> Who knew a shoebox of beads would unlock a dream, and then a calling?
FOOD is usually the star of fundraising carnivals, but when no one could conjure up mouth-watering cuisine, Elaine Phoan and Fabian Tan’s university martial arts club had to turn to other resources. “I had a shoebox of beads which I collected over the years, so I told everyone that I would donate the beads and string them into bracelets. Everyone was on board with the idea, and the sale turned out surprisingly well!” Phoan recalled.
Following that, they decided to continue the business as a means of supporting themselves.
Since then, both Kuching natives have vastly grown in their craft, and are now full-time artisanal jewellers operating under the moniker Left&Right.
Firstly, tell us about yourselves. Elaine: I hold double degrees in mechanical engineering and finance, but design has been my passion all along. Since young I’ve been passionate about creating and storytelling, which explains my textbooks and notebooks that were always filled with drawings and doodles.
Fabian: I majored in mechanical engineering and minored in biotechnology. It is very different from what I do now, but I have always dabbled in various things. However, I have always wanted to start or create something of my own, and I realised from an internship that a conventional office job was not for me.
Could you share a turning point in your lives? E: One night when I was 17, I got home late from a night out with friends. My grandmother waited up for me and typically advised me to not shower, as it was already midnight. I rudely waved her away and regretted it, but I was too egoistic to apologise and thought that I could make it up to her the next day. The next morning, I woke up to a loud noise only to find my grandmother on the road in my cousin’s arms; she passed away that night. I wished to tell her many things, but it was too late. To commemorate this, the dragonfly collection was birthed, inspired by the dragonfly I saw at her funeral. From then, I learnt to never leave anything unsaid. That became the philosophy of Left&Right.
F: There is no specific turning point, but rather an
accumulation of ups and downs that I go through with every decision. Also, we learnt from the people we met along the way that we all go through similar struggles regardless of backgrounds. From there, we grow.
What do your families think about what you do? E: My dad was very concerned and doubtful that my results could land me a great professional job, so I had to keep communicating about my decision to pursue this. His opposition has lessened now, but I still constantly communicate with him.
In contrast, my mom is super chill. She always tells me, “I have no idea what you’re doing, but I believe that you know what you’re doing, so go ahead and give your best.” That is really all I need.
F: I come from a traditional Chinese working-class family, and as a son with a professional degree who’s suddenly in the jewellery business full-time, they are still very worried. It is very hard for them to understand my current career choice – given that we don’t have anything big to show yet – but I believe in due course, they can be convinced.
What is the ultimate goal of Left&Right? It would be hard to imagine if we say that we aim to be storytellers, but we see it in the interaction with our clients. We have heard intimate stories that could inspire and tie people together. From there, we hope that people see one another simply as humans with stories and emotions. Unity is what we want to bring with Left&Right.
They hope to train more artisans and eventually support more families through Left&Right.