Born and bred in Penang, Malaysia, Shen grew up as a hip-hop enthusiast; dabbling in rap music and graffiti art in his early years. Stemming from his hobby of designing his own t-shirts using Dylon fabric paint, he bought a blank trucker cap in 2007 with the intention of customising it with his own signature “tags”. After brooding over what to scribble across the cap to make it his own, he settled for the word “LANSI” – cocky, or arrogant, in the local lingo. And that’s how the first LANSI cap came about.
Inspired by the growing streetwear culture, and the lack of affordable yet genuine fitted caps in the Malaysian market, Shen decided to start his own line of fitted caps in 2009. He emptied his bank account savings (of RM 5000) to produce the first batch of LANSI fitted caps. Fueled with self-confidence that the caps will sell like hotcakes, Shen went around streetwear boutiques in Kuala Lumpur hoping that they would carry the caps in their stores.
None of them were interested at all.
With no shops willing to sell the caps, and no capability to open one on his own, Shen decided to leverage on the rising popularity of social media — in other words, marketing and selling his caps through Facebook. By 2010, the brand had gained a significant online following. Shen then teamed up with two of his high school buddies, Jason and Jian, to start an online streetwear store where people could order the caps through a proper channel instead of random Facebook messages.
And that’s when The Swagger Salon was launched.
From the initial production cost of RM5000 in 2009, no additional funds have been further invested into the business capital. Yet, The Swagger Salon has expanded to become to a full-fledged apparel business with a number of home-grown clothing brands under its belt — selling a range of t-shirts, jackets, workwear, and accessories, in addition to the now notorious LANSI caps. The LANSI brand has since sold out all of its releases, been featured on national TV, censored on national TV, bootlegged by pirates, and rocked by people from all walks of life, while The Swagger Salon grew to establish itself as one of the leading streetwear clothing brands in Malaysia. All this, without spending any money on advertising or paid media.
In December 2014, The Swagger Salon marked another milestone when it finally opened the doors to its very first flagship boutique, located in the heart of George Town, Penang — the place where it all started. What was once a high-school daydream of having one's own store to hang out on weekends, has now become a reality for the founding partners-in-crime. And it still feels as though they're just getting started.
The LANSI and The Swagger Salon brand stories hope to inspire many others to achieve what some may say is impossible — to build a successful business with close to no money, fueled only by true passion, awesome ideas, and whole lot of ass-kicking attitude.
After all, confidence breeds excellence.