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How To Reach Pestle & Mortar’s Level Of Successful Collabs, According To Pestle & Mortar

Pestle & Mortar Clothing (PMC) is a streetwear brand I’ve known since secondary school. The first product of theirs I saw was a shirt my friend wore, a plain black tee with a small print of their brand on it. 

For someone like me who’s neutral about streetwear, it wasn’t very memorable. But over the years, I noticed a lot of PMC collaborations with well-known brands like myBurgerLab and KFC

PMC’s collaboration with KFC last year / Image Credit: Pestle & Mortar Clothing

These aren’t brands that I would’ve expected a streetwear label to collaborate with, but PMC makes it seem like any collaboration is possible. 

Since this strategy is what got them so far today, I wanted to find out what these champs of collaborations could share with those of us interested in going down the same path. So, I interviewed Hugh Koh, Chief Vision Officer and co-founder of PMC, to learn more.

Why The Focus On Collaborations As A Brand?

“The streetwear landscape has changed so much ever since we opened our doors in 2010. Competition is more and the landscape noisier,” Hugh explained to Vulcan Post. 

He adds that as a brand, they are firm believers in collaborations because it is the best way for PMC to spread their message, which is taking pride in Southeast Asian culture. Their main goal with this strategy is to establish themselves as a platform for heritage and cultural story-telling. 

In case you weren’t aware, the reason behind the name of their brand is because pestle and mortars can be found in almost every Asian household, which was what they felt represented their brand best.

In summary, PMC wants to show off Southeast Asian brands through their streetwear apparel.

Additionally, Hugh shared that collaborations keep their customers excited, since they’re able to produce new products or tell new stories that they wouldn’t be able to on their own.

To help you gauge how significant collaborations are to their brand, their revenue from collaborations make up over 50% of their company’s revenue this year. 

Brands They Have Collaborated With Recently

In the last 2 years, PMC has collaborated with Acer, Ultraman, Pepsi, Milo, Tiger Beer, Looney Tunes, Oppo, and Petronas, to name a few. 

Streetwear plus Tiger Beer and… Ultraman? Cute, and reminds me of my childhood. / Image Credit: Pestle & Mortar Clothing

Some of their proudest collaborations were with AirAsia and Royal Selangor. Which is understandable, seeing how important it is for them to spread their message by featuring Southeast Asian brands.

They’ve also collaborated with Kenji Chai, the graffiti artist behind the turquoise dog that we wrote about last month. 

Usually, these brands reach out to PMC first for a collaboration, but there have been times when PMC was the initiator. 

“The first question we always ask ourselves when presented with the opportunity is what is the angle? Does the story relate back to our brand DNA? If it does we proceed, if it doesn’t we turn it down,” Hugh said.

Lessons Learnt From Years Of Collaborations

Seeing that collaborations are the brand’s pillars, Hugh shared 4 important lessons they learnt on organising collaborations.

1. You can’t force a partnership. 

Over the years, they’ve had to turn down friends and even collaborations with lucrative returns to ensure the focus of their brand doesn’t get lost. 

“One of the weirdest brand collaborations we politely declined was a ladies’ whitening deodorant. We did not see any synergy between the brands from the customers down to the brand’s DNA,” Hugh recalled.

Finding the right angle that represents both brands needs to be the core of any collaboration, which was what they always reminded themselves. 

2. It’s never a one-way street. 

The reality about collaborations is that it’s not always about a smaller brand riding off a bigger brand’s fame. It’s actually about leveraging off each other’s strengths and delivering a product they can’t do without each other.   

“In the past, we have had experiences where our partners want to dictate the overall campaign and creative direction. Our reply to this is: don’t get a brand, get an agency.”

However, there were times when the experienced partners have left the entire process and direction to them. “For instances like this, we ask questions to ensure clear guidelines are set up from the get-go.”

3.  Always make sure you get equal coverage. 

It’s very normal in any collaboration where each party is always looking at getting the most coverage. It could be their brand presence through the product or just the overall campaign. 

Over the years, they have learnt to give as much as they took to ensure the balance of coverage they are getting beside their partners. It’s how you protect your brand.

“It’s also not only about having 2 brand logo’s sitting side by side,” Hugh highlighted to Vulcan Post.

The best brand collaborations are those that are able to merge organically, like the one they did with KFC.

“In the collection, the KFC branding was more prominent than PMC’s, however, the way it was depicted whether it be through the design language or overall local messaging was very PMC.”

4. Collaborations are not just about the finished product, but the journey. 

Partnerships can get messy, especially when responsibilities aren’t clear. As cool as an end-product of a collaboration may seem, it will never happen if both parties aren’t realistic with each other about what they can and cannot contribute. 

Identifying actual strengths and contributions from the start is important so that both parties understand their responsibilities clearly.

Additionally, when working with bigger and more experienced brands, PMC has found that they were able to pick up some lessons from them such as the way they plan things or and how they execute their projects.

“Over the years we have built new friendships with these different parties or individuals and some of them have even led to new projects.”

Inside one of their stores / Image Credit: Pestle & Mortar Clothing

Because of how diverse their collaborations have been so far, I’m excited to see how far they can push that diversity—like collaborations with apps, musicians, cars, hotels, etc., or an unexpected party.

It would be good to see PMC take on some advocacy projects for Southeast Asian social issues in their brand too, since I’ve seen such collaborations for other brands before.

Featured Image Credit: Hugh Koh, Chief Vision Officer and co-founder of Pestle & Mortar Clothing


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