BREAKTHROUGHS AND BREAKING FREE. Founded by three schoolmates, Monstore has now become one of the most recognizable homegrown brands with arresting artworks on every clothing article. Co-founder Nicholas Yudha talks to Chris Andre about the label’s past, present and future
Right from the first glance, you could instantly spot what makes a Monstore T-shirt a Monstore. The quirky graphical artwork, the airy, light fabric, and the neutral background—such a simple fashion formula is really hard to break. Equally simple is how this Indonesian label came about: Three high-school friends who loved art got together for a nobler purpose.
Yet, what makes it even more interesting is that Monstore is never about fashion per se. At its heart it is, has always been and will forever be about art. And despite Jakarta being its cradle, the brand has now branched out to Japan and Germany, showcasing the global appeal of their art and fashion sense.
Another part of their design charms is innovation: Come to their newly opened store at Gunawarman 21, and you’ll get a free patch for every purchase—you can even decide yourself where the patch will be pasted on. Managing director Nicholas Yudha touches on the idea of “letting the monster within us break free” as what Monstore is all about, and this kind of customer experience is a breakthrough that will certainly win the hearts of the brand’s youthful followers—and Monstore has tons of them. On the basis of this keen sense for innovation, one can only wonder what the future holds for Monstore.
Chris Andre: How did Monstore come about?
Nicholas Yudha: Basically, there are three co-founders of Monstore: Michael Chrisyanto, Agatha Carolina and myself. We were high-school friends back then. Michael, who is the brand’s creative director, liked to do sketches and drawings, and together, we wanted to cultivate that artistry and raise awareness among youth to develop their sense of art. That was in 2009, and that’s how it all began. It wasn’t necessarily about clothing, though. It’s just that it was perhaps the easiest “canvas” for us to express this kind of artistry. That being said, Monstore is not limited to clothing or fashion only. We did open a Monstore bar in the past and art exhibitions and more.
Chris Andre: Can you tell us what the name “Monstore” actually means?
Nicholas Yudha: Well, it’s quite obvious that it’s a play on “monster.” Those sketches and drawings, for us, represent deep, animalistic desires within humans, which constantly seek ways to break free. That’s why the artwork we have on the clothes always seems to convey a rebellion or the struggle for freedom. It’s something innate and uniting us all.
Chris Andre: Did you start with clothing for men or women?
Nicholas Yudha: Both actually. In the beginning, we did unisex clothes. Yet, as time wore on, we got on to separate our men’s and women’s collections. It’s more reasonable, business-wise. [Chuckles]
Chris Andre: Then you guys opened a store in Kemang?
Nicholas Yudha: That was in 2012. So, back in 2009, we worked on Monstore only as a part-time job—we hadn’t yet graduated from university, basically. Then in 2012, we decided to take things seriously, so I stepped on as managing director, Caroline as marketing director and Michael overseeing the design department. At the time, we had a store and a bar in Kemang, but it wasn’t meant as a long-term plan. Since 2016, we are located at Gunawarman 21.
Chris Andre: So how is Monstore doing today?
Nicholas Yudha: Currently, we have clothing articles, accessories and some collectible items like pillows and books. We also have art prints like paintings and smaller stuff. We’re planning to open another store next year in Bali since the market there fits the brand very much. Foreign tourists love the brand because of the light, airy fabric. It’s going to be somewhere in Seminyak. In terms of distribution points, we cover Jakarta, Bandung, Balikpapan, Yogyakarta, Surabaya and Bali. For overseas markets, we have Japan and Germany.
Chris Andre: Why Japan and Germany?
Nicholas Yudha: Well, we once did launch a collection at the Jakarta Fashion Week called “Plastic.” Apparently, there was a Japanese distributor who saw the show and approached us right after, believing that the collection would fit the Japanese market. The same thing also happened with our German distributor.
Chris Andre: So, where do you position Monstore exactly?
Nicholas Yudha: I’d say we’re not a high-priced brand but affordable and of good quality instead. All the materials are custom-made based on our specifications—we call these Monstore fabrics. And they’re all made in Indonesia; we proudly advertise this fact on the tag.
“We wanted to cultivate that artistry and raise awareness among youth to develop their sense of art”
Chris Andre: Do you go by seasons or how do you release your collections?
Nicholas Yudha: In a way, we follow the fast-chain fashion mode. That is to say that we release a collection every three months or so, but we also have new drops in between. While we don’t really follow the seasonal patterns like spring/summer and fall/winter, we make exceptions when creating pieces for overseas markets.
Chris Andre: Speaking of releasing new collections, what’s the latest from Monstore?
Nicholas Yudha: It’s called Space Baby. It has exploration of outer space as the design theme. We held a preview of the collection during the grand opening of our store on February 26, but the entire stock is out just now.
Chris Andre: What about collaborative collections, like the one with Mike Lewis?
Nicholas Yudha: Those are seasonal. Mike Lewis approached us because he liked the brand, and so we did a collection together. We also recently released the Brady collection (#bradythedoggie) featuring T-shirts with a picture of a cute dog. That’s actually Christian Rijanto and Jessie Setiono’s dog. [Chuckles] These are all just one-off partnerships.
For the rest of the year, we’re going to focus more on music as a theme, beyond the collaborations we do with the Ismaya group, such as for the Djakarta Warehouse Project and We The Fest, and others. Yet, an even bigger plan is to expand our Scene Stealers project. It’s really what Monstore is all about: We feature artists who submit their artwork to us. We are planning to do around three collaborations each year, but this time we want to have at least one artist to do a whole collection for Monstore, not just several pieces. The Scene Stealers project is also tied in with our next art exhibition, as their artwork pieces will be displayed there as well.
Chris Andre: What’s next for Monstore aside from the upcoming store opening in Bali?
Nicholas Yudha: This year we actually want to sort of upgrade the customer’s experience. For any customer coming to the shop, they can purchase an item and get a custom patch for free—the stamping machine is situated right next to the cashier. We are still toying around with the idea of launching our own denim collection. Whether we’re going to collaborate with a denim brand or not is still open for discussion. We tested the waters by selling jogger pants last year, and they sold like hot cakes! That’s why we want to develop more pants aside from our regular bestselling tops. Speaking of which, we’re going to discontinue unisex pieces, and start separating between men’s and women’s collections. And in the long run, we are thinking of creating a premium line titled Monstore High. Maybe it’s for the accessories first, but nothing is confirmed so far. The point is that, like any of Monstore’s designs, it’s got to feature great artworks.
Chris Andre: While we’re on it, which artwork do you feel represents Monstore best? Or perhaps a particular design that gets produced season after season?
Nicholas Yudha: There are a few like the lightning-like graphic but with two horizontal stripes—which means human to us—and patterns like eyes and Pyramid-like triangles. But one image that’s been there since the beginning is that doll-like creature called Ego.
As a matter of fact, we used to have a book of Genesis which tells the beginnings of man, called Ego, and woman, Muna, in the Monstore universe. We still carry that concept today. As such, the men’s T-shirts will be called Ego-cut T-shirts, while the women’s T-shirts will be Muna T-shirts. So, that doll is the human of Monstore.
This article first appeared in DA MAN Style spring/summer 2016. Get your copy here.