Tobe Fong and TC Ng launched their sartorial outerwear brand, Craftsman Clothing, in 2015. Born and raised in Hong Kong where their long-lasting friendship had began as well as their start-up dream. They both have strong instincts in the field of ‘sustainable luxury’ – offering a classic pieces of outerwear handcrafted in the finest quality of Italian leather with an affordable price tag. Recently, one of their most popular pieces, Rakish Belted Safari Jacket, was worn by a popular British model, David Gandy at London Fashion Week. After receiving many and many customer requests, they recently launched a service named ‘Group Made to Order’, which means ‘our customers are designers as well’.
Building a brand from scratch, particularly without a start-up capital is certainly something they are most proud of in the last two years. Was it a constant emotional roller-coaster when they first started? Tobe and TC opened up about how not to give up on their brand and give it another chance; the best way to remain energized while living in almost zero-day rest; and how cutting back on drinking helps them have a better productivity.
What is your work schedule like?
TC Ng: We still have our full-time job. So, we normally finish work at 8:00 p.m., 9:00 p.m., or even 10:00 p.m. depending the craziness on the month. And then, we usually meet with our tailors, who have nearly 40 years of experience til late night. Luckily, they are not closed until 12:00 a.m.
Tobe Fong: They are very hardworking, as well.
TC: But if we are not meeting with them, we probably meet for coffee and discuss about any business opportunity and idea until we are tired and exhausted til 1:00 a.m. Every single night.
Tobe: And then, a whole day on Saturday and a couple of hours on Sunday as well.
Is 5 hours of sleep enough for you?
Tobe: He doesn’t sleep a lot and he doesn’t even drink coffee.
TC: I’ve been sleeping for four to five hours of sleep for the last 20, 25 years. I normally go to bed at 3:00 a.m. and wake up at 7:00 a.m. No coffee, no tea, no coke during the day. For me, just water is all good.
Tobe: I need seven to eight hours of sleep in average.
TC: It’s not easy, right? Especially in Hong Kong, if you are young and want to be successful, you have work really, really hard.
“The other thing that keeps me moving forward to our dream, is him.”
Have you ever burnt out before?
Tobe: I think I have burnt out once before. There was a time that we were lost in development with Craftsman. We questioned ourselves a lot at that time whether we should continue with this, but I am so thankful we did not give up on our brand.
TC: We only had the suede Safari jacket in our collection when we first started. We have our seasonal periods of sales.
Tobe: So, there was no orders at all during high summer time from June to September. We were devastated at that point.
TC: We were stuck at that point, but then we figured out we should transform our jacket from leather to linen, just to make sure we are able to generate orders in the high summer time. The second turning point, was when we partnered up with a good friend of ours, Steve Calder in Melbourne, Australia. He helped us save the business because when it was summer here, it would be winter there.
How to bounce back from a mental burnout?
Tobe: I actually meditate. I follow the apps called Omvana so it breaks down into 5 or 6 steps. There’s like gratitude, forgiveness and then visualisation. Back in those days, the most important to me out of those five steps was visualization really. This is crucial to our success because we have to imagine what Craftsman will be in five years. It’s what gets me going.
The other thing that keeps me moving forward to our dream, is him.
TC: It’s a teamwork that makes us stronger and where we push each other toward our vision.
How important do you think of work-life balance?
Tobe: Talking about work-life balance, we regularly travel to Florence for trade shows twice a year and we just went to Japan earlier to meet our potential customers.
TC: I think this is a great work-life balance because we can combine business into pleasure; we eat delicious food and hang out with great people.
Tobe: We went to the show here yesterday and I have no idea it could be so fun at the runway.
TC: I can see some of the designers who were a little bit stressed. They steamed the clothes for the whole day and dressed the models for at least six to seven hours. Meanwhile, we were just having coffee.
Tobe: Ready to mingle.
How often do you take a break?
TC: Depending on the definition? If it means really not doing anything, I don’t think we have ever taken a break at all, because we are working all the time. (Laughs)
Tobe: Just working on social media like Instagram alone, that can consume your life.
TC: All the customer inquiries as well. We have to respond to them in acceptable time. I do consider a great lunch as taking a break as well; just enjoying good food with great friends.
Tobe: Conversely, I’m an introvert. I love to shut myself off from everyone from time to time. No phone, no text and no nothing. This is my way to recharge myself then I will be good again, but he’s the opposite; he has to talk more to recharge throughout the day. (Laughs)
TC: Exactly! It’s actually a great balance for us.
How do you motivate yourself to work when you’re not in the mood?
Tobe: You can’t really motivate yourself. You just have to do it right? Having said that, I would go for a quick run then come back to work and I will be fine again.
TC: For me, just talk to people. I love talking to people and hearing their stories, even the people I don’t know, like maybe the security guy downstairs. I can spend half an hour with him.
Tobe: He loves to talk. He’s very talkative.
TC: Sometimes we go for a great meal to relax and then he has to wait for me for a while, because I am still talking to someone on the street and he will get annoyed by that point. (Laughs)
How many nights in a week are involved with heavy drinking?
Tobe: Oh! We went for drink last night too, but not drunk, drunk. Like smashed.
TC: We are trying to limit our alcohol consumption. (Laughs) We have passed that stage already.
Tobe: We are getting old, man. No time and energy for that.
TC: We work a lot on the weekend, so if we hang out on Friday, we have to control ourselves and make sure we are able to wake up at 8 a.m. on the next day. Sometimes we hang out on Friday, and drink too much then the next day we can’t really work.
Tobe: It takes at least a day to cure my hangover now. I used to drink five to six days a week two years ago but now a few times a week.
TC: He has changed his mindset already. He now finishes early and sleeps early, and then wakes up early.
Tobe: My days get much more productive this way.
What is your powerful way to stay productive?
TC: Setting goals that we want to achieve in a certain period of time, that really helps us drive productivity.
Tobe: Like weekly, quarterly and yearly.
What is your effective way to boost energy at work?
TC: Talk to people? Communication is the way to my success. But this is my weakness as well because I talk too much sometimes.
Tobe: For me, it’s coffee. A cup of black coffee or cappuccino would be great.
Essential things to keep you Zen at work
Tobe: Bose headphones, the one with noise cancelling function. It blocks out all the noises and then I would listen to like trance, EDM, or even pop. I used to listen to Cantopop songs but not anymore. Because it really kills your vibe.
TC: Honestly, I don’t have one. I don’t drink coffee and don’t really listen to music. I think it’s just my personality; I am very positive person which helps me stay calm in many cases.
Tobe: Sometimes I will go take a nap or go to gym whenever I feel stressed and frustrated. So, I do like four days of weight training. I listen to audio books while I’m doing it. It’s very effective because I don’t want to just sit there and read.
TC: I laughed at him all the time like two or three years ago, because he bought a lot of books and probably read twenty pages, but won’t be able to finish it.
Tobe: Probably I read like 20 pages and then pew. I have been re-listening some of the books like The E-myth by Michael E. Gerber, Zero to One by Peter Thiel and Start with Why by Simon Sinek. If you own a small business, you should listen to the first one. It said that you shouldn’t work in your business, you should work on your business, so eventually your business can run on itself without having you to be there.