Tuesday March 19, 2013
Fashion entrepreneur Jon Wong is on his sure-footed way to success
By MICHELLE TAM
INESSENTIAL, but conducive to comfort and pleasure. To fashion entrepreneur Jon Wong, that is the true definition of luxury.
“Luxury is a state of mind. An experience. That’s why I perfume every Z’ng package with a woody, floral scent,” said the 26-year-old.
While many have an unhealthy relationship with shoe-shopping, Wong believes his wares are not a guilty indulgence because they are anchored by his biggest inspiration: his mother.
“My mum is a strong lady. Because of her, I have a soft spot for single mothers, or those who are breadwinners for their family,” he explained.
‘That’s why I created something where people like her - those who put others first, who avoid spending on themselves - won’t feel bad about getting a beautiful, affordable pair of shoes.”
Not being from a well to do family, the Geographic Information System graduate could not pursue Advertising at a private institute.
And while he disliked dealing with details such as terrain height data during his public university years, he did not come away empty handed.
“I became more analytical and well versed in IT. It was about doing what you have to, even if you may not like it,” said Wong of playing the hand he was dealt.
This hands-on approach helps him oversee all aspects of the business, though being his own boss has led to some misconceptions. “Some thought I had ‘no need to go to work’. Well, I used to work from my bedroom so when I got up, I was already at work! Most are in the office from 9 to 6: I was there 24/7!” laughed Wong, who has since secured a shoplot in Seremban to serve as office space.
If the shoe fits
While Wong lacked a conventional entrepreneurial background, what he did possess was a lifelong dream of owning his own brand.
His previous experience of managing social media platforms for the region’s largest online retailer also saw him participating in weekly meetings with different departments.
This sparked his interest in the industry and gave him the gist of running his own retail operation. So he asked himself: what do ladies buy the most?
“They buy bags and clothes, but the latter is too competitive. In Kenanga Wholesale City for instance, there are clothes everywhere but only a few shoe shops, so you feel like you have a shot at success,” he said.
What sealed the deal was how the retailer’s database proved that ladies shoes were always the highest selling products!
His thrifty nature also helped him build five-figure strong savings when working in Singapore, which he initially intended to sink in a smaller online retail operation.
“But the moment I looked at it, I knew it wasn’t for me. I don’t want to invest in something that doesn’t excite or interest me,” he stressed.
The next few developments happened in quick succession. Wong left his job in June 2012, decided to form Z’ng Impresa the month after, and finally registered the company last August.
As his initial outlay is fast running out, Wong is open to idea of external investments, and the search continues for entrepreneurial funding even as the business moves forward with the backing of a high-interest, personal bank loan. Being a fast-paced person, he recalled being bogged with boredom when things stagnated.
“The website wasn’t up, sales were low, and it felt bad to just be designing and manufacturing. During that period, I just lost that fire,” he confessed, admitting to being driven by the bottom line.
“Good sales revenue is the most comforting thing: it shows that your efforts are tak sia sia (not in vain),” added Wong.
But the sparkle would soon return for the passionate entrepreneur. “I psyched myself out of it and thought: this is my business! If I don’t do it, no one will. A one man show is very dangerous: no one else is accountable, and whether the business moves or improves depends on you.”
Wong is now making up for lost time by expanding the Z’ng lines to include ready-made bridal and men’s shoes by the end of the year, with bags in the foreseeable future.
For his next collection in April, think bright pinks, yellows, and black reptile scales for the year of the Snake!
Made in Malaysia
For small businesses like Z’ng, challenges include keeping the inventory moving and ensuring customers select the right shoe size. After all, footwear can be likened to lingerie. Both can make a woman stand taller and feel better, but only if they fit perfectly.
As shoppers are more likely to find the perfect fit at department stores, he hopes to soon see a collaboration between retailers and designers.
“If Robinsons, for instance, can allocate a small place for upcoming talent to place their new products - and not charge a bomb for it - then it would be an excellent outlet for local designers,” he said.
He is currently in talks with several celebrities - including one of Malaysia’s most celebrated beauty queens - and established brands for future collaborations.
Till then, Wong is spending a substantial chunk of change on his e-storefront, and used his social media experience to raise his brand’s profile on Facebook via the Sole Extraordinaire contest, which gave away RM3,000 worth of shoes.
His Malaysia-based operation also sees him surveying and selecting shoe fabrics from local textile shops, with a preference for luxurious materials such as suede, satin, and velvet.
While he enjoys creating his own designs, common shoe shapes can be updated with different fabrics and details such as metal ribbons.
“When you use a special design, the minimum order quantity will increase as a special mould is needed,” he said. “Manufacturing one batch, which can be anywhere from 150 to 250 pairs, takes around two months.”
He looks to the runways of Tory Burch, Jimmy Choo, and Yves Saint Laurent for inspiration, and studies trends to determine their suitability in his designs.
“For instance, I wanted to do a metallic cap-toe shoe, but was advised that the material can scuff and damage the sophisticated design. So I went with a high quality glittered fabric that buyers won’t have to jaga jaga (be careful) with,” said Wong.
The shoes, which are manufactured in Kuala Lumpur, have a full leather heel counter - the part that grips the back of your feet - to provide comfort and protection against chafing.
“Being from Seremban, I wanted them to be made somewhere close by so I can conduct frequent quality checks,” said Wong.
Apart from hopes to someday headquarter his own factory in Seremban, the small towner also has big dreams for his hometown.
“I want to create a classy, multistorey shoe shopping destination that people can visit during their day trip here for our famous siew pow and beef noodles,” said Wong of the Negeri Sembilan capital with over half a million residents.
Citing Spanish retail darling Zara, he added: “If the world’s most successful fashion business began in Arteixo - a Spanish town of only thirty thousand residents - why can’t it happen in a small town in Malaysia?”.
To view the Z’NG collections, visit http://www.zngbyzng.com.
> An enhanced version of this story is available for download in The Star Editor’s Choice, Jan 24, 2013 issue. The app is available free from the App Store or Google Play.