Tucked in the corner of Lok Ku Road and Upper Lascar Row, a street with antiques, vintage items, flowers, and a growing number of coffee cafés, June Woonamy’s whimsical shop has a mysterious charm that invites those who pass by to stumble upon its diverse collection of unique artisanal outfits. I spoke with Brandice, founder and artistic direction of June Woonamy, and Luke on their background stories, their business, and their outlook and advice for fashion designers in Hong Kong.
Let our readers know about who you are and why you decided to create June Woonamy.
My (Brandice) background comes from fashion design, and I started June Woonamy since 2015. The business came from humble and simple beginnings as a way to commemorate my mom who, in 2012, passed away from cancer. My mom was always someone who loved to dress up and look pretty and chic, often wearing western style elegant fashion. The business was created to dedicate to her and her taste in nice, elegant clothing.
The name June Woonamy originates from a combination of both my name and my mom’s. June was because both my mom and I were born in June, Woon is the last character of my Chinese name, and Amy is my mom’s name.
When starting June Woonamy, I took all my savings that I assiduously earned through years of work to rent this 50 square feet shop. Prior to starting the company, Luke even told me that I was crazy. We started from zero, with no background, nothing. We were normal people with no clients at the beginning. But for me, I said I wanted to do it, so we started doing this. Through trial and error, little by little, we were able to get to where we are today.
How is your bespoke tailoring shop different from other tailoring shops?
About 10 years ago, fast fashion was the trend. There were a lot of outfits sourcing cheap materials from China using poor quality fabrics, and there would be this cycle of quickly buying and throwing clothes away. We wanted to break this mould, and have fashion to be more timeless while also having an emphasis on not using plastic. We used materials such as pure wool, cashmere, mother of pearl, shells, and also composite materials. We wanted our outfits to use organic, natural materials.
Conceptually, we wanted every outfit to be personalised to each individual and have its own theme. We accomplished this by having conversations with our customers to understand their purpose of why they wanted to have this outfit, while matching the style and fit of the individual’s appearance to accent their personality and of course their distinctive physical features.
Each outfit’s design and patterns tell their own story, usually reflecting and commemorating the reason the customer wanted this special outfit. For example, if a person went to Italy and enjoyed the architecture there, such as the Piazza San Marco, we would look into archives and do our research to see how best to showcase this.
Usually, the more stylish, daring, flashy, flamboyant side tends to be designed in the inside of the outfit, while the more classic design would be on the outside of the outfit. We tend to add small details on the outside of the outfit as well. We do this because we want to ensure that the individual can wear the outfit multiple times at multiple occasions, rather than say only at a one-time event. There have been customers who also requested that their jackets can also be worn inside out, so that they can reverse wear their jacket or suit jacket when attending events or parties. Although this is something we can do, we do not consider this to be our selling point.
Traditional tailoring shops tend to offer more authentic, orthodox colours such as black and blue. With us, we enjoy doing more out of the box designs using unorthodox colours such as turquoise, pastel mint, purple, light blue and pink, as long as the character and the colour matches our client. We can even do pin stripes with those colours as well. Some people might think what we do is outrageous, but to us we feel that it’s special. We believe that the main spirit of bespoke tailoring is to meet different customers’ standards and interests, and to also make a fashion statement; if it requires us to be a little outrageous, so be it. It’s also a great way for our clients to diversify their wardrobe so that they can achieve a different look when wearing with their jeans.
Who is your clientele usually?
Tailoring is often thought of to be a traditional, mature industry, often gearing towards bankers and lawyers around the ages of 40 and above. In fact, dare I say, while tailoring does have a long history in Hong Kong, it is a dying trend. This is because many master craftsmen are retiring from the scene, but also because the current tailoring industry continues to resonate only with the older audience, as evident with the numerous ads represented by mature men.
When we talk with people, we realise that bespoke tailoring has to be more open and accepting towards more audiences. For example, a lot of our customers these days come into our shop and say that they have their first job interview soon, yet they do not want their suit to be like old-fashioned or like a uniform; they don’t want their outfit to be so serious.
This is particularly true with younger generations like Generation Z and people who are born after 1990’s. They open their parents’ wardrobe and refuse to wear what they wore because their outfits look so out of date and formal. They want fashion pieces and outfits that allow them to represent themselves and showcase their personality and individuality.
