After close to 30 years in the fashion business, Monica Ong wantedto call it quits but her passion and love for all things beautiful droveher to create a fresh new look under her own label, Monica Quen.She speaks to StarBiz about her experiences.
WHEN designer Monica Ong decided to pursue fashion as a career in the 1970s, she was hesitant, knowing society’s perceptions of the industry at that time.
“The perception of fashion in the 70s was that it had no future.
“I went overseas to pursue this course. I don’t think at that time my loved ones were very happy then (as) they probably thought I was going there for a swing,” she says jokingly.
Today, the designer, who is her 50s, has successfully built her own label, Monica Quen.
The soft-spoken mother of two tells StarBiz that she started out supplying designs to retail outlets and department stores such as Metrojaya.
Labels like Cape Cod, Somerset Bay, Little Diana, Passages and Granny Hearts all had Ong’s touch.
This designer, who has close to three decades of experience in the fashion industry, is also behind the creation of some ladies’ and children’s wear displayed in major stores like Takashimaya and marketed in the European markets.
Ong, who graduated from the St Martin’s School of Arts in London, started working with some local boutiques, supplying these outlets with designs in small quantities and moving on to larger department stores in 1978.
The label Monica Quen was only established some three years ago, she says.
“But pursuing this passion has not all been a smooth sailing journey,” she adds.
Ong says she faced some setbacks in the late 90s and started travelling with her husband.
“At the end of the 90s, I thought that was the end of my fashion career. I decided to stop working and started travelling.
“But those around me – my family, colleagues and staff – advised me to keep on going, to not waste my talent and skills,” she says.
Ong realised that she still had the passion for designing and decided to start her own label.
“I think what keeps me going is that I like to see people dressed up nicely. It doesn’t matter if it is my own label, but I like to see people in beautiful things,” she says with a smile.
Her frequent travels to China and love for all things Chinese further fuelled the inspiration behind her current designs.
Ong’s first outlet, located in Medan Damansara, not only carries attire for men, women and children, but also paraphernalia associated with the Chinese culture.
She admits that there were several offers from big fashion names that had wanted to work with her on her own label, but she decided it was time to venture out on her own.
“All sorts of business proposals were sent to me, but I want to work at my own pace, and to be able to spend time with my family,” she explains.
Her eldest daughter, Wong Wen Yee, 21, is now helping out with the marketing arm of the business.
Ong says her outlet focuses more on lifestyle than just attire. “I started out promoting my label on a small scale in the department stores that I was supplying designs to.
“It was a great start, with enquiries coming in and slowly the brand name became well-known,” she adds.
“We carry more broquet, silk and satin as they can be dressy for functions. Our foreign clients like jackets with the Chinese buttons and embroidery.”
The label uses natural fibre for its designs, keeping away from synthetic fabric, she explains, as this is suitable for the local weather. Items are sourced from China, Hong Kong, Thailand and Vietnam.
Ong adds her own touch through the play of buttons on the designs.
Her business has grown tremendously over the past three years, with franchises being set up in malls in Kuala Lumpur. The team is also working towards setting up franchises in Singapore and Australia.
“We are also tapping into the online market and have plans to do online sales through our website for foreign clients. The reach is great,” she says, adding that enquiries have come from as far as Japan and Europe,
Ong has a great support team behind her, she says. “I don’t want to be in the frontline as I have always been a low-profile person. I hardly go to fashion shows and I don’t like the limelight.”
What is important to her is for people to recognise her brand name, she says.
“I have confidence in myself but I would rather move at a slow pace and not rush into things. I have a strong team working with me so I can concentrate on designing and sourcing for materials.”
Her advice for budding women entrepreneurs is simple. “Have patience. And you must like what you do. Don’t lose interest.”
More importantly, experience will go a long way, says Ong. To be able to pick up the skills necessary for the fashion industry, every bit of working experience counts.
“It does not matter if it is good or bad experience; it will all come to use in your pursuit of your love for fashion.”
With her own label growing so successfully, this humble fashion designer has certainly made her mark in the fashion industry.