Rising Giants Podcast
In the evolving fashion industry of Cambodia, a standout venture has emerged to challenge the status quo – Attire Lounge. The co-founders, Tong Hour (Key) and PingAnn Oung, featured on Episode 88 of ‘Rising Giants’ podcast, hosted by Max Thornton and Dom kalousek, recorded for the first time at their new studio located in the Choice Accelerator co-working space in BKK3, Phnom Penh.
Attire Lounge is Cambodia’s first sartorial gentlemen’s style consultant house, offering a variety of ready-to-wear collections that include sartorial, groom, and office wear. The innovative fashion hub blends traditional tailoring techniques with modern aesthetics, differentiating itself as more than a conventional retail outlet.
Reflecting on the conception of the business, PingAnn Oung, who previously served as an entrepreneur researcher for the World Bank, expressed his long-standing interest in men’s fashion. It was a crucial component of his personal brand during his consultancy tenure, and he envisioned sharing this style confidence with others.
“Interacting with numerous startup owners kindled a similar entrepreneurial spirit within me. I knew I didn’t want to look back in five or ten years with regret about not starting something of my own,” PingAnn elaborated.
Key chimed in, offering insight into the brand’s inception and the instrumental role of their third co-founder, his sister. “Once we decided on our business concept, we began considering who else we could bring on board. My sister, a fellow fashion enthusiast, contributed not only to our initial capital but also bolstered our operational prowess. Within a mere three months, we were ready to launch our pilot project at FACTORY Phnom Penh.”
Finding your distinctive brand identity
The entrepreneurs candidly shared the initial challenges they faced in carving out a distinctive brand identity. The founders were intent on establishing a space where people could feel creative, explore the latest trends in men’s fashion, and move beyond the typical shirts and pants offerings.
“We were committed to fighting social norms, pushing boundaries of what men can wear and feel comfortable in. This principle became a driving force behind our brand,” PingAnn stated.
The second hurdle they navigated was building a dedicated team that could embody their brand ethos. Starting with just a core of just four founders, they found it challenging to recruit individuals who were not only passionate about business but could also represent their brand in their own right.
PingAnn offered a novel interpretation of the term ‘sartorial,’ which was initially associated with handcrafted or bespoke attire. He mentioned that the advent of mass manufacturing had made this style more accessible, a philosophy that aligns with the brand’s direction.
Attire Lounge’s target market primarily includes white-collar professionals seeking to expand their style horizons. “Our marketing and sales strategies thrive on word-of-mouth referrals, reflecting the strong bonds we’ve built with our clientele,” Key explained.
Recounting their early reception when Attire Lounge first opened in October 2022, Key admitted underestimating the potential demand for their products. The team planned small group visits throughout the day and had core staff showcasing the brand concept. They quickly learned about inventory management when initial stock ran out due to unexpectedly high demand – a “good problem” to have, Key noted.
The co-founders emphasized their commitment to delivering a personalized approach, differentiating them from traditional clothing stores. PingAnn added that their expertise in styling comes from passion and years of industry experience, which is invaluable when looking to expand into developed markets like Europe.
Increasing product and services offerings
Discussing future plans, PingAnn mentioned that they aim to extend their innovative approach to include mobile consultations, grooming services, and even exploring female business attire, keeping the brand dynamic and responsive.
When asked about funding, PingAnn clarified that initially, the founders relied on their stable jobs to self-fund the venture. However, with three of the four founders now working full time at Attire Lounge, they have considered the idea of outside investment.
“We have had offers from two potential investors keen on helping us expand. But at this stage, we have decided to retain our startup mindset. If we stumble, it will be a valuable life lesson. So, for now, no external funding,” PingAnn stated.
Key added, “The strength of our four founders has been vital to our success. We believe that bringing in outside investors might mean ceding some decision-making power and straying from our original path. However, we’re open to revisiting this in the future, especially if we decide to expand into new markets.”
The discussion then turned to the topic of branding and customer experience. PingAnn, leveraging his background in sales and marketing, expressed the importance of creating a detailed customer journey.
“We have established a system where we understand our customer’s profile before they start trying on our clothes. This helps us to better cater to their needs and assists us in expanding their fashion boundaries,” he explained.
Building a community around the brand
As for the role of Attire Lounge in the ever-evolving men’s fashion industry, PingAnn laid out a vision of community building. “We are cultivating a community of gentlemen who appreciate a particular style of men’s fashion, providing a platform for them to exchange ideas and connect with like-minded individuals. Our aim is to create a space where they can develop their fashion acumen and grow their confidence,” he said.
When asked about their first impressions of fashion, Key stated that the fit of a garment was paramount. “The fit has to be the most important factor before anything else. It can make or break the look,” he affirmed.
The co-founders were candid about the challenges they had faced, most of which had been tied to their initial capital. PingAnn revealed that, due to budget constraints, they did everything themselves instead of outsourcing, which would have been easier but more costly.
Sharing the best advice they’ve received, PingAnn highlighted the importance of mastering one’s craft before venturing into entrepreneurship. He quoted, “if you want to start a bakery, learn to bake bread first”. This resonates with their philosophy of becoming the brand before selling it to others.
Key echoed similar sentiments, advocating the strategy of starting small. “We began with a small space, only 3 x 4, to test our business model. My advice is always to start small and fail small.”
In their journey so far, Attire Lounge’s founders have demonstrated the importance of passion, dedication, and a strong vision in creating a unique brand that pushes fashion boundaries. With their innovative approach to men’s style and their continued focus on community building, Attire Lounge is set to play a pivotal role in shaping Cambodia’s ‘sartorial’ fashion landscape.