Ever since he was a young boy, Bon Zainal knew he was destined to establish his own fashion label.
Calling back to the days when his classmates would have their noses stuck in their textbooks, he had been religiously studying intricate ensembles from high fashion magazines such as GQ and Vogue.
After graduating from the School of Fashion & Merchandising in Los Angeles, which taught him the fundamentals of styling, the designer returned to Malaysia and spent the next five years working his way up in the industry before starting his own fashion label catering to menswear aptly named Bon Zainal.
Having built a career spanning more than a decade, Bon prides himself on being one of a select few designers who shaped the menswear scene in Malaysia. His designs have been on runways all over the world, but Bon’s expertise in the industry stems from one simple notion: “Menswear is almost like armour to me.”
“I believe that as designers, it is our job to make sure that our customers look good, therefore we must present ourselves with in a fashionable manner, and with menswear, it’s timeless.”
Known for their posh custom, made-to-measure suits, Bon has dressed a myriad of high-profile individuals from heads of states to CEOs, brandishing him with the title of Malaysia’s King of Menswear.
When asked about how he’s maintained a clientele base that’s lasted throughout his career, he states that it’s all about being reliable. “In our line of work, we have to get to know our clients on a personal basis.”
“Some of the clients who’ve been with me until now, I met when they were still young in their career. Now they’ve became big figures in their respective businesses; they’ve grown with me, and there’s a trust in me that they’ve developed.”
Being an elite label, many of Bon’s pieces are highly-valued for its exclusivity. As such, he believes that it’s important to give that value back to the customer base by providing them with the best possible service.
To keep up with the trends that have the younger generation hooked, Bon enjoys skimming through social media platforms such as Instagram and TikTok, stating that it’s given him a whole new perspective into the fashion of the youth.
“Fashion is ever-changing, and the same should go for us. We have to be open to new approaches in styling and resources that we work with.”
The Terengganu native also shares that being consistent in delivering to his clients has been as a crucial factor in his continuous success. “As time goes, it’s only natural that we have to adapt to the times, but it’s important to keep a sense of consistency in your brand,” he says.
“Even now, when people hear about Bon Zainal, they immediately associate the brand with our signature formal suits; having that consistency but moulding the product to fit the times.”
By having that, he’s aiming to take things up a notch. Bon admits that despite having a multitude of years under his belt, he had to learn that moving forward means not just relying on what worked before and having his business fit the concerns of the current market. He goes on to state that in order to remain in the public eye, brands need to focus on expanding beyond seasonal collections to catch up with the needs of the market.
Nowadays, people are more conscious of spending and when they do, it’s on something they see value in. Fashion is a fast-paced jungle that is constantly changing, and as a businessman, he understands the need to be faster than those brands. “You need to know your stuff. Understand what you want for your brand and where to focus your efforts on to adapt.”
When asked who his sources of inspiration are, he cites two key figures that have taught him a thing or two in his journey. “In terms of fashion, I say Tom Ford and what he’s achieved throughout his illustrious career, building luxury brands such as Gucci up to its current height of class before branching out with his own brand.”
“In business, Richard Branson has been someone I feel I can relate to. I think even how we carry ourselves is quite similar; we’re big fans of the jacket and jeans combo and our casual way of working,” jests Bon.
Looking ahead, Bon reveals he’s ready for a transition in his business. He is preparing to expand his brand to the international market, starting with Singapore, which he hopes will enable him to shift the brand to being less personally hands-on, following in the footsteps of another renowned local talent.
“I quite admire what Dato’ Jimmy Choo has done with his brand. He’s built this empire in the industry and now the name itself is a business, running as its own entity being able to retire with security. I think I’d like that too,” he shares.
From working in Ralph Lauren Boutique in Beverly Hills to establishing a celebrated name for himself, Bon Zainal has spent a better part of his life revolutionizing the local menswear industry.
Despite being in his late 50s, Bon is still full of the same vivacious spirit that he’s known for. “I still feel young at heart, and I think being passionate about something never goes out of style.”