It was love at first sight for Veena Chander when she first laid eyes on the designer pewter brand Loyfar in Chiang Mai, Thailand five years ago.
Veena, a former management consultant, had just left her career of 17 years to dedicate her time to family life. She and her husband, Naveen Chander had bought an old bungalow in Petaling Jaya and decided to decorate and furnish it themselves.
That was the beginning of her travels to Thailand to look for furniture and decorative pieces for her home.
“Relatives and friends who visited my house started to engage my services to assist them with the interior décor of their homes. It was purely fun and games for me as I have always been passionate about beautiful things, which eventually culminated in a small business opportunity for me,” said Veena.
On one of her trips to Chiang Mai, she stumbled upon a window display with a magnificent pewter decorative piece in the shape of a boat with a coral motif.
“That was my first introduction to Loyfar pewter. I had no idea what metal it was at first and who or what Loyfar meant. All I knew was that I was smitten by the beauty of the object and wondered about the creativity and the skills behind the making of something so exquisite. Later, by some stroke of fate, I stumbled upon the very same piece in the gallery of my one my architect friends who was designing and making furniture for my small home furnishing business,” said the mother of one.
As it turned out, Loyfar was the name of the designer of the decorative piece. To her delight, her architect friend knew Loyfar and within minutes of their talking about Loyfar Pewter, Anuphup Loyfar appeared in her friend’s furniture gallery.
Anuphup had studied architecture and furniture design. He later became a jewellery designer for a French-Thai company for 10 years. Veena says they soon became good friend as they both shared a deep appreciation for design and art.
“Little did I imagine even then that that friendship would culminate in a business relationship and that I was going to be instrumental in taking the brand to Malaysia,” said Veena, who is now the sole distributor of Loyfar’s pewter products in Malaysia.
Veena’s orders were small initially as she marketed the pieces out of her private gallery until an opportunity arose to supply Loyfar pewter to a business entity.
“My stock arrived, but the deal with the business entity ceased before it even got started. Left in tears, I had to find a way to recover my investment. I had heard about the fairs in the Bangsar Village mall. It was Christmas time so I rented a booth for 21 days and stood there for 12 hours daily, promoting and selling Loyfar Pewter to Malaysia.
“The public was intrigued by Loyfar’s designs and their uniqueness. I was convinced there was a future for Loyfar Pewter and took the plunge by opening a boutique in Bangsar Village in October 2010 and eventually opened another one at the Parkson in Pavilion,” she said.
“Loyfar pewter pieces are crafted and finished by hand. Our designs are inspired by beautiful things in nature like coral, bamboo, flowers, leaves, and antlers. No two Loyfar objects are identical.
“In other words, when one purchases a piece of Loyfar Pewter, one actually purchases a work of art!” said Veena.
Loyfar recently added an entire collection based on the hibiscus, the national flower of Malaysia.
According to Veena, Anuphup is an extremely talented individual.
“There is a pun and fun in every piece of his creations, like the ashtrays that he crafted in the form of mangosteens or coconuts. We also have staplers, in the form of a frog, a monkey and a shark. No design is obvious in its function, yet every product is functional and not just aesthetic.
“Using the process of enamelling, Anuphup adds touches of vivid colour to his pieces. His mind never rests. Even on a simple social outing, he is continuously looking for inspirations in design for his new collections. Every six weeks, we have at least 12 to 15 new designs on our shelves for customers to choose from,” said Veena.
She observed that Malaysians buy gifts for every occasion from weddings, to house-warming parties, birthdays and all festive occasions.
“Our range of products appeal to every age group and fit every occasion. From a mobile pewter charm or a key chain, a cardholder or a medium-sized platter or large pewter boat to decorate one’s home, there’s something for everyone.
“We take great pleasure in ensuring that we provide customised packaging to suit the occasion. Our style of packaging often thrills the customer with the use of an array of frills unique to us. Besides being fun, the gift-wrap is often a subtle message of the uniqueness of the gift to come,” said Veena.
During festive periods, Veena and her team create hampers using Loyfar Pewter trays and objects and quality foodstuffs. Customers are also given the option of providing their own items to include at a no added cost for hamper wrapping.
For Christmas this year, Veena has combined Loyfar Pewter trays and platters with homemade biscotti, organic low-sugar jams, gingerbread cookies and Santa candles.
“My business was built on relationships. We have a following that comes to buy all their gifts at Loyfar Pewter today. They are not just our customers, but also our friends.
“The Christmas goodies and other festive cookies are often purchased from talented housewives who are Loyfar customers. Anuphup too, was a friend first before becoming my principal. We share a good working relationship, giving each other new ideas for designs and the marketing of Loyfar Pewter,” she said.
Looking back at how she started, Veena says she was like most dutiful Asian women.
Her traditional upbringing required her to sacrifice her career goals for family needs.
It was only in her late 40s, after her husband retired from a 30-year banking career, that the desire in her to start something of her own emerged.
More recently she opened a shop for another lifestyle brand, Ginger.
“About a year ago, I experienced the same excitement and passion that I had felt in Loyfar when I discovered Ginger a design company in Chiang Mai founded by Hans Christensen, another amazingly talented individual who creates functional and decorative items using fabric,” said Veena. The first Ginger boutique opened in Bangsar Village last October.
Since the response has been overwhelming, Veena is now looking to expand with both the brands.
Veena says her husband Naveen who initially didn’t understand the need to get into the retail retail at this stage of their lives, is now very supportive of her.
“He is a source of constant support and looks after the finances and administration of the stores. The beauty in Loyfar’s creativity and designs and Ginger’s quirky colourful items never cease to keep me motivated,” said Veena.
According to Veena, apart from Loyfar and Ginger, her 10-year-old son Ishan is also the biggest joy in my life.
“His cheeky, entertaining demeanour lightens my stress during difficult days. He sometimes assists me in my business, from following me on my business trips to the factories in Thailand to assisting in sorting out stock when it arrives,” said Veena.
For her, the challenges haven’t been the long hours or developing or expansion of the business.
“It has been staffing issues. There is a severe shortage of Malaysians keen on retail as a career and foreigners are unfortunately not yet permitted to work in retail outlets.
“Out of desperation, employers are poaching and pinching from other retail outlets and we have been victims of such desperate attempts on many occasions.
For small and medium businesses it has certainly been a major hindrance to expansion,” she said.
Veena says she was careful with every step at the start of her retail business with Loyfar, from understanding the brand’s potential, identifying ideal locations, to branding and marketing the product in Malaysia. She says she is now ready to expand the retail outlets, both as individual boutiques and through the shop-in-a-shop concept with reputable department stores.
“We will soon have a Loyfar jewellery collection, including cuff links for men in nature-inspired motifs. And for the year of the Horse, Loyfar too has some surprises in store. So stay tuned,” said the businesswoman.
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