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Homegrown :: An Interview with Malaysian Streetwear Brand Pestle & Mortar

Homegrown :: An Interview with Malaysian Streetwear Brand Pestle & Mortar

By Kazie Holiday

When you hear the name Pestle & Mortar, you’re probably thinking about that stone utensil your grandmother uses in the kitchen. With its sometimes unwieldy disposition, it’s a miracle how efficiently it binds multiple ingredients into one harmonious paste. It’s a fitting analogy for the Kuala Lumpur-based streetwear brand and label Pestle & Mortar, created by brothers Arthur Loh and Arnold Loh and their friend Hugh Koh, three Malaysian guys on a mission to share Southeast Asia’s distinct outlook on streetwear with the rest of the world. With their motto, “The Pride of South East Asia,” Pestle & Mortar have no desire for recognition through stereotypes and exoticism. Instead, they’re on a mission to showcase their culture the right way, stating that they’re not “catering to the massive summer tourist market.”

“Humility is key and credit be given where credit is due—the community is the most important part of what we do no matter how successful we ever get. “

To these guys, streetwear is simultaneously deeply personal and also about building up the “trust in the capability and quality of Malaysian products” on a local and global scale. This crew definitely deserves all the recognition. Check out our Q&A below.

How did Pestle & Mortar come to be? How did you all meet?

PMC was founded by 3 dudes—Arthur and Arnold who are brothers and Hugh, who’s been friends with Arnold since they were 13. 

“With Pestle & Mortar… it’s really about being proud of where we’re from.”

Arnold went to high school in Los Angeles, California, and was big on skating. He later lived in Melbourne, Australia and upon coming back to Malaysia realised that there were a lot of streetwear brands that he loved but couldn’t get here. He hit up Hugh, who was living in Perth, Australia at the time and together with Arthur, decided to start their own homegrown streetwear label to fill this void. Pestle & Mortar started as an avenue for ourselves to have cool stuff we’d rock – it was more about making stuff for ourselves to wear than it was for business.

Our The Hundreds X Pestle & Mortar capsule collection features Malaysia’s national flower, the hibiscus.

What are your priorities/goals for Pestle & Mortar? Dreams?

One very important thing that we want to do with Pestle & Mortar is to put Southeast Asian streetwear on the map—at the same time, sharing with the world the little bits of cultural diversity that we’re proud of in our region. We aren’t just a bunch of tropical monkeys living in trees catering to the massive summer tourist market. 

With Pestle & Mortar, it isn’t just about dope graphics and cool shit (although we do have that)—it’s really about being proud of where we’re from. 

Pestle & Mortar’s motto is “The Pride Of South East Asia”—with the aim to be a prime example for other SEA brands out there, showing them that regardless of where we’re from it’s never impossible to be at the forefront of Streetwear.

Can you tell us a little bit about the surrounding culture in Malaysia—what you love about it and perhaps what Pestle & Mortar stands in Malaysian youth culture?

Malaysia (you’d be surprised how many Americans don’t know where it is) is made up of 3 main races, Malays, Chinese, and Indians. The mix of cultures is very evident in our food—and if you ever come to Malaysia, you’ll notice it’s a really all about the food. Every greeting we have involves asking someone if they’ve eaten yet. 

“The community is the most important part of what we do no matter how successful we ever get.”

In fact, the name Pestle & Mortar shows how important our food is to us—a Pestle & Mortar is something that is traditionally used to mix spices and make cooking paste. It’s also something you’ll find in every single Malaysian household. 

As a label and brand, to the youth of Malaysia, we stand to be something that all Malaysians and Southeast Asians can be proud of. A homegrown brand that constantly stands by and represents our unique culture. 

Can you tell us more about how you came up with the unique name “Pestle & Mortar”?

The 3 of us were sitting down in a typical 24 hour eatery called a “mamak”—which is basically a term we use for Indian Muslims—and brainstorming names for our brand. When Arnold asked if we knew what a Pestle & Mortar was, the name clicked and we each realised the tantamount significance it had to each of us in relation to our roots and geography.

From a more abstract perspective, the Pestle & Mortar also represented us in its use for mixing different things to become one—each of us come with very different sets of skills. Arnold is a Radio Announcer here in Malaysia, Hugh comes from an architectural background, and Arthur is a photographer and copywriter. 

Pestle & Mortar’s Penang store.

After 7 years of working together, what is the most important thing you’ve learned about business and your community?

Humility is key and credit be given where credit is due: the community is the most important part of what we do no matter how successful we ever get. From a business perspective, streetwear isn’t just a job—more than that, its a lifestyle, it’s something you have to be on 24/7, 365—no one’s going to give you a break, you have to step up and get it done. 

“We stand to be something that all Malaysians and Southeast Asians can be proud of. A homegrown brand that constantly stands by and represents our unique culture.”

Can you describe your relationship with The Hundreds regarding our The Hundreds X Pestle & Mortar collab?

The 3 of us grew up following The Hundreds blog. Hugh got his first The Hundreds hat from Arnold way back in ’08 and since then we have looked to the brand for inspiration in the way we do business. Even though we are miles apart there has always been a personal connection with the different views and content that is put out on the blog. 

One of our proudest moments as Pestle & Mortar will always be back in 2011 when we sent out a care package to Bobby and he actually posted a picture of it on social media. Suffice to say, we pretty much lost our shit when we saw that post!

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The Hundreds X Pestle & Mortar is available now in our Online Shop.

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