Nathon Kong (MBA ’12) is an award-winning artist, concept designer, and entrepreneur. For the last nine years, Nathon has been creating bespoke custom suits for his clients, all with a namesake tag, “Nathon Kong Label,” which combines the artist’s previous life in academia with his true passion for art. He crafts concept designs with the help of 3D body scanning technology. Kong expertly weaves together the seemingly contrasting fabrics of art and business with one goal: to tell the story of the wearer through creation.
In 2019, the acclaimed artist and TedTalks speaker exhibited his work alongside iconic fashion designer Thierry Mugler at the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Montréal, the biggest fine arts museum in Canada. In 2023, la Jeune Chambre de commerce de Montréal named Nathon one of their ambassadors. Kong has established himself as a true artist not only in Montreal, where he runs his business but also at art festivals in North America and internationally. With a deep commitment to giving back, Kong regularly collaborates with local artists and donates part of the label’s profits to nonprofit initiatives, including therapeutic art programs. More than $80,000 has been contributed so far. This year, the Telfer School of Management is proud to honour Nathon Kong with the Young Achiever’s Award for his contributions to art, entrepreneurship, and meaningful community work.
MBA: The One Thing That Changed Everything
When Nathon enrolled in Telfer’s MBA program in 2011, he thought he knew what he wanted; he thought he already found his path. Kong built a career in healthcare and research, focusing on microbiology and biotechnology after he graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree from McGill University in 2007. The choice to pursue scientific medicine was an emotional one — Kong’s father passed away from cancer when Nathon was only five years old. Because Kong doesn’t remember his dad, he decided to pursue science to honour his memory. For three years, Nathon worked as a clinical research associate in the oncology department at McGill’s University Health Centre before pursuing further medical internships and consulting projects during his MBA.
Although the designer lives in Montreal, he chose Telfer for his MBA program because he liked that the School offers a small intimate program with professors and students, and the business strategy and consulting classes are well-developed at uOttawa. “I wanted to experience living in Ontario and experience more of Canada,” adds Kong, “Prior to my Telfer MBA, I have always lived in Quebec. During my studies, I split my time between Ottawa and Montreal, and stayed during weekdays in Sandy Hill.”
Starting the MBA program, Kong thought he wanted to focus on pharmaceutical healthcare. Starting his career during the challenging times of the 2008 recession, Nathon knew that finding a good job wasn’t just about having a skill. The MBA was his opportunity to network and make connections. That’s why he soon became the Networking Director of the MBA Student Association and kept involved during his studies. After completing the program, Kong landed a job at Novartis, a global healthcare company. He got exactly what he wanted and considered the corporate gig a measure of success. But after routine industry layoffs after only a year and a half at the company, Kong didn’t have any interest in going back and finding a similar position. It was time to reconsider everything.
Family is Everything: “I want to be like my mom”
“At the time I asked myself, ‘You know what… Fast forward. If I’m 65, what is one thing in life I’d regret not doing?’” says Kong. And deep-down in his soul, he already had the answer — during the MBA program, he took all the entrepreneurship courses he could while juggling healthcare jobs. “I always admired entrepreneurship, I just never thought I’d have the opportunity to do it myself,” says Kong. While medicine was inspired by his father, owning your own business is something Kong was exposed to from an early age, watching his mother work tirelessly every single day. Raising four kids on her own in Thailand with no social support, Kong’s mother owned a factory with line production, employees, and complex supply chains, where she built her own machines and created systems ahead of her time, eventually selling the business. “When people ask me, ‘Who do you want to be?’ I always answer that I want to be like my mom,” says Kong. Watching her build the business from the ground up, Nathon wanted to become an entrepreneur to prove to himself he could do it too. He finally decided to commit to himself, and the suit business was born.
Nathon Kong Label: Creative Innovation One Suit at a Time
Kong has a signature style of working that sits precisely at the intersection of creativity and science. It was present from day one of his business: he began crafting suits in a solar-powered truck with a 3D body scanner, called Tailor2Go. “I wired everything myself because it didn’t exist yet,” says Kong. “In a business sense, the truck minimized my investment to bring the product to launch and allowed me to go into the market as soon as possible to test my concept.” Running Tailor2Go for two years, Kong learned about himself in the process, and knowing he wanted to expand, he created a private showroom for high-end concept designs at a brick-and-mortar location in Montreal’s Place des Arts.
