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The perfect white shirt

RUSTAN MARKETING CORP. President Bienvenido “Donnie” Tantoco III has found the perfect white shirt, and all it took was to spill wine on someone else.

At a business conference he attended, a Malaysian tycoon he knew told Mr. Tantoco to throw a glass of wine on the shirt he was wearing — “[It was] a very nice, crisp white shirt that was also very flattering,” Mr. Tantoco told the guests on Feb. 1. “I just met the guy, [and] he was asking me to commit violence against him.” But Mr. Tantoco went along with the request and poured the wine on his new friend’s shirt.

“It looked terrible at first,” he recalled. The man then simply took a white cloth and wiped the shirt clean. Next, he told Mr. Tantoco to spill coffee on his cuffs — which also wiped off quite easily. “His shirt looked like it was freshly laundered and pressed,” Mr. Tantoco said.

He had found the perfect white shirt.

Mr. Tantoco had told the story during the launch of the men’s suit brand Benjamin Barker in Rustan’s Makati. The man in the perfect white shirt turned out to be an investor in the brand, created by Nelson Yap.

Mr. Yap, who had been a filmmaker living in Australia, left that life to care for his ailing father and his business selling suits in Singapore. That was in 2009.

While Mr. Yap may have been exposed to suits because of his father’s job of selling them, he found gaps in the market when it came to price and in size. Singapore’s multicultural nature means many international brands can be found there, but, “They don’t fit very well. We’re Asians.” He also noted that suits of Western origin really weren’t always built for the hot, humid Asian climate.

So he created Benjamin Barker, a suit business focusing on the Asian client. His fabric choices include linen and mixed cottons, for better breathing in the tropics. The suit jackets are half-lined for ventilation.

Benjamin Barker is present not only in Singapore, but also in Australia, Malaysia, Cambodia, Vietnam, and in the Philippines.

Mr. Yap, in a speech, recalled this his first employees in Singapore were Filipinas, who used to chide him about opening in the Philippines. “Today, here we are, after 15 years.”

He explained to BusinessWorld the secret of the perfect white shirts: they are dipped in special chemicals at the yarn level to make them resistant to stains, and also to UV light, viruses, bacteria, and wrinkles.

The fabrics and the tailoring are fit for Asian bodies, and the price isn’t too bad either: a look at their racks shows items priced between P6,000 to P12,000.

“I feel like there are a lot of luxury brands out there already,” he said. “We want the everyday man to be able to express themselves.”

Benjamin Barker is available at Rustan’s Makati. — Joseph L. Garcia

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