WHEN the going gets tough, what do you do? Dress the part, of course.
There’s a label called Tough that lives up to its name and offers masculine, rugged gear with the odd military motif thrown in for good measure.
It is a relatively new player in the fashion arena – it was established in Japan in 1992 – but Tough has definitely made its presence felt and is now available across the globe in Hong Kong, Taiwan, China, South Korea, Thailand, Italy, Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, UK, UAE and the United States.
It also has garnered a dedicated following in Malaysia, and Stanny Chan, its general manager says: “We started off at Berjaya Times Square in Kuala Lumpur in October 2003, but the mall was new. A lot of tenants didn’t survive, but we’re Tough and that’s why we survived and have gone on to open more outlets!”
According to Chan, “character and identity’’ are very important to Tough, so both the merchandise and stores are designed to portray a similar image. At this interview at its outlet in 1 Utama Shopping Centre in Selangor, he points out the aluminium and stainless steel floor tiles that have the Tough logo. Even the changing rooms are unique – the exterior looks like a fridge and inside each cubicle, there is a mirror and a seat resembling a toilet bowl!
With so much effort put into creating a “different’’ shopping experience, do the clothes also promote an alternative style of dressing?
Interestingly, Canto-pop stars Karen Mok and Michelle Reis have promoted the brand in Hong Kong and it has also gained notoriety for its series of ads called Guilty, which see a man being hanged for not giving up his HIV+ friend, a couple being burned for being monogamous and a woman being shot for proclaiming that money is not everything.
These ads haven’t made their way to Malaysia, because, Chan explains “We don’t want people to think it’s about violence. Some of the images are very extreme and attention-grabbing. In Hong Kong, we have people in cages on the street shouting about Tough. It’s all about being revolutionist and different.”
Still, he insists that label’s image should not be misunderstood: “A lot of people get it wrong,” he laments. “They think Tough is street wear. It’s not – it is casual wear with an attitude. There are no bandanas and tracksuits. We have quality jeans. We also have tops, watches, bags, belts, wallets and other accessories, and there is a complete Tough look.''
The products, according to Chan, are a lot more than just tough looking – a major selling point has been the fact that its products really are built tough too.
“Our customers pay over RM300 for a pair of jeans and they expect real quality, so that is what they get,” he says.
“The material is heavier, because lighter material crumples easily. Our products use Cotton USA, which is the best. Even though some products are made in China, India and Turkey, Tough standards are uniform,” Chan says.
The military element prevalent in some of its designs is a feature that often attracts newcomers to the label. Chan reveals that the military touch is more than just marketing ploy: “Wherever possible, the material, especially for the bags, is real military canvas. It is fire, water and tear-proof, and all that adds to the value. We also use multiple stitching on Tough merchandise whenever it is necessary.”
This quality is certainly reflected in the prices. A store employee who agreed to model was weighed down with some rather expensive outfits – the first look he put together comprised a top (RM269), jeans (RM329) and a backpack (RM379), and the second included a jacket (RM369), top (RM219), jeans (RM329), sling bag (RM329), wallet (RM209) and studded bracelet (RM69). Belts cost RM149 for a pair.
Student K.H. Lim, 19, who was browsing in the store confesses that while he thinks Tough has some “cool-looking stuff’’, there is nothing he can afford on his budget, even when there is a sale. “I just look (at the items) only,” he quips.
(Tough does relatively good discounts though – current season items go on 10% off, previous season’s items on 20% and year-old stuff on 50% )
Chan concedes that his merchandise is a little pricey: “”Tough is unique and what we offer is not too similar to the other players in the market. Aside from the high quality material, Tough is very strong in terms of identity. Our merchandise comes with a lot of detail. Every thing from buttons to collars have little details, and our T-shirt prints aren’t simple,” he says.
“This kind of product appeals to the younger generation. We intend to be among the top fashion players five to 10 years from now, and we want our followers to grow with us. Surprisingly, a big chunk of our customers are in their 40s, some in their 50s. They enjoy Tough – maybe because it makes them look young,’’ says Chan.
(Indeed, it was two middle-aged men who drew my attention to Tough, but in the scheme of things, it could also be because they are better able to afford the stuff!)
So with all this much-vaunted resilience, can Tough claim that they never have an unsatisfied customer?
“We do have a return policy,” laughs Chan, “but the return rate is very low. The last complaint I received was from a customer who joined our membership drive and hoped to be among the first 100 customers and receive a free chain, but he missed out on it!’’