An elevator convo with Ian Fong. See here for more from our Next Up series.
What do you do?
I run CUFFS, a custom clothing business based in Central. We are a modern, stylish and user-friendly reincarnation of the old-school Hong Kong tailor.
How does your business work?
We make it easy for men and women to look good, by combining traditional craftsmanship with modern innovations like our curated fabrics, step-by-step guides and seasonal sample designs. For example, at a traditional tailor if you want a white shirt, you get presented with a swatch book with 200 fabrics, a paralysis-inducing amount of choice. At CUFFS we have a hand-picked selection of 10 white fabrics, and our staff will walk you through the choices from non-iron cotton to long staple two-ply poplin. Once you’ve chosen your fabric, you can follow the steps on our trademark Shirt Bar and Suit Bar displays, after which you will be measured.
How did your business get started?
When brainstorming for business ideas, the best place to start is thinking about annoyances in your life. For me, that was buying a shirt that fit me well. Buying a shirt off-the-rack involved trying on dozens of shirts before compromising on one that fit the least bad. My search eventually led me to a charming old tailor in his tiny corner shop. Sure enough, the shirts fit better, but much of the experience was so old-fashioned and intimidating. I felt that if I could modernize and inject a dose of contemporary design into the industry I could attract a new market of younger, cooler clientele.
Who are your clients?
We’ve always been a men’s tailor, but we do have plans for a women’s custom clothing line. We have a wide range of customers, but our clientele are generally younger than the typical tailor’s, with a mix of expats and locals. In terms of sartorial experience, we have novices who make use of all our tools and guidance, as well as confident guys who know exactly what they want.
What’s a day in your working life like?
My awesome team runs the day-to-day operations in the shop. My main focus is on marketing, design and sourcing. I’m usually up by 8am, after which I lurch over to my trusty espresso machine where I bang out a couple of lattes for my wife and I — it’s a legacy of my six years in the coffee industry. After walking my two corgis, I’ll either head over to my co-working space or my favorite coffee shop to work. Of course, this being a small business, I have many other glamorous roles like handyman and warehouse manager!
Where do you see CUFFS in five years?
In five years, I’ll hope to have made more breakthroughs in helping guys to look good. I’m currently working on interesting ways to tackle another pain point for guys, putting together a stylish outfit. As mentioned before, I also hope to apply the same concepts to custom clothing for women.