Urban Explorer Series: Interview with Alan See
“The whole discovery process – exploring, finding and learning – is always fascinating to me. By exploring, you get to further understand the world around you.”
Co-Founder of The Armoury
Our Urban Explorer
Could you please introduce yourself to our guests?
I am Alan, the Co-founder of The Armoury. We are an international men’s haberdasher for men’s clothing and accessories. My business partner Mr. Mark Cho and I started this business about 11 years ago. I am originally from Malaysia but left at a very young age, and then lived in China for several years before moving to Hong Kong at the age of eleven. Hong Kong certainly is home to me as I have spent most of my time here. That said, I love most of these Asian cities. For instance, The Armoury has a small showroom in Shanghai so I travel there often for work. I have family scattered across Bangkok, Penang and Singapore so I enjoy visiting them while exploring these cities’ rich culture and incredible gastronomy. With such strong ties in this part of the world, Asia is definitely close to my heart in that sense.
When did you first realise you were interested in menswear?
To some degree, I have always resonated with fashion. I recall looking through some old kindergarten class photos and in one of these photographs, everyone was wearing uniforms but I had this sharp bandana around my neck that I loved. Ever since I was a child, I always knew I wanted to express myself differently and, in a way, clothing was my outlet. For the better part of my school years, we were required to wear uniforms but in the last two years as a senior and going into university, I was able to explore different styles. With a bit of extra allowance every month, I would spend it on scarves. It was not until I graduated from university and started my first job that I really immersed myself into the world of men’s tailoring.
How did The Armoury come about?
I always believe that the notion “dress for success” rings true – when you suit up, your confidence transcends through into your job, the manner in which you carry yourself, and the way you interact with others. With this belief, I was thrilled to purchase my very first suit when I started my first job, so during that time I did a lot of comprehensive research on men’s tailoring and spoke to a lot of the shop owners in Hong Kong to learn more about the history and craftsmanship behind each suit. It was then that I realised there was an opportunity in the market to introduce this concept to a new and younger audience – young urban professionals that have just started out in their career and needed some guidance on men’s tailoring. During this time while I was conducting this research, I met several friends through an online forum where we shared a passion for men’s tailoring, one of them being Mark, my business partner now, and the rest is history!
What does a day in the life of Mr. Alan See look like?
To be honest, it varies drastically! I generally wake up and will head over to one of our stores as a base of operations and work my day around it. You will see Mark and I in the stores quite often. The other half of the time, we will be flying all over the place (pre-pandemic) to meet with different suppliers. Now that we are in town, we spend more time on the day-to-day business operations, working on collaborations with other brands and spending time with our customers. We have a relatively flexible schedule nowadays, especially since our team is very strong, so we are able to invest more time into the fun stuff like product development.
What does ”Urban Explorer” mean to you and how do you think you fit into this term?
The whole discovery process – exploring, finding and learning – is always fascinating to me. By exploring, you get to further understand the world around you. For instance, when you search up a popular eatery like Mak’s Noodle, reading it online can never compare to visiting the establishment where you get to taste the bowl of noodles, talk to the owners and learn about their stories. It’s this romantic side of things that make the world around us infinitely more interesting.
Man Behind the Suit
Having visited the streets of world cities like New York, Paris and London, how do you think the men in Hong Kong dress in comparison to these other global fashion capitals?
In terms of classic menswear, I really appreciate Italy. The seasoned gentlemen, especially in cities like Naples, grew up with a different sense of style where they exude a strong sense of individuality that is reflected in their way of dressing. Many of these men will not be afraid to play with colors and textures, so they dress in a very chic way that is unique to themselves. In terms of individuality, I really like the way the Japanese express themselves through their own personal style. Work life and schooling in Japan may be quite restrictive, in terms of what they can wear, so they really take their style to a whole new level in their leisure time. I think Hong Kong has a lot of potential as well. For a long time, it was the bastion of style in the 1950s and 60s. Overtime, we became more latched on to global trends with big department stores and brand names dominating the local fashion scene. However, I have started to notice a shift these past two years, where Hongkongers are really looking inwards and coming up with some very unique and creative concepts in the market.
What staple items do you think every modern, working male professional need for everyday living?
The classic white dress shirt, chino or grey pant and leather shoes are staples that every man should have. Another item worth investing in is a navy blazer for its versatility. Black is a bit formal, whereas the navy suit can be easily paired with a variety of colours. The great thing about these items is that you can also pass them on to the next generation.
The Armoury celebrates the work of artisans that value craftsmanship and attention to detail. Are there any specific local artisans you admire or have collaborated with before?
We are so grateful to have the opportunity to connect with so many talented artisans from around the world and within our local community that are specialised in their craft. We meet most of these artisans through our extended network of suppliers in which they share with us what they obsess over in terms of their accessories, leather goods, etc. in the industry. Our curiosity to continuously discover unique, quality goods has guided us to these extraordinary artisans that we can introduce to our clientele.
How do you select which brands to bring into the store?
At The Armoury, we take a lot of pride in the whole curation process of selecting the brands we present to our clients. The entire team contribute to our styling and curation of goods, so as a collective we select partners that complement our brand and which we believe our clients will appreciate as well. That said, our team’s fashion taste continuously changes and evolves, which means that the brands we bring into the store also continues to grow.
What do you like most about your job?
For me, it is the whole sense of discovery that gets me really excited about my work. For instance, when I search for things that I am interested in, like ties, I go into this new discovery phase where I try to find out everything about it – from how to make it to where these items can be sourced. It is all of these new learnings that feed my curiosity. When the product is fully developed and I can share the final outcome with the end-customer, it really gives me great satisfaction.
What trends do you foresee in 2022?
In these past two years, it is very encouraging to see small entrepreneurs thrive and I think going forward in the next few years, we will be seeing a lot more interesting businesses explore what it means to be from Hong Kong.
In the midst of the pandemic, how do you explore the city?
During this time while traveling is out of the question, I have started to explore more of the rural side of Hong Kong. We have visited places like Mai Po, a nature reserve located in San Tin near Yuen Long, as well as one of the only bee farms in Hong Kong. Through this experience, we met the owner who showed us around which was very interesting. It is really about connecting with these different people and seeing their side of Hong Kong through their eyes.
Where would you like to travel first in a post-pandemic world?
Like many of us, I have not seen my family since the beginning of the pandemic so visiting them in Bangkok would be at the top of my list. I would also like to make a trip to Penang and actually visit some of the tourist attractions because each time I go back, it is for Chinese New Year and our schedule is packed with a lot of family gatherings. Hence, it would be nice to experience some of Penang’s finest tourist attractions and see a different side of the city.
In 3 words, how would you describe Hong Kong?
Resourceful, Adaptive, Home