In order to rejuvenate the tailoring industry, we believe it is important to convey this message that bespoke tailoring can be youthful, can be personalised, can be colourful and inviting. This is the trend that young people want nowadays. I still remember one of our interns even coming to work one day wearing a bold, loud top with the words, “Go fuck yourselves,” and dying her hair in a wild colour. Young people nowadays want to be seen as different, to make a statement, to appear fearless and bold. You can see this with the number of selfies they take and whenever they upload images, they don’t go for plain or traditional, they go for eccentricity.
While we ourselves aren’t young anymore, we do need to catch up with the Internet generation and understand what they want. And while we specialise in suits and suit jackets, we understand that not everyone wants or has the budget for those products, so we also work with jump suits, jeans, shirts and more as long as it caters towards our audiences. We also tend to attract a lot of interest from the LGBT community, and we believe in part it’s because they tend to want unique products that matches who they are, and our acceptance of unorthodox ways aligns with what they are looking for.
What is your approach when working with a client?
Our philosophy is that we want our customers to think of us as trustworthy and open. It is only by creating a dialogue with them that facilitates these values, we then start to be accepted into their world and understand who they are, which allows us to be inspired to create an outfit that matches their story and personality.
A lot of our customers, especially those who are young, start off by going to traditional tailoring shops. But they are often turned off by their arrogance, with the elders saying that they can’t wear this and that because it’s not right, the fabric that they want to use isn’t good looking, that their fit has to be this way… The traditional tailoring shops tend to have a fixated idea of what looks good and imposes what they want on the customers. But for us, we want our customers to tell us what they want and then we go to work and make what they want look beautiful on them. This is what we mean when it comes to being open; that we accept customers’ ideas and play around with it and have it incorporated into the outfit, rather than instilling this fear in customers that their ideas are going to be rejected outright.
An example to illustrate what we mean by trust is that I remember one customer of ours, a male who had a male partner, was quite reserved about his status at first, which tends to be the case for most LGBT couples. After asking him many questions about what he wanted, he started to open up about his relationship and explained that he wanted something to commemorate his relationship using birds, and so we went to work and started printing many things for him to select from.
Our job is to problem solve for our clients. Not all designs will be avant-garde, but what’s critical is the service that we provide to them. For instance, we will give suggestions on how they can hide their big belly or make it less noticeable. If they love animals or have pets at home and they want that integrated into their outfit, we think of ways to make it happen. If they want a Chinoiserie pattern, we will make it happen. We give advice on what fabrics or patterns they should wear depending on the seasonality or location of when they would wear this outfit. For instance, if it’s a piece of outfit for a wedding, we would ask where and when the wedding will be held, the backdrop of the wedding, what they had in mind for the flower bouquets and bridal dresses and groom suits, then we will design outfits that would match the entire theme, mood, location, and the weather at the location. If it’s a work outfit but at the same time they want to commemorate a special moment, we will ensure that it’s comfortable to wear and have the design subtle enough to be appropriate in the office.
When customers come into our shop, we ask them about their desired colours and fabrication they have in mind, and the story they want their outfit to tell. We will also ask them about any themes they want to portray, such as any Chinese theme or a display of nonchalance. I (Brandice) will also do some trend forecasting as well. We can also do personalised embroidery. Once we have an idea of what the customer wants, we create a personalised mood board for them, and each time they have any suggestions, we will do the modifications for them, whether it’s a different collar, different cut, or slight altercations to small details.
When we create their outfits and suits, we also try to ensure versatility for their piece of apparel so that they can mix and match with their existing wardrobe and wear it multiple times for different occasions. They can wear it not only for a wedding or for work, but they can also wear it when drinking with their friends.
Occasionally, the conversations we have with our customers tend to be 30% about work, and the rest of the time, we will chat about many other things unrelated to the outfit, such as music, culture, architecture and art. We often become friends with many of our clients.
How has it been like dealing with your customers?
So far, all of our clients have been manageable. There were a couple of customers who were quite memorable for various reasons. One that comes to mind was a male interior designer from Belgium, Germany who was looking for a very unique fabric / thread / texture. Once, he sat in our shop for four hours just to see and touch different graphics and fabrics that we provided. He wanted an ombré kimono for him and his husband, who currently works in Hong Kong as a consul. I noticed that Germans, and westerners in general, tended to have very high standards and tended to have more out of the box ideas.
