MADE IN MALAYSIA
Going local has never been this exciting. The Peak meets with talented Malaysian designers who have made their mark on the international fashion scene.
Going local has never been this exciting. ThePeak meets with talented local designers who have made their mark on the international fashion scene.
Ever since I can remember, I have always been exposed to the world of fashion, textile, and retail – my parents own a kids apparel brand and have been running it for over 15 years. I used to hang out at their work space a lot and, somewhere along the way, everything just clicked into place. Being able to see them earn a good living, while doing what they loved, convinced me that I could do the same.
I attended the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, and it was that experience that helped shape my vision for Pearly Wong. After completing my studies, I returned to Kuala Lumpur before officially launching my label in 2012 with the help of my family. The feedback, so far, has been amazing, and I am thankful for all the support given to Pearly Wong. I would like to be known as the designer whose breakthrough involved innovative designs made using sustainable materials as I am very passionate about social and environmental issues. For me, the future of business lies in implementing green energy initiatives and giving back to the society by establishing strong CSR programmes.
In August, I organised an event with Swiss luxury watch manufacturer Corum. I am also the new ‘Friend of the Brand’ for South-East Asia for the iconic Bubble collection. I really like the workmanship of Corum’s watches, which have these intricate details that I find captivating. Wearing a Corum watch makes me feel strong and confident. My current favourite design is the Bubble Death Star model, which comes in black and has this timeless appeal.
The biggest struggle that I have faced throughout my career will have to be balancing between being a business woman and a designer, as these two don’t always mix. Having a passion for fashion simply isn’t enough to run a successful fashion business – you need to be financially savvy. To really make it in this industry, one must understand that being creative is only part of the equation. My advice is to comprehend the business, while building up your contact network and marketing your image. It takes a well-rounded person to survive this industry as it is always changing. If you don’t follow suit, you will be left behind.
Most designers want to be original and innovative, but this comes with a hefty price. To be able to do this while retaining customer acquisition is very challenging, especially since Malaysians still prefer shopping at fast fashion brands that are more affordable. There’s a perception that locally produced products are of lower quality and, therefore, not really worth paying for. However, there are also those who will go out of their way to support local designers, artisans and craftsman. A lot of designers struggle with this conflict, which is why I chose to sell my clothes overseas in Singapore, London, Berlin and in Hong Kong, but produce them in Malaysia. This allows me to remain an independent, original design studio while continuing to do what I love without any restrictions.
A graduate of the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, Pearly Wong’s eponymous label was founded in 2012. Three years later, she debuted her Fall/Winter 2015 collection at the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Berlin.
Launched in 2015, the founder of this distinctive menswear label was the first-ever Malaysian designer to be shortlisted for the prestigious LVMH award in 2016.
I was studying classical music, from which I developed an interest in anything related to art, including reading more books, magazines and articles about fashion. In 2011, I decided to pursue my passion for fashion on a full time basis. While the process has been long and slow, the transition was much easier than I expected.
The LVMH semi-finalist announcement really helped a lot in terms of exposure, as we had the opportunity to meet a lot of important people which opened lots of doors for us. We never expected to make it that far. We were there mainly for the experience and to have fun, which is what I want for those who wear my clothes – to have fun, and to feel unique and special. I personally like to stand out of the crowd so, perhaps, I subconsciously want my customers to feel the same way. And we can definitely see that our buyers love the crazier pieces, hence the direction of our collection. I wouldn’t call my style avant-garde because I feel this word has been overused – plus I think crazy is a lot more fun!
I believe that designers must contribute to society by providing new ideas. For example, most of the styles that you see now actually began as a crazy idea introduced by designers over a decade ago. It took that amount of time for society to digest and filter their message before it became the norm. As for the local fashion scene, it’s slowly growing and moving in a better direction, but it still needs to catch up with the rest of the world.
I think that everyone involved in this industry needs to be more united, to be more on the same page. Right now, we can’t even compare with our neighbours in Thailand. Coming from a multicultural society should be an advantage, not a limitation. Malaysians need to be more educated about fashion, but you can’t blame them since fashion is not a main priority here, which is why most buyers prefer fast fashion or to play it safe. They would either pay a bit more to buy from established big brands or spend less by choosing mass brands, rather than support independent designers or labels. It’s a tough mission to educate the buyers here, but we can’t blame them since there are so many other factors involved. Since it is such a tough cycle to break, it is challenging for local designers to break through.
