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.

The Peak (Malaysia) - - Contents - TEXT MAYA MICHAEL & KIRAT KAUR ART DI­REC­TION PENNY CHEW PHO­TOG­RA­PHY ED­MUND LEE & ROBIN LIEW

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.

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