An interest in suits and shoes, and a lack of alternatives in Malaysia, led Wen Yeunh to create his own menswear store in WJ & Co
The modest size of the WJ & Co showroom in Bangsar Shopping Centre belies the fact that it is one of Malaysia’s top menswear destinations. Its sophisticated, curated offerings reflect the passion and knowledge of Wen Yeunh, who co-founded the store in 2016.
On starting WJ & Co
It all started when I was back in Malaysia on holiday. At the time, I lived in Melbourne, and was in corporate finance. I came back for a friend’s wedding, and I forgot to bring a black pair of oxfords. Simple black oxfords were surprisingly difficult to find in Malaysia. At that time, my business partner and I were at a point in our careers where we were looking for the next step. I always wanted to build something, and this was a good opportunity for me to meld it with my passion for menswear.
On learning the trade
Back when I first started working in New York,one of the partners of the firm I was with was this classic American guy. New York born and bred, he was big on button-down collars, grey suit, black tie. And whenever he had spare time on his hands, he would come and lecture us — what to wear, and where to go. From there, I got an introduction to classic American clothing. When I moved back to Melbourne, I met Tom Riley from the Australian tailoring house P Johnson. I made a suit with him, and through the process, he taught me a lot about suiting. Then I found that when I wasn’t doing work, I was just reading about this stuff.
For tailoring, we do a lot of work with P Johnson. I’m particularly proud of the relationship we have with them. Firstly, they’re our friends. Secondly, their aesthetic is very commensurate with ours: a soft, elegant approach. They’re also a bit of a specialist in lightweight fabrics, which makes it more relevant to Southeast Asia. Light canvas, half-lined, that sort of thing — but still very aesthetically relevant. They only really work with two other retailers — Barney’s New York, and Mr Porter. And there’s us — this tiny shop in Malaysia, and I think that’s fantastic.
John Lobb is also synonymous with classic English shoes, and it often informs people where we are as a brand. The Lopez, their penny loafer, is my favourite shoe. It perfectly straddles classic styling and contemporary materials — like, for instance, museum calf, which is leather with a colour variation. Their suedes are also fantastic, and they’ve just released an unlined version. It’s also available through their By Request service, which lets you flex your creativity with it.
In general, we have two defined customer types. The first is the younger group, and they’re interested in learning. We spend a bit more time talking to them, and what we can do is cut through a lot of the fluff and myth. They’re also willing to be more experimental. On the other hand, we have the group of more experienced customers who tend to be a bit older. What they’re after is someone to look after them, someone who they can trust to do the process. I figure some of them are a bit cautious with this type of business in Malaysia, where it didn’t really work out before, with others — but now that they’ve seen we’ve been here for a while, they recognise that we know what we’re doing.
On the future
What we hope is for WJ & Co to be this hub where all the best in the retail profession come to work. I want to find the people who really care about customer service. I can teach all the technical details. What I can’t coach is the passion for looking after someone. The guys we have now really care about that — I’ve seen the lengths they go to look after a customer, and it’s phenomenal.