The Suitcase: Connecting Australia with Talented Regional Designers

February 26, 2021 3 min read

Ever thought menswear in Australia is kinda no-pulse? It’s bugged me for a while. It doesn’t matter where you shop - city, local DFO, Australia’s largest shopping centre; one thing is the same, it's characterised by this uninspiring … sameness. Same brands. Same styles. Same quality. Same old. Same old. 

At the same time, the region seems to be experiencing a fashion renaissance of sorts, with countries like South Korea, Singapore, and Indonesia producing some truely outstanding designers and craftsmen. Wouldn't it be great if we could have access to them? 

 Johnny Li and Tom Chung bring talented designers to Australia via The Suitcase

Well, now we can. Enter new menswear platform, The Suitcase. Sydneysiders Johnny Li and Tom Chang seek to open access to “the underrated and undiscovered world of independent Asian designers”. Good news for jaded old menswear consumers like me - existential crisis of the wardrobe potentially avoided.  

Why Independent Asian Designers?

The emergence of talented Asian designers started as a trickle in New York thirty-odd years ago. It was Asian-American designers who broke through stereotypes that fashion "from the Orient," was all silk gowns and Ao Do dresses. These pioneers aligned their strong creative visions with a contemporary global appeal and Asian-American designers today, like Kalvin Luo, Xander Zhou, and Taka Kasuga of Veilance, have never been so in-demand.

The rise of the Asian-American designer has also created momentum for a new generation of talented designers and makers from the Asia-Pacific region. Hoards of emerging talent from the region have sharpened their tools in incubators of talent around the world. Young aspirational students from Asia have flocked to learn from schools like the School of Fashion at Parsons, London College of Fashion, and Central Saint Martins in Paris.

Right now Asia is bourgeoning with talent. Take for example the shoe and bootmakers coming out of Bandung, Indonesia. Their footwear is shattering haughty claims that only Northern-Hemisphere cordwainers can produce the genuine article.. The irony is that collectively, these independent creators and makers are reshaping fashion in the Asia-Pacific region; individually, however, they go largely unnoticed in Australia. Tired old tropes around 'Made in Asia' deny us the opportunity to tap into this rich talent pool. The proof is tangible.  

Craftsmen like Onderhoud Handmade from Bandung, Indonesia, dispel high notions that world-class products can only be found in the Northern Hemisphere.

First Customer Impressions

With that being said, my interest was more than piqued when I learnt about The Suitcase’s quiet launch. The website is slowly being finessed, but they've launched with a modest, interesting selection of clothing, accessories, footwear, and fragrances. The Belgian Loafers by De Piede ($330) drew my eye with their unique design. The cotton-cashmere polos ($140) by Yeossal looked like they'd drape as polos should, and at 330gsm, I suspect they would. I settled for a brown Jagard Flower Tie ($70) by Mannergram from South Korea.

Tie by Mannergram

The brown Jagard Flower Tie I purchased from The Suitcase

How was the buyer experience? Very good. The tie has all the hallmarks of a product crafted with care and quality in mind. The inner-lining appears to be silk. The fabric has been cut on the bias and drapes straight. The seems and flower pattern is well aligned and matches along the joins and seems. It also has a reinforced stitching, or "Tie Tack" on its backside to help keep the tie in shape and not bubble. 

The order was also delivered quickly. Hats off to Johnny and Tom for getting fulfilment right straight off the bat. The product was dispatched around 24 hours after order via Australia post. It came in a biodegradable mailer and the Mannergram box was an attractive accompaniment. 

Attractive packaging and a surprise post-purchase email letting me know that for every purchase from The Suitcase a tree will be planted. Nice touch.

Please sir, I want some more...

Let's hope things take off. The products appeared well-made, with quality markers not found in mass-produced menswear. It would be nice to see more talented designers and more differentiated products in the line-up in time. In sum, I like their products and I like what they're about. So in the spirit of The Suitcase, 'Think Different.' The alternative is to buy soft, cream colours, and wear them all at once - like everyone else at Uniqlo.

Full-disclosure: I know co-founder Johnny Li; however, this article was written without request or gifts/discounts received... I wish I had asked now.  

James Seaford
James Seaford


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