Cleverly leveraging on the popularity of the Internet, Tengku Syahmi’s accessible luxury ready-to-wear for women and men from his label Tsyahmi is lighting up the fashion sites of Zalora, Fashion Valet and En Pointe Singapore.
I was around 12 years old when I caught an Oprah Winfrey interview of this upcoming young designer, Esteban Cortazar. It was my first glimpse into the world of fashion and I was fascinated by the notion of a sketch coming to life as an actual, tangible garment. That was when I realised I could be doing that for a living – sketching my ideas and actually creating it in 3D! It was about the ability to express my ideas through fashion.
Until five years ago, it was just a hobby. Then my business partner, Natalie Zainal, made me realise that if I don’t get out of my comfort zone and challenge myself, how will I ever grow? We were also working together at a fashion company, and flabbergasted by the quality and design aesthetics we saw. We were convinced that it was now or never to bring a change within the local industry and, thus, Tsyahmi was created!
Tsyahmi was initially self-funded until we took part in the annual Fashion Pitch in 2014 by My Creative Ventures. Our designs and ideas impressed them enough to get their support, which allowed us to grow our label. I learned a lot going through the first season for Tsyahmi. It was tough trying to break into the market, producing our first ready-to-wear collection and going through all those sleepless nights at my parents’ house, trying to create the best experience for potential customers. My mum always reminded me that experience is everything and she is right; it’s the key to knowledge.
As a fashion designer based in Malaysia, it is definitely important to be original and innovative as that’s what will keep us always ahead. From the beginning, my intention has been to bring something new to the local scene. We at Tsyahmi celebrate individuality with fashion, bringing sophistication in its simplest form and creating designs that last.
For local designers and brands to grow, there needs to be a united front – a Malaysian version of CFDA (Council of Fashion Designers of America), which is a non-profit trade association that gathers America’s foremost womenswear, menswear, jewellery and accessories designers. This Malaysian association should aim to bring local fashion and fashion designers to greater heights – possibly to an international stature – and along the way, establish fashion as an influential element of contemporary living. I believe it is important for the public and designers themselves to be able to appreciate and differentiate art and design for this promotion of talented Malaysian designers to be successful.
It was actually through art and a couple of my friends studying fashion at that moment that led me to the industry. Looking at what they do and seeing how it’s a part of art really inspired me to give fashion a shot. So, in 2013, I started my eponymous label but it was only in 2015 that we officially took on the seasons.
As a young independent brand, we face challenges in every area, from the structure of the company to the production and finances, but with each season, we survived, picked ourselves up and kept learning. This process will never end. The industry is constantly evolving and all you can do is keep up with the pace to survive. I have an amazing business partner, Jake Chen, who founded the brand with me, and I guess I was a little braver with him by my side.
Jonathan Liang, the label, is an ode to femininity and a celebration of a woman’s individuality. We want women to constantly feel inspired and we’d like to be a transparent business with an ethical responsibility to this planet too. Feedback has been really positive so far and I am thankful. However, we are very attentive to any negative feedback thrown our way. I believe it’s a golden opportunity to get honest opinions from an outsider’s point of view.
Originality and innovation is always a refreshing sight in fashion but a rare one these days. Everyone is fighting for trendy items, fast production and larger quantities to appease the masses. In Malaysia, the current trend would be Muslimahwear, which is an ever-growing market taking a life and style of its own. It’s something the country should be very proud off, albeit the lack of originality and innovation.
Since his debut in 2009 as the “Most Promising Designer” at Malaysian Fashion Week, the Paris-based designer has quickly risen to become one of Malaysia’s biggest fashion stars.
Local fashion labels, unfortunately, receive little support and I believe branding is key. Images that portray a sense of luxury, concept and art direction that sets trends affect the value of a product. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always happen among the local brands and branding capabilities do not hit the right note. Thus, the comparison between local and international brands takes place and the vast difference in value these images portray becomes more evident.
Nonetheless, a lot of young Malaysian brands are changing these perceptions and opening the market to a better understanding of a product’s worth. Together with better government support and proper education for our local designers, the talents that are already abundant in Malaysia will definitely shine.
LEFT TO RIGHT Corum Bubble 47Squelette and Corum Bubble DeathStar.