“I was mistaken for the member of a Korean boy band once,” shares Jeremy Ong, laughing as he recounts a past incident in the office. A client was so bedazzled by his coloured hair and youthful dressing that he didn’t realise Ong was the executive director and head of People Experience Management at Golden Equator Group.
Founded in 2012, the group – a multifaceted business with interests in the finance, consulting, technology and workspace sectors – was, in Ong’s words, “a way to create, contribute and make an impact on a larger scale”. Now 42, he worked in the banking industry for about seven years in a career that took him from Standard Chartered Bank to Merrill Lynch International Bank and Barclays Capital before he decided to strike out on his own. He initially focused on the consulting portion of the company before expanding his responsibilities as it grew.
In a way, Ong’s sartorial journey mirrored his unconventional career path. As a rebellious teenager influenced by hip-hop culture (“and peer pressure”), Ong wore a lot of oversized clothes and baggy jeans. It was his wife who taught him the importance of self-respect and imbued a sense of confidence in him. After that, he began paying more attention to his image, constructing a presentable wardrobe of formal wear for the office with a splash of colour in the form of jackets and blazers.
And then he listened to The Life of Pablo, Kanye West’s seventh studio album released in 2016. The 18th track on this hip-hop opus was a diss aimed at Nike titled ‘Facts (Charlie Heat Version)’ that intrigued Ong. “My curiosity eventually led me to Nike’s Air Yeezy II, dubbed the Red Octobers. It was their final collaboration before they fell out. The shoes were released via a mysterious Twitter link and sold out within 11 minutes,” shares Ong.
Down he went into the rabbit hole of sneaker collecting, seduced by the world’s blend of elusiveness, intriguing designs and the enigma that is Kanye West. He bought almost all of West’s sneakers made in collaboration with Adidas, but his most important purchase to date remains the Red Octobers. On the grey market, a pair usually goes for around US$8,500 (S$11,602) – a whopping price premium of more than 8,000 per cent. When it first came out in 2014, the recommended retail price was US$250.
A decade later, besides the Adidas Yeezy Boosts, Ong has sneakers from Versace, Giuseppe Zanotti, Christian Louboutin, Louis Leeman and Buscemi among others. “I am obsessed with gold elements, zips, metal, chains, locks and studs on shoes,” he explains.
Much like his current smart casual fashion sense, Ong chose an ensemble from Brunello Cucinelli for the shoot to pair with his white sneakers. “My personality hasn’t changed, but I have a greater sense of self-awareness. As a company, we embrace diversity and give our people the freedom of self-expression and individualism. With that said, the golden rule of thumb is to use discretion,” he says.
And what is style to Ong? After three decades of wearing a broad spectrum of clothes and the sartorial regrets along the way, Ong believes style is an expression of individuality, reflecting one’s values, belief system and attitude. It’s “the package of your being”.