*Produced by SilverKris for Sunday Shirt*
One’s an architect, the other is trained in chemical engineering. Both of them fit into the male stereotype of not being particularly fashion-inclined, with wardrobes dominated by plain shirts of basically the same design.
Yet, together, they’ve managed to catch lightning in a bottle and build a menswear brand that has become a crowd-favourite among Singapore shoppers, selling 90 per cent of its products in two days at its first retail event.
Born out of a revelation between two long-time friends, Sunday Shirt is the brainchild of Jonathan Toh and Tan Yuan Loong, both 32, who took inspiration from the colourful culture of Bangkok to create a line of fitted shirts that suits both casual and formal settings.
Sporting whimsical prints such as batik-inspired patterns and Japanese cranes, its collection of alternative Hawaiian shirts is also made with 100 per cent cotton, a more wrinkle- and fade-resistant option as opposed to other materials.
We sat down with the two first-time founders to talk about the secret behind their success and how they created Sunday Shirt.
How did the idea for Sunday Shirt come about?
Tan Yuan Loong: Jonathan and I have been friends since our time in the army. We reconnected a few years ago when we were both working in Bangkok, where we noticed how comfortable Thai people were with showing their personality, especially through the way they dress. They had no qualms even about wearing Hawaiian shirts to the office. In Singapore, people tend to shop at Uniqlo, pick out basic tees that fit them best and buy six of the same design.
Jonathan Toh: This is exactly how Yuan Loong and I – and some of our male friends – shop. Of course, we’re not saying everyone shops the same way, but we’ve observed a pattern.
Yuan Loong: That’s how we started Sunday Shirt in 2018. We wanted to bring a touch of colour and fun to men’s fashion in Singapore by creating comfortable, well-fitted shirts that lend personality to those who wear them.
Did the both of you come from a fashion background?
Yuan Loong: Far from it! I studied chemical engineering at National University of Singapore and am currently working in corporate finance – although it’s my last week. I’ll be pursuing an MBA for the next year or so.
Jonathan: And I’m trained as an architect, currently working on a variety of things for a co-working company. We don’t see ourselves as the first people you’d go to for fashion advice. We created Sunday Shirt not from a fashion-related standpoint, but from a cultural standpoint, driven by our instinct and motivation to address a gap in the market.
What is it like to run this business with each other?
Jonathan: A lot of things come very naturally. I think it comes from seeing each other as friends first, rather than strictly business partners. That helped a lot in the beginning as we relied hugely on trusting each other. We didn’t spend long hours delineating our roles and responsibilities. We just wanted to do something that looks good and feels right. It’d be a bonus if we could also put some money together for drinks and golf trips. But the brand caught on and grew into something much larger.
Yuan Loong: We also naturally gravitated towards very different aspects of the business. I take care of the operations and finances, while Jon takes charge of marketing and engaging the customers. We complement each other pretty well, and I think it’s one of the secrets to our success.
Tell us more about the early days of Sunday Shirt.
Yuan Loong: We focused a lot on creating a great product before bringing it to the market. At the time, we were still based in Bangkok and could visit many different cloth suppliers and manufacturers to understand the whole industry. We took about three months to experiment with the design, in terms of the desired fit, and multiple materials. We never actually sold those early versions, so most of them are still in my wardrobe.
Jonathan: We decided on 100 per cent cotton because it was an immediate upgrade from the more common rayon variants that tend to ball up in the washing machine and cause colours to run. This also means the shirt holds its shape better and achieves the smart casual look we’re going for.
Yuan Loong: In terms of sourcing for fabric, we explored options from Vietnam and China, but eventually settled for fabrics from Bangkok because they had the funkiest prints. Once we’d created a good product, we had to figure out how to market ourselves. We were fortunate that the first event we participated in was Artbox Singapore. By the second day of the pop-up market, we’d sold about 90 per cent of our shirts and were already taking pre-orders.
What sets Sunday Shirt apart from other clothing brands?
Jonathan: We put a lot of emphasis on the fit of the garments. That’s why we pay so much attention to choosing the right, most high-quality material. Anything that looks good but doesn’t meet our requirements in terms of the fit will be rejected. We’re also very careful about selecting prints that are not commonly seen and we don’t reprint our shirts. We try to update our catalogue with new prints regularly and keep things fresh for us and our customers. Our smart casual shirts can also be worn from the beach to the office.
Any favourites from the Sunday Shirt catalogue?
Jonathan: I really like the Sky Blue Cranes shirt. It features a shade of blue that is different from anything I’ve ever seen before. I usually pair it with berms and Superga sneakers. I also really like what we wore on our first photoshoot together – the Beachman and Pomegranate shirts. I loved the prints and how the shirts set the tone for our brazen approach in selecting prints.
Yuan Loong: My favourite is the Pomegranate shirt. It’s such an eye-catching, unconventional print and was the first design that sold out. Unfortunately, we don’t have any more of the shirts from the first six batches that we made. I wish we had kept one of each design.
What else is in the pipeline for Sunday Shirt?
Jonathan: We currently offer men’s and children’s shirts, but we’ve also had women asking for women’s shirts and dresses. We’re also thinking about creating pocket squares and ties. Pairing an expensive Armani suit with a pocket square from Sunday Shirt would make for quite an interesting, stylish contrast. As for overseas expansion, Australia seems like a logical second venture.
Browse through Sunday Shirt’s catalogue of men’s and children’s shirts at its online store here.