Born in Thailand, in Udon Thani, Stephen Kotsanlee has lived in Singapore, in Hong Kong and is now based in Melbourne, where he has been taking the city by storm – especially when it comes to style – for the last several years.
At just nineteen, Stephen Kotsanlee speaks four languages: Thai, English, Mandarin and Laos, and has one business under his belt – an advisory service called The Winners, and one in the pipeline – a men’s fashion brand named after his grandfather.
We sat down with Stephen at YBF Ventures, Melbourne's top innovation hub for tech entrepreneurs. Where did Stephen Kotsanlee get his spark of entrepreneurialism and his sense of style? Read on to find out. Stephen also shares his top tips on where to shop, drink and hang out in ‘the world’s most liveable city'.
Hi Stephen, can you tell us about your style?
I’ve always loved style. Only recently I found my own style. Before that, I had dreadful style. My dad introduced me to all the Bond films – quite a stylish movie franchise, the Bond films. I read the majority of the books and Ian Fleming goes into great detail of what Bond is wearing, so that’s always inspired me to dress well. Bond is the gentleman spy. Everyone wanted to be Bond and so did I. That played a big part of it.
I still like experimenting. I do enjoy the preppy kind of dressing, but [I am] always experimenting. My style’s always changing, but there are lots of little things I always stick to.
And do you like living in Melbourne?
I love Melbourne! It’s won ‘the most liveable city' for like three years or something, so you can’t go wrong with Melbourne. All the different cultures… It’s known for its multiculturalism. The coffee here is always good as well [laughs].
Why is it considered the coolest city in Australia?
Just going back to multiculturalism. You walk around on the streets and you can pick out so many people, which is fantastic. The architecture as well. If you walk down Collins, there are beautiful old buildings and banks – that’s the old banking district. And there are just so many colourful, celebrated people and everyone’s happy and it’s a ‘coffee place’ and there are lots of different cuisines. In Melbourne, you feel comfortable. And it’s not a massive city. It’s still quite a big city, however there’s space to walk around – there’s the Yarra [River], nice parks… Overall, you feel comfortable. I guess that is a biased point of view, living here for five or six years. I love it here.
What are your favourite places to go if you want to get out of the city?
If you like a bit of history, there’s Ballarat, which holds Sovereign Hill, which is the old mines. There’s so much history there. They have all the old buildings. That’s the old gold fields and you walk around and you feel like you’re in that time. I want to be back in the 1920s when everyone’s wearing a suit – when a suit was casual.
If you like a place that’s a bit more ‘hikey’, the Dandenongs – there are some beautiful sites around there, or the Grampians, or even if you don’t want to venture too far from the city, St Kilda Beach or Albert Park, which has a beach and a little walk-around.
How did you get in to blogging?
Through my dad. He’s stuck to those real traditional gentlemanly values, which I’ve always admired. That kind of stuff is fading nowadays. The whole idea was to bring that back. When you dress up, when you wear a suit, you have that bit of confidence. That was the whole idea, so I started an Instagram with no real ambition to actually do blogging full time. I just wanted to share my passion. I started [blogging] when I was sixteen. It grew and it was fantastic. It gained a lot of support from people around the world and three years later, here I am.
Where’s your biggest market?
Younger guys between eighteen and twenty-five – pretty much everywhere in the world, which is great because guys nowadays, they do want to express themselves, however sometimes they need to get over that fear of what other people think, which is fair because that stops us from doing things – fear, and I try to show them that ok, I’m your age, you can relate to me. I’m doing this, so can you, you just gotta be yourself and express yourself. You can’t hold yourself back. So, that’s why I love doing it.
Where to you acquire the pieces in your wardrobe? What are your favourite brands?
If I’m going for a nice shirt or a pair of trousers, my go-tos would be Brookes Brothers and Polo Ralph Lauren. Brookes Brothers have a huge history – two hundred years old this year, and Ralph Lauren I love because they do that university style really well. It’s really down my path – that Ivy League, American university-style I’m quite fond of. For shoes, again if you’re looking for quality: Crockett & Jones. Daniel Craig wears Crockett & Jones in the Bond films – handmade, pricey, but you’re paying for quality. You can actually get some quite fantastic stuff at H&M, Zara and Uniqlo as well. Uniqlo just released the new JW Anderson collection. It’s beautiful.
Where would you suggest for someone to go shopping if it was their first time in Melbourne?
R.M. Williams and Driza-Bone. I like to describe them as ‘rich farmer’. They’re ‘classic Australian rancher’, however they’re bringing in more items that are a bit more modern and you can wear [them] around town and in the city. So, if you’re looking for classic Aussie brands, I would recommend them. And if you like hats, Akubra – handmade leather. You can’t get any more Aussie than that.
What about any grooming products?
Aesop is huge here. They’re fantastic. I’ve been using a lot of CHARLES + LEE, which is a local boutique men’s grooming brand, which has only really been developed over the last couple of years. They’re fantastic guys. I know them personally, they’re coming into the market and I use their stuff every day. I really recommend them.
And what about bars in Melbourne?
Cool bars… I like real secretive speakeasy-type bars. The Melbourne Supper Club, which is on Spring Street next to the Princess Theatre, I believe. You go upstairs and it’s a real old-school bar with jazz and beautiful lighting. A nice place to take a date or for pre-theatre drinks.
A nice little surprise bar is Eau de Vie, which is down Malthouse Lane, tucked in a back alleyway. There’s a nice wooden door – you wouldn’t even see it. You go in and it’s just [a] 1920s speakeasy with a wall of scotch and drinks, beautiful music playing, dim lighting… It’s fantastic.
What else is happening in the world of Stephen Kotsanlee?
I have a couple businesses. I have an entrepreneurial advisory business called The Winners. Just doing a bit of self-promotion here [laughs] and an upcoming brand called Stephen Charles Hughes, which is named after my grandfather and focuses on preppy clothing. It’s in the works. It’s exciting. Just contacting manufacturers, cutting deals and feeling fabrics. So, it’s on its way and should be here later in the year. I mean if you have passion and you strive for something, just go do it. Just go for it! That’s my belief. You don’t know until you try. If you fail, well, then you know. But you would have learnt lessons from that and you can use that for other prospects. But if you succeed? Good on you.
Any final thoughts?
There is a lot of indecision out there, but everyone has an idea of what they want and the hard part is taking the first steps, the action. So, all I can say to young people, and to anyone in general who aspires to do something for themselves is just don’t sit back and make excuses, don’t overthink, just do it. Find out where you have your passion and do it. There are platforms that will help you, you’ve got the internet and people who will help you through the stages; you’ve just got to action. That’s one of the hardest parts. You’ve got to persist and keep going. That’s something I’ve always wanted to say to other people who say, ‘I can’t do it’. You can.
There are other things I want to say, but we’ll leave that for part two…