How this Malaysian trio achieved their fashion dream despite the pandemic

The colourful clothing label was founded by three Malaysians during the pandemic. Photo composite: Umbi Kids

The pandemic has been tough on the fashion industry. In Malaysia, designers had to weather bad times, thinking up different ways to boost sales as people spent less on clothes during lockdowns.

A trio of entrepreneurial Malaysians however, did not see the pandemic as a stumbling block to their dream of starting their own fashion label.

Jay Liow, Zulfathi Nordin and Miemie Loh founded Umbi Kids in 2020. Offering just kidswear at that time, it now has grown to also carry designs for adults.

For them, the journey has been a memorable one.

“The first piece of garment sold was an unforgettable experience,” relates Liow.

“We spent close to six months setting up the brand - from designing to sourcing materials to creating our online presence. The very first order gave us the assurance and the push to continue striving forward.”

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When customers shared photos of themselves wearing the label’s clothes, it was like a validation of their efforts.

“We work hard so our clothes can be a part of our wearers’ best moments and in return, we also got great memories from their experiences,” Liow comments.

All three founders have prior background in the creative industry. As such, they strive to sell “art” through their clothes.

“We design and create our own unique prints. Every print is based on an inspiration, which we share with our wearers,” explains Liow.

She adds that the pandemic made them realise that life is too short to not pursue their dreams and passion.

Loh, Zulfathi and Liow (from left) were unfazed by the challenging times and boldly went on to pursue their dreams. Photo: Umbi KidsLoh, Zulfathi and Liow (from left) were unfazed by the challenging times and boldly went on to pursue their dreams. Photo: Umbi KidsThey were confident that people would still want to dress their best during festive times – whether or not they are at home or on the move. The belief was that parents would also want to keep the festive tradition alive for their kids even during lockdowns.

According to Liow, the support of their customers has been phenomenal.

“Of course, starting a brand in the middle of lockdowns definitely has its risks. To minimise that risk, we operated solely online in our first year,” she says, adding that they recently opened a showroom in Setia Alam, Selangor.

“A smooth sea never makes a great sailor, there are ups and downs in this journey but we know every obstacle comes with a solution. We have learnt that communication and trust are two very important ingredients for the brand to keep growing.”

They began with just a small warehouse office. That space has grown into a 1,400 sq ft showroom with two changing rooms.

Liow says that Umbi Kids runs on a very lean model. Everyone on the team has multiple skill sets, which minimises the need for outsourcing.

”Of course, with different experiences, opposing opinions may arise. Fortunately, all three of us are driven by the same passion and goal,” she adds.

”We make sure to check-in with each other when it comes to mental health as well.”

Resource limitation during the pandemic has been a problem. As such, the founders have been very careful in expanding the business.

On whatever growth witnessed, Liow draws comparison to the label’s name, which means “roots” from the Malay phrase “akar umbi”.

“Umbi Kids has grown stronger roots and has evolved. We are confident we will keep evolving and will steadily grow from here.”

On how the fashion industry can be challenging as trends change in a blink of an eye, she says that Umbi Kids does not subscribe to such a business model.

Liow explains that they try to be more careful with what they produce – and do so in sustainable quantities.

“If we follow trends, we will never escape the shadows of fast fashion and the need to constantly spew out new products.”

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The three founders place great value in making their brand relatable. Plus, they make sure that they have genuine and valid connections with their clients.

As it is, Liow encourages customers to communicate with them.

”Talk to us, suggest your favourite colour, let us know what is the most comfortable fit, we do listen and your feedback might very well be making its way into our next collection!”

The idea is that a label can’t just have clothes hanging on a rack and hope the till will continuously ring. People, the environment or creativity should be focused on, more than profit.

Umbi Kids understands that. Or, as Liow so proudly puts it: “Our customers know that there is a human touch behind their garments.”

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fashion , trends , Covid-19 , Malaysian designers


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