“I don’t like to waste my time. Even I have just one or two hours to spare, I will get up and work, because I like what I do.”
When it comes to elderly-run businesses, Peninsula Shopping Centre is the spot to visit. Having been around since the early 1970s, stepping into the mall somehow always feels like a time capsule of sorts, transporting us back to a time when businesses were smaller, customer service was more personal, and shopping was all done physically.
But what was once a bustling hangout for youths has now been reduced to a shell of its former glory. These days, music lovers and photographers form the bulk of the mall’s clientele, mainly frequenting the guitar shops in the basement and secondhand camera stores on level one. But venture further up, slightly deeper into the mall, and you’ll find Johnny and his store, the iconic Trend Fashion.
“My wife always says that this shop is my first love, and that she is my second. But I can’t help it, I just love being in the shop and running this business!”
Open almost daily for the past 48 years, the sheer selection of apparel and trinkets on display at Trend Fashion draws us in immediately.
To describe the shop as an organised mess would be an understatement—here, in Johnny’s den, rows and rows of funky button-up shirts (most of which are designed and made by the man himself) hang all around the shop, and the display window is packed with accessories and knick-knacks of years and decades past.
Beyond this main unit, Johnny’s treasures spill over to a second unit just a few steps away, which, coincidentally, is the very unit where he used to work as a salesman in his first job.
So how exactly did Johnny go from working under someone to starting his own business, and eventually owning two units in the mall? Well, his story is a heart-warming, simple one.
Johnny and Peninsula Shopping Centre go way back—at the age of 14, the now 63-year-old began working his first job as a salesman in an apparel shop on the second floor.
“I never got to study much because my family was very big, and I was the youngest of 10 children. My father couldn’t afford to educate all of us at that time, so I started working instead.”
Once he started working, he never stopped. He spent all of his formative years in the same apparel shop, never once stopping for a break, even when he started taking part-time diplomas in tailoring upon the encouragement of his then-girlfriend (and now, wife).
Soon, one year became two, which then became 20, and after a disagreement with his longtime boss, Johnny decided to take over his store and start up his own tailoring business with the skills he now had.
“I have a lot of regular customers, and I’m very happy with them. Even after 20, 30 years, they still come back to me! If not today, then maybe tomorrow, or next week, or next month. They will still support me always.”
Since starting up Trend Fashion, Johnny tells us that business has been fluctuating over the years, but one thing that’s remained consistent is the customer service that he provides, which he declares is what keeps his regulars coming back.
In his heyday, Johnny had a shop across the border in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia as well, and, as Trend Fashion’s sole boss and employee in one, would split his time between the two outlets. But then, he tells us, his local customers began complaining. They’d show up at Peninsula wanting to get their clothes tailored, but find the shop’s doors closed and Johnny nowhere to be found. Thus, he made the decision to wind down business in Malaysia to focus solely on his original outlet here.
These days though, Johnny’s trips to Malaysia remain frequent—he visits Penang and Kuala Lumpur often to source for new items to import and funky fabrics to purchase for his designs, though these trips never last for more than a couple of days. Of course, as much as he loves his shop, he does also step away at times to go on holidays with his wife, or family trips with his two daughters (one married, the other soon to be).
“I make new pieces every two to three weeks. I think about what I want to make and what fabrics I want to use, and then I just make them. Sometimes, I make them in my shop, sometimes I make them at home, and sometimes I make them in my workshop as well.”
With a seemingly endless supply of shirts and trinkets for sale, you’d think that Johnny can now take it easy and spend his days in the shop idly, but the go-getter in him just can’t seem to stop creating. Every other week, he switches up the rotation of stuff of display, so each visit to Trend Fashion will always be a new one for customers.
But perhaps the one thing he loves most about what he does is meeting and interacting with customers. When asked if he’s seeing a surge of younger customers these days, Johnny lights up and tells us that “youngsters are very good” and that they always come back to support him. In fact, he’s stocked items like cassette tapes, CDs, and vinyls for younger customers that collect them.
“I cannot only rely on clothes, because people don’t buy shirts everyday. Business has gotten quiet since Covid, and now everything is online as well, so people don’t come out to shop as much. I am not online, but it’s okay. I don’t demand for much. I set a target for each day, and think about tomorrow when it comes. I’m not greedy, it’s enough.”
Despite the steady decline in footfall at Peninsula Shopping Centre over the years, Johnny remains happy, positive, and grateful for each day he gets to spend in his shop, doing what he loves most.
His hope for the future though?
“I want to see more customers! I’m very happy talking to customers, and I’m very friendly with them.”