball contains famous South-East Asian elements.

It symbolises how people in the region see the past differences in culture and aspirations while living in harmony.

Since South-East Asia is surrounded by the sea, Headless from Vietnam came out with The “SEA Pride White Tee”. Despite the differences, we still manage to find something in common, like the sea.

With the help of technology, Koh didn’t encounter difficulties searching for talents.

“I think South-East Asia itself is abundant with talents. There are so many talented people here. In our instance, I think how we first started was to reach out to people that we knew from each of these different countries.

“We asked them to recommend different people and then sort of narrowed it down,” he said.