“Making something custom-made is an art and a science,” says Kong. The designer needs to see how a suit moves on its intended owner and how the person carries themselves, so the entrepreneur uses a dual measuring approach to ensure every stitch and seam is perfect. Appeasing his inner scientist, Kong’s 3D body scanner takes the human error out of initial measurements, but the artist completes each new piece with hand measurements to ensure the suit moves beautifully with every step. After all, you may think the bottom line is how you look, but the true bottom line is how you feel in a garment. The magical feeling of “This is it, this is me,” can only come from a personal touch.
Nathon Kong Label: Do Good, Tell Stories
A passionate advocate of thoughtful consumption, Kong doesn’t carry any inventory of his products for environmental reasons. In fact, his creation process is in reverse — instead of mass-producing commodity products and trying to sell them, the entire Nathon Kong Label experience is personalized. “I get to know my clients and understand them,” shares Kong. “We have conversations and I create a concept from what they told me to then turn it into a design.” And it’s not enough to create simply for the sake of creating. To Nathon, with his serious background research, each piece needs to mean something. He remembers how in the hospital he saw young children with cancer come back to life during an art therapy program. Now, he regularly collaborates with and donates profits to Les Impatients, which helps community members and patients heal through art expression. “I want to do good. I want to be like my mom, someone I can see and someone I can have a conversation with,” says Kong. He combines this passion for storytelling, art, and giving back to the community with his business — his philosophy embedded and embroidered into every concept he brings to life. The entrepreneur credits this full-circle arrival to his true passion for the MBA program. “When I started it, I didn’t know I wanted to be an entrepreneur,” reiterates Nathon. “I gained so much from the experience because I was open to it. I use what I learned during the MBA every day in my work.”
High-End Fashion and Community Engagement: Better Together
During the pandemic, Kong realized he loves being an entrepreneur but that’s not his entire identity. When the fashion industry, growing exponentially before COVID-19, came to a halt, it was a sobering moment for Nathon. Through the process of trying to make a viable business model and keep his team employed, he learned it’s okay to not always have an answer and it’s okay to not be perfect. Entrepreneurs focus on tomorrow, on scaling and growing, on the bottom line. Kong is learning to think differently: “Who do I want to be and what is important to me? I need to be honest with myself. I want to be impactful in any capability that I can.” Realigning his resources, he is making the Nathon Kong Label more human every day by contributing to the community and supporting his team. With a focus on mental health causes, Kong previously collaborated with a shelter for women experiencing domestic violence. In 2019, he released a limited collection of 100% mulberry silk fashion accessories featuring artworks by artists and patients of Les Impatients, telling the unique story of each artisan. Each bespoke suit has a discreetly embedded Kong Stone, a citrine gem signifying success that’s been blessed by monks in a Buddhist ritual. In his free time, Nathon helps organizations around the city in supporting immigrant artists.
The Power of People and Networking
“I wouldn’t get where I am today without the support of my network,” says Kong. Recognizing the power of networking was exactly the reason why the entrepreneur joined the Telfer MBA Student Association during his studies. “You need to earn the trust and respect of people around you,” says Nathon, advising current Telfer students to expand their own network: “You may not even realize who you will meet. If you want something, it will take time. For me, I need to thank people who supported me.” A cornerstone of Kong’s philosophy is to always consider how you can give back, and not just take: ask yourself, “How can I help? What can I give?” Even when Kong mentors young people and fellow immigrants now, he always learns something from his mentees too. “We take all the time, but when we learn how to give, we appreciate what we receive,” says Nathon.
Today, Kong is busy renovating a newly purchased duplex into a minimalist home office, continuing to learn something about himself in every fitting with his clients, and practicing mindfulness. We are proud to call Nathon Kong an alumnus of the Telfer School and can’t wait to see his community impact grow even further.