ELLIE E NORMAN
The owner of My Apparel Zoo on her love of vivid prints
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