Leung Thong Ping, owner and designer of Mayfair Designs at Suria KLCC, talks about the tough times local designers face and how she is trying to change this.
Mayfair Designs is running a campaign at Suria KLCC this month called 'take a malaysian home'. Posters put up at KLCC feature stylised visuals of Mayfair’s range.
Why ‘take a malaysian home!’?
It’s a strategy to draw attention to Nyonya kebaya, batik and pelekat tops, dresses and skirts – our interpretations of Malay and Chinese wear targeted at tourists, convention delegates and locals alike.
In Suria KLCC where the international brands are king, it’s especially difficult for a home-grown label like Mayfair to be noticed.
How important is the tourist to your trade?
The busloads of Indian and mainland Chinese mass travellers that whiz through KLCC usually do nothing for us: this is the first serious wave of tourists out of those countries. The old ones don’t need new clothes, the young ones can buy cheaply at home.
Caucasians? These tend to spend within a budget, but they do create a small demand for larger sizes and quieter colours.
The Malaysian diaspora returnees can be quite interesting: they come back for weddings, family reunions and to see aged parents; these occasions create sales opportunities for cheongsam, nyonya kebaya, batik garments and accessories.
So is the tourist’s contribution to retail spending overrated?
Some sectors do better than others. Airlines, hotels, restaurants benefit from any increase in tourist arrivals, but it’s possible to visit Kuala Lumpur and not spend a cent in the shops, except on mineral water.
Tourism is sensitive to world events: lots of travellers cancelled flights to London after last week’s bombing.
An incident in Indonesia or South Thailand could hurt tourist traffic to Malaysia for months.
Why are local designers having it tough?
Malaysia has a relatively small consumer base with a wide choice of imported mass produced (and therefore affordable) brands. People tend to be status conscious (kiasu) and follow trends, dressing like others do because they have no strong sense of personal style.
Price is the big issue, and few women stop to ask: Is this me? Is it appropriate? Is it in good taste?
So you sometimes see a 60-something mutton dressed like a teenage lamb because the price is cheap.
There are far too many players in a small field: how can local designers cope with the economies of scale?
What’s the outlook then?
Some people say if you make your business focused and niche, you’ll protect yourself from the side effects of globalisation. Mayfair is very “niche’’ indeed; we offer Malay- and Chinese- wear in cotton, voile, silk and batik as well as a made-to-measure service.
The problem is the business becomes seasonal, so it’s feast or famine. The challenge is how to make the off-peak months productive. Often easier said than done. W