Another very interesting story was when a French family’s helper or driver brought the father and his son into the shop, knowing that they were passionate about art. They came in, and showed us some art that they wanted their son to wear. They wanted their son to wear similar to what you’d imagine fairy tale characters to wear, with some elegant embroidery on the vest.
We also designed an outfit for a husband and wife who wanted to celebrate their 10th year’s wedding anniversary. There was a song that the wife really liked, and we designed an outfit where the song’s lyrics were written on golden Japanese grosgrain ribbon, and attached with the ribbon was the gift that the husband gave to his wife during their special occasion.
We have had customers who also requested to do unstructured suits or for us to use linens that contribute to storytelling.
Have you had any celebrities or well-known people come into your shop?
During one of Clockenflap’s weekends, a staff and I (Luke) were lazily relaxing in the shop. It was a rather quiet, uneventful afternoon.
Suddenly, I noticed a silhouette of a guy who was standing outside our door and was looking inside. Upon deeper observation, I realised… it was one of my childhood idols, Jarvis Cocker! I couldn’t believe it. He was my indie hero since I was 10 years old. I immediately went out to greet him and told him to come in. Long story short, we had such a wonderful conversation together that for the 4 days he was in Hong Kong, he ended up coming to our shop for 3 days. I remembered even going home after the first day I met him and bringing all my Jarvis Cocker music stuff to the shop the next day to get him to sign. We would talk about music, society, just a lot of different topics. He was super nice, polite, and incredibly down to earth.
We’ve continued to keep in touch since then. Whenever we went to London, we would contact him to meet for a drink. Jarvis was also curious about politics, and often asked us about the situation in Hong Kong as well. He even told us how back when he was younger, he would often visit the café in Central Saint Martins to pick up girls there.
We’ve had a few times other celebrities who requested to visit the store at night, however for privacy sake we cannot share their names.
How do you get the word out about your store?
At the beginning when we didn’t have a following, one of the things we did was we approached 100Most (100毛), who was and still is a well-established media company. Luke thought I (Brandice) was crazy, but what I wanted to do was to actually change the outfits of what their hosts / anchors were wearing. I sent a message to them and fortunately enough, they accepted our offer and were willing to collaborate with us. From that point on, we started doing many more collaborations together, such as advertisements, performances, and styling. It was a breakthrough period for us, and suddenly a lot more people recognized our brand. We became close friends as both of our companies were very passionate in what we do, shared similar creative vibes, and were both a little bit crazy and liked to think about awkward weird things, so our communication was smooth and we trusted each other.
We also manage Facebook and Instagram accounts but we treat them more than just a platform to hard sell our clothing. As you know, there are so many different social media accounts and accessibility is extremely easy, so we wanted to ensure that when people come across our page, they would remember us. We treat our Facebook and Instagram accounts separately, with different target audiences in mind.
With Facebook, besides fashion, we tend to post more about the local culture in Hong Kong, music, pop culture, and even cinema movies as well. We wanted to provide not only interesting content but also convey our brand imagery on who we are. With Instagram, we wanted to make our account look fruitful and imaginative and come in many different colourways. Some posts are designed to be in a specific colour, for example we may use a golden yellow to represent Chinese culture and to talk about fashion and history.
Sometimes we would collaborate with different artists to create trendy artistic designs. Our current set of business cards was designed by an Australian illustrator by the name of James Dignan. With regards to illustrations, we’re quite traditional and tend to prefer hand drawn illustrations more so than computer illustrations, although the latter can sometimes be interesting as well. In the future, we do want to find more young local artists to collaborate with.
As mentioned above, our clients tend to be not just our clients, but also our friends as well. Regardless of whether a client does become our friend or not, all of our clients have been more than satisfied with the work we have provided, and they will share their happy artisanal tailoring experience with their family and friends. Word of mouth is always good for us.
And I think just being situated here in Sheung Wan is already an advantage for us. Whereas places like Causeway Bay and Tsim Sha Tsui tend to be more touristy, this neighborhood has a lot of interesting people, all with different backgrounds and different age ranges, and a lot of people get intrigued by our door and come in for themselves to see what’s inside. Usually they would initially assume that we were selling second hand clothing or even ask if the artworks on the wall were for sale, assuming we were like the other shops in this district. Once, we even had a customer who walked in while still drinking a beer from Blue Supreme (American craft beer bar next door).
