How long-standing business owners turned a dry cleaners into lifestyle shop
- Credit: Steam Room
"Just give them the finger,” laughs Tony Chung in what seems like a shocking admission for the owner of a dry cleaning business and lifestyle shop in Haggerston. "When I am cooking rice, I always use the finger to measure how much water I need to put in the rice. It is how I had been taught growing up."
Tony, who has owned The Steamroom since 2004, was explaining how he turned his father's former takeaway into a lifestyle brand and event space contained inside a dry cleaning business in an interview with the Gazette.
He was describing a poster from his Finger Print Collection - one of the bestselling prints in the shop - called Give Them The Finger.
It mixes bright and contrasting colours, and can be bought from the dry cleaners on Kingsland Road along with t-shirts and washing products: “Making posters has always been a thing that I wanted to have a laugh about.
“Because I am really proud of my Chinese roots, I like to make posters that teach and express my heritage."
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Talking over the phone, Tony’s east London accent is strong - but despite being born and bred in the UK, he has never forgotten his roots in the east.
While Tony was growing up in the 1970s, his family taught him to “appreciate everything” they had and to "treat our possessions with dignity and respect because it wasn’t easily obtained”.
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“In dad’s words, it was earned with our blood and sweat,” Tony said.
He now makes laundry guides in Chinese and English as a “fun way to show people how to clean” and so his customers know how to hand wash clothes.
“I feel quite lucky that my father passed the shop to me, that I have a canvas to express things," he said.
His father's former takeaway customers still frequent the shop for dry cleaning, and Tony advises them about the dangers of over-washing, as well as teaching them about what is the best way to prolong a garment's life.
About four years ago, as a joke, his wife put a drawing of Tony's face on the opening sign of the store. “People would look and laugh at it,” he said. “So I decided to print 100 t-shirts out with my face on them for fun and they were sold out in less than a month.”
Building on that success, Tony and his wife built a lifestyle store with many products that use Tony’s face.
They also revamped the store’s basement and turned it into an event space, which he refers to as a “fun and exciting place for everyone” and a great way to “give something back to the community".
“We wanted a shop that was connected to our roots, east London, our neighbourhood and a space to support emerging young Asian artists,” he says.
For Chinese New Year this year, Tony welcomed the Year of the Ox by exhibiting east and south-east Asian artists in his window display: “This project was about the community coming together in the pandemic, we were very proud to support these young artists.”
Today, his store is full of curated crafts, tools to clean clothes from Asia and Tony’s own designs.
His products include tea towels, morning snoods, bags and many other original pieces incorporating an Asian theme. He is not only a reputable raw denim specialist but also someone who incorporates his traditional Chinese values of harmony, benevolence and wisdom into his daily life and business.
Tony’s approach to design—which aims to be funny, fiercely colourful, sometimes striking and always enlightening—resonates with his heritage and with British-born Asians who are looking for a way to remember their connections with the east.
The couple have other projects in the pipeline, and are looking forward to sharing them with the Hackney community.