One of the most established designers in this season’s line-up, few in Shanghai can boast the same pedigree as Benjamin Kontoh. The British-Ghanaian creative cut his teeth on London’s Savile Row, before coming to China to set up his bespoke tailoring business. Brush & Saccy Bespoke currently has three offices in Suzhou, Shanghai and Taizhou in Zhejiang province.
'Savile Row was extremely influential – it shaped me into who I am,' explains Kontoh, whose mentors included Ozwald Boateng – the first black tailor to open a shop on the famous thoroughfare.
In 2009 he travelled to China to launch his own brand. 'I felt that tailoring in the UK was already so set in its ways,' he explains. 'I've always admired how China has come so far to develop into what it is today, so I thought this would be the perfect environment for me to build myself up and develop my brand.' He initially spent two years studying IT security at Nanjing University, after which he moved to Suzhou to teach English to adults. It was during this time that he picked up his first customers.
'Through word of mouth it moved from there until I didn’t have to teach English anymore. It’s not been easy though,' he adds, 'The business culture is different; you need resources, and not just financial resources but connections.'
Being black in China has reportedly helped Kontoh set up his business. 'It has its stereotypes, true, but because the way I was perceived and what I did for a living did not sync up, when I told people about my tailoring business, they were fascinated, it has actually been incredibly helpful in getting my brand out there.'
His penchant for loud, eye-catching apparel has earned him the respect of many of China’s growing upper and middle class. When I ask what his secret ingredient is, he laughs, '3D Virtual Bespoke is definitely part of it' – he's referring to the 3D software he developed himself, so that he could show costumers what their garment would look like before work had even started. 'Customers get something that is never less than 99 percent what they asked for.'
Aside from presenting his own Spring Summer collection at Black Fashion Week, Kontoh is also part of the team running the event. 'I believe there are very talented people out there who have come from nowhere, and if I’m the only person that is successful in China then I don’t see that as a success. That’s why Black Fashion Week is something that is so close to my heart. It is above all, about unveiling undiscovered talents.'
You can catch Brush & Saccy Bespoke at Shanghai Black Fashion Week on November 18 at 7pm.