What do you think is different opening your shop here in Hong Kong as compared to other cities in the world? What are your future plans with June Woonamy?
We were amused that most of our customers prior to the pandemic tended to be local and expats, and almost none from China. I’d say around 60-70% of customers were local, whereas 30-40% were expats and westerners. As someone who was born and raised in Hong Kong, despite the numerous negative news and gloomy future of Hong Kong, we won’t leave this place because this really is our home. Especially for me (Brandice), I even studied around this neighbourhood in Sheung Wan, so no matter how much this city changes, I will always love this place.
For now, we may have plans to develop a stronger online presence and adapt to the internet world more so that our suits and jackets can reach globally and also get our brand recognised in other places of the world. But with regards to having physical stores in other places, this is something we don’t have plans for at the moment. A lot of foreigners tell us that we should open a store in whatever city they were travelling from, but building a physical store in a new place requires a significant amount of resources.
Besides, Hong Kong itself contains a ton of inspirations. Despite its small size, you can walk around the city and hear many magnificent stories from different people. When you go to foreign countries, usually the areas are not as concentrated. Even though we have been observing and experiencing a more pessimistic environment recently, if you ignore politics and continue to do what you love doing then things haven’t had a major impact.
We’ve even heard from some foreigners from Canada or New York who come to visit Hong Kong every year, even during this time when quarantine is mandatory, because they have an affinity to Hong Kong – the people, the feeling, the cordiality but also the directness from the people. They love how when they buy an egg tart, the saleswoman would say $5 and that would be it, but at the same time the saleswoman would also say “Good Morning” to them and was very polite. There’s this atmosphere of energy, vibrancy, efficiency and hard work in Hong Kong, and I think these traits are what made Hong Kong into a global city starting from 1980’s and 1990’s. Look around here and you will even see stores opening up at 7am.
What is your favourite piece of fashion wear for both males and females?
For males, it would definitely be outer jackets, whether that’d be blouson jackets, safari jackets, bomber jackets, car coats, parka coats; outerwear for men is the most important. In Hong Kong, with the weather so hot and humid, most men usually just wear t-shirts and shirts, but sometimes let’s say if you’re meeting some friends for dinner or going on a date, wearing an attractive outer jacket can “add points” and make your appearance more sophisticated. Jackets don’t necessarily have to be bounded by suit jackets, some guys like more semi business or casual business items, which tends to be the trend these days.
For females, my choice of preference would be a dress, especially a one-piece dress. When Hong Kong girls go to work, they want something comfortable and convenient to wear. Females here are quite career driven, so they want dresses and shoes that are hassle free to wear while at the same time uses good fabrication and looks elegant and classy. There is no age restriction when it comes to dresses; although young females can wear more asymmetrical funky designs with more details, females in their forties or fifties can wear more sophisticated, minimal, drapery, two tone coloured dresses that use wool fabrics and are wrinkle resistant. Dresses can also highlight a woman’s body figure as well.
What is your outlook with the bespoke tailoring industry?
Before, tailored suits were designed for the rich executives to signify their power and position, think Giorgio Armani. Nowadays, we’re seeing that the demand for tailoring services tend to gear towards accessibility, personality, and diversification.
After studying in fashion design, I went to work as a fashion designer and was immediately put into the back office with other fashion buyers, suppliers, and manufacturers. Companies tend to see fashion designers as people who work in the shadows, not someone who needs to build relationships with clients.
Nowadays, I’m seeing that there are more ateliers popping up, and I think the industry is recognising, deservedly so, that designing and tailoring should be more frontline. Now, the role of designers has changed so that customers can advise designers directly about fashion trends and styles.
Fashion design is often misunderstood in that little is known of it. The general public would assume that a fashion designer’s job is only about drawing, but actually the process of designing clothings from start to finish is much more complicated. From the selection of fabric, threads, or a button’s thickness, to the graphics, colour separation, and fit of the outfit to match the person’s distinctive physical features and preferences such as tight or loose, a lot of effort and thinking is involved. As a fashion designer, we would also try to see if we can do something to say make their body line look more attractive, or give our expert advice to our client to let them know that they cannot wear skinny jeans or it’ll accentuate their thighs even more. There is no single standardised formula when designing outfits to match our clients, and that’s what makes our jobs both challenging and fun.
