Savvy Malaysian entrepreneurs are making, curating and building fashion and beauty brands that are bang on trend
Kuala Lumpur has become fertile ground for domestic fashion and beauty brands. Inspired by heritage and homemade trends, young upstarts are throwing their creative and entrepreneurial energies into self-made or self-funded projects. These brands are paving the way for coveted Made in Malaysia goods, infused with their own unique identity and expression.
The Off-Day & Daft Goods
A graphic designer by trade, Irman Hilmi is a co-founder of The Off-Day (facebook.com/TheOffDay), a bang on trend boutique retail shop stocking hard-to-find labels, retro memorabilia and unique knickknacks. “In terms of our business model, we want to bring in premium brands that are not readily available in KL, alongside quality local brands,” says Irman.
So among the Jungmaven T-shirts, Supreme clothes, Kinfolk magazines and Linus bikes are carefully curated premium quality local brands like Ceremony, Shuren Projects, Sakura and TomRich Shoes. “They are doing an amazing job at raising the quality benchmark for Malaysian designed and made goods – we’ve been supporting them from the start,” says Irman.
Even more exciting is The Off-Day’s collaboration with their curated brands to produce limited runs of Shuren Project x The Off-Day shirts and Cheese Denim x The Off-Day raw selvedge jeans. And Irman has bigger plans in mind, “I would love to go for international trade shoes and bring along local brands. I want people to know that there are local brands that don’t just produce T-shirts. I would definitely like to see it flourish.”
His girlfriend, Deanna Ibrahim, is equally enterprising. A full-time model and owner of a modelling agency, she is the founder of Daft Goods (instagram.com/daftgoods) for which she curates and produces accessories in her free time. She debuted self-brand tote bags with hand-drawn designs using a Sharpie to a limited run of five apiece. The bags shout out modelesque statements such as ‘Please call my booker.’ They sold out in days.
“It’s from a model’s perspective, but with a rock n’ roll edge,” says Ibrahim. Plans are underway for collaborations with other models and with artist friends.
Pestle & Mortar
Three high school friends – Hugh Koh and brothers Arnold and Arthur Loh – founded streetwear label Pestle & Mortar (pestlemortarclothing.com) in 2010. The seed to start their own clothing line germinated in school but didn’t take off as the three lads went off to pursue other professions, namely architecture, radio DJ and photography. Years later, after countless sessions at the local mamak, they finally decided to give their dream a shot and birthed Pestle & Mortar.
“We decided to base our clothing label on everything Malaysian – our very first range was entitled Kuala Lumpur Through Our Eyes and featured things like our mamak culture and the rotiman,” says Koh.
In just four years, the brand grew out of its home base to prime locations in Bangsar and Subang, with counters in Tangs and Parkson department stores. On top of their signature T-shirts, Pestle & Mortar now sell shirts, bottom wear and leather goods. The clothes are custom-fit for Malaysian shapes and sizes, and closely supervised from the sourcing of the fabric to the print of their own designs.
“Timing and offering something really different is the reason why we are still here today – doing what we love has definitely made the job a lot easier,” says Koh.
It was a chance encounter with wonderfully fragrant homemade soaps in a shop that led Nadya Lee to start making soaps. A fervent hobbyist and craftsperson, she threw herself into her new passion, accumulating knowledge and skills through books and the Internet. She started selling her fragrant soaps as The Saponifist (saponifist.com) in 2011.
“Response was slow in the beginning but it’s been growing steadily,” says Lee, who originally trained as a graphic designer. “Most of my customers are repeat ones as they love the soaps. I also actively explain and educate about the benefits of choosing a greener alternative in personal care.”
The soaps are lovingly made with 50% pomace olive oil base, a luxurious step up from the usual palm or coconut oil, and infused with pure essential oils from Australia. Incredibly moisturising, they are ideal for people with sensitive or dry skin, with various other benefits from its botanical inclusions.
Tarik Jeans & Nusantara Denims
KL’s denim culture can be traced to Pertama Complex in the heart of town, where deft hands make light work of bespoke jeans alterations for trend-spotting schoolboys. Afiq Iskandar was one such regular. An avowed denim fan, he took his passion and knowledge of denim to found Tarik Jeans (tarik.my). The name, which means ‘pull’ in the Malay language, refers to the popular teh tarik, a frothy, creamy milk tea beverage. The company logo depicts a man ‘pulling’ tea.
“Tarik Jeans was one of the earliest brands to surface in the local scene, and we’ve been original since Day One,” says Afiq, who plays with bands Oh Chentaku and Red Ruby Avengers,
Tarik Jeans has a line of jeans, T-shirts, jackets and even smartphone covers to its name. Afiq expanded his reach with a denim store called Nusantara Denims in the trendy SS15 postcode in Subang Jaya, which carries a variety of regional premium denim brands, including Indigoskin, Doku and Pop Meet Pop, as well as Tarik Jeans.
Malaysians have latched on to the growing interest in American heritage brands, a trend that has taken roots in the likes of Field Trip (facebook.com/fieldtriphandmade). Founders, Mohd Asri Mohd Yatim and Shalahudin Abd Latif, fell in love with the quality, heritage and beauty of design of well-loved work brands, going as far as adopting the retro American work wear as a personal style.
As Malaysia has no ready tradition of leather goods, the pair taught themselves to polish, cut and stitch the leather with the help of YouTube. So far they’ve produced a wide range of small leather goods and accessories like wallets, cardholders, glasses case and leather bracelets, sourcing the leather from India, Korea, Australia and Italy. This year, they are adding waxed canvas to their collection.
Field Trip is now available online through Facebook and Instagram, with a limited selection at The Off-Day and Nusantara Denims. Goods are made to order.