The owner of My Ap­parel Zoo on her love of vivid prints

Harper’s Bazaar (Malaysia) - - Bazaar -

Talk­ing about draw­ing up dif­fer­ent busi­ness mod­els, strate­gies, and work­ing on fu­ture plans, it’s hard to imag­ine that El­lie E Nor­man is all of 23 years of age. Over eggs and sand­wiches at Podgy & The Banker in Sri Har­ta­mas, El­lie says that she has al­ways wanted to work in fash­ion. “When I moved back to KL from the UK three years ago, I started work­ing in as­set man­age­ment as a con­sumer an­a­lyst,” says El­lie. “My folks wanted me to get into the cor­po­rate world but af­ter start­ing work at an in­vest­ment bank, I re­alised I did not have the heart for it. I was cre­at­ing lots of busi­ness mod­els as part of my job then, so I de­cided to cre­ate a model for my fash­ion busi­ness, which I then pre­sented to my par­ents. They even­tu­ally agreed, al­though it did take a while for me to con­vince my dad!”

Af­ter quit­ting her day job last Fe­bru­ary, El­lie launched My Ap­parel Zoo in April, as an online bou­tique sell­ing clothes sourced from Hong Kong, Bei­jing, and Shang­hai. “I pick ev­ery piece, so in essence, My Ap­parel Zoo is an ex­ten­sion of my per­sonal style. I would wear ev­ery sin­gle piece,” she shares. What started out as an online bou­tique is now a show­room in Pub­lika So­laris Du­ta­mas, which opened last Novem­ber. “I’m try­ing to grow my busi­ness by hav­ing a shop floor space so my cus­tomers can try on the clothes be­fore pur­chas­ing.” Sell­ing a range of trendy dresses, tops, skirts, and ac­ces­sories such as clutches and state­ment neck­laces, My Ap­parel Zoo spe­cialises in dresses. “To me, dresses are the best way to show off a woman’s fig­ure. Also, I am a big fan of dresses as it saves you the has­sle of fig­ur­ing out what top to pair your bot­toms with,” laughs El­lie.

Apart from the clothes that El­lie stocks

“I love Dion Lee’s amaz­ing prints and

struc­tured pieces with cutouts. Josh Goot is a mas­sive in­spi­ra­tion, too.”

are tai­lored dresses made of fab­rics from An­gola in eye-catch­ing prints. “I love prints and when I first came across th­ese fab­rics that a friend from univer­sity sent to me from An­gola, I just fell in love with the colours,” she re­calls. “She knew that I was start­ing my own fash­ion busi­ness and sent me some fab­ric swatches to have a look. Ini­tially I wanted to get into batik batik but th­ese An­golan fab­rics were so strik­ing with such quirky prints that I thought, why not African fab­rics in­stead?”

When asked about her pen­chant for vivid prints and bright colours, El­lie shares that prints have al­ways been her thing since young. “I did art in school and I have a huge ap­pre­ci­a­tion for Pop Art, so artists such as Roy Licht­en­stein and Andy Warhol are some of my favourites. I sup­pose the vi­brancy of their dis­tinc­tive work has in­flu­enced my style choices,” she muses.

With no back­ground in fash­ion de­sign or pre­vi­ous ex­pe­ri­ence, El­lie cred­its her abil­ity to de­sign dresses to her back­ground as an artist, and home eco­nom­ics in school where she learnt to sew. “I spent five years of my childhood in Bei­jing and I think that was when the fash­ion bug bit me. I had ac­cess to so many cheap fab­rics and tai­lors ev­ery­where that could pro­duce what I wanted – that cer­tainly played a hand in the de­ci­sion to start my own busi­ness,” she says. “When I started My Ap­parel Zoo, I knew that I didn’t want to be just a buyer. I re­ally wanted to be a de­signer as well.”

Work­ing with a small team of tai­lors, El­lie’s An­golan-print dresses are cut in sim­ple sil­hou­ettes to let the print take cen­tre stage. El­lie tries on a dress that has just been com­pleted. It’s a short-sleeved one that ends just above the knee in cobalt and orange, and it looks fetch­ing on her. I ask to try on one in my size but El­lie tells me that this is just a pro­to­type piece and more are still in the mak­ing. Avail­able in just one piece per size, the ex­clu­siv­ity means that th­ese dresses sell out very quickly. “I have a pref­er­ence for qual­ity over quan­tity,” says El­lie. “The best part of my job has to be when my cus­tomers love the de­signs. I take great sat­is­fac­tion from that knowl­edge.”

List­ing Dion Lee (“I just love his amaz­ing prints and struc­tured pieces with cutouts”), Josh Goot, and the Tatanaka de­sign­ers as in­spi­ra­tion, El­lie re­veals that she’s in this for the long run. “My par­ents tell me that I’d bet­ter be!” she laughs. “Grow­ing up, I al­ways thought that I would work for some big cor­po­ra­tion, but it goes be­yond words to be run­ning my own busi­ness now. It’s a lot of hard work, sleep­less nights, and it’s been a steep learn­ing curve, no doubt, but re­sponse has been great so far. Trust me, I plan to be in this busi­ness for years to come.”

Sur­rounded by clothes and her own art work. Top; and skirt, both from My Ap­parel Zoo. Pumps, Nine West

Sit­ting pretty. Dress; and clutch, both from My Ap­parel Zoo. Ban­gle, Her­mès. Pumps, Zara

Ready to roll. Top, H& M. Skirt; and clutch, both from My Ap­parel Zoo. Neck­lace, House of Har­low. Pumps, Nine West

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