Fashion is a tough business in Hong Kong, especially now. Interns and newly graduates are having a difficult time getting hired for jobs, and what ends up happening is that they often change industries into makeup or sales that isn’t even fashion related. During the 80’s and 90’s doing apparel was very good; foreigners would come and we (Hong Kong) as middleman had a lot of business. Nowadays, China, Vietnam, and even Singapore can replace what we do in the fashion industry. For those young people in Hong Kong that don’t come from affluent families, it’s hard for them to fully exhibit their creativity. What I do encourage these young and rising fashion designers to do is to learn how to launch blogs and websites to showcase their creativity and reach out to their target audiences.
Any role models or people that inspire you before or currently?
We don’t really have a single person that acts as our role model, if anyone it would be my mother who taught me to be tough, persistent, and to have good work habits while also sharing her great taste in fashion. Her lessons were invaluable especially when it comes to running a business, because often times doing good at work is mainly about the attitude.
But when it comes down to it, we are often inspired by illustrations, photography, films, history, culture, music; we listen to lots of music actually, and Luke and I actually have contrasting tastes. Luke likes to listen to indies and 90’s music, whereas I like to listen to 80’s and funk and punk music.
One inspiration that does come to mind was when we were watching the Chloé fashion show, and we learnt that one of the songs used for their runway walk was also used in the movie Millennium Mambo starring Shu Qi, so we went to watch that movie as well. When it comes to getting inspiration from other designers, we do admire many of them, but in order to breakthrough we realise that we have to walk a different road from them.
What’s a motto you live by?
We live with a “Candolism” spirit and attitude, that before you say you cannot do something, try to do it first. Don’t ban someone’s thoughts immediately, think about it first and try to tackle it from different angles. Unless it’s something that’s utterly nonsensical, we try to do our best and give all our energy to providing a solution for the client and even if it doesn’t work out in the end, at least our clients know that we accepted their idea and tried to incorporate them rather than outright denying them.
I think this also stems from the fact that both of us worked in foreigners’ companies before. Usually our ex-managers will just tell us what tasks needed to be achieved within a certain deadline, and they wouldn’t teach you how to do it, then they go viva la vida. So often times, we would have to figure out how to do it ourselves. In spite of their hands-off attitude, they were still quite picky and held high standards.
We’ve even managed extremely tight deadlines before, such as last year when we had a lot of wedding orders for 2020.
Did you had anything else you wanted to share with the young and rising designers in the fashion community?
Especially in Hong Kong, those who study and are passionate about designing should realise that studying fashion and working in fashion are completely different. Once they are engaged in real life society, they become disenchanted because their expectations of what they wanted from studying isn’t what they wanted at work, and they come out working half-heartedly with the jobs they are hired to do.
In schools, creatives can be as outrageous, avant-garde, and as abnormal as they want, but when reality settles in they realise that everything in life is after all a business and has a commercial value, and that their boss will insist that the products they create must be sellable and must have turnover and must attain certain KPIs. Designers who come out to work then gnaw at how boring their jobs are, with little room for creativity, such as continuously working with five pockets jeans.
Hong Kong isn’t London or Paris, and there is little room for designers to be completely outrageous. Sure, the Hong Kong public may find what they do fascinating and cool, but if the target market doesn’t buy it, then it’s going to be very difficult to make a living. If you look around the streets of Hong Kong, most people wear normal daily wear; at the utmost, people would wear chic attire but nothing crazy.
This is true no matter which region you work for as well, that markets will always have their own preferences and taste and in order to survive in the industry, you must create items and products that are sellable and have a commercial value.
We’ve met many talented designers who showcased works of outstanding beauty, but they cannot breakthrough. Our interns always come back to us and say how they always wanted to create something conceptual, but their bosses always disallow them to do so.
Yes, it’s important for designers to think different, but until you start to have your own recognizable brand / name, the outrageous designs can be done just for fun or to be displayed in museums. But before that happens, you need to create items that people are willing to wear multiple times so that people will remember you.
Lastly, we encourage young people to interact more with their customers. If you’re in a coffee café sketching an idea out, why not ask someone sitting nearby about what they think about your design? Young people these days tend to be very quiet and very polite, even though inside they are quite rebellious. Interact with your target customers more.
Life will never 100% fit what you want, but be sure to find time to do what you want to do. Whether that’d be crazy or funky designs, go ahead, but make sure you’re also able to make enough money to take care of yourselves and your family.