Visualising wedding bells, glam shoots on ‘bridal streets’


Yong checking the collection of gowns at his bridal shop. — ART CHEN/The Star

BUSINESS has taken a back seat due to the various movement control orders for some 30 wedding services providers in SS2, an inner suburb in Petaling Jaya, which is known for its “bridal streets” where many bridal shops are located.

Although bridal gowns still hang on racks and are displayed on window mannequins with studio props and office furniture visible in some shops, business is more or less at a standstill.

Malaysian Wedding Professional Association (the association) vice-president Paul Kong, 38, who runs a photography, make-up, wedding consultation and bridal boutique in Jalan SS2/24, said he had not been to his office for weeks.

Looi (right) and Gan are selling clothes and shoes online to keep their business afloat. — ART CHEN/The StarLooi (right) and Gan are selling clothes and shoes online to keep their business afloat. — ART CHEN/The Star

When he did so in April, he found a smashed window pane.

“I suspect someone tried to break in.”

He said that over the past year, wedding service providers were only able to operate for a total of three months.

“No matter how cash-rich one is, not many businesses can sustain in this kind of environment.

“At last count, more than 50% of operators in the wedding services industry have closed down. Most of them were big companies including the ones owned by Chinese, Taiwanese, Hong Kong and South Korean investors.

“By my estimation, no less than 100 people would have lost their jobs due to the closures of these companies.

Kong at an outdoor shoot in the past. Wedding service providers have only been able to operate for a total of three months in the last one year, he says.Kong at an outdoor shoot in the past. Wedding service providers have only been able to operate for a total of three months in the last one year, he says.

“The spillover effect has also affected related businesses such as laundries, tailors, printers, make-up artists and wedding planners.

“My company has suffered a loss of no less than RM1.5mil in terms of sales,” he revealed.

The hardest hit are photography studios due to the heavy investment required for equipment and props.

Kong said those figures could run up to as much as RM700,000 even for a small company.

“In an attempt to save the business, we have voiced our concerns to the SME Association of Malaysia to ask the government for help with loan deferments, for landlords to reduce rentals, offer subsidisation of staff salaries and immediate loan approvals.

“Immediate loan approvals, especially, was not easy as banks considered the wedding industry as high risk, akin to tourism. These loans, however, could end up as liabilities if the situation did not improve,” he said.

But in spite of it all, he said SS2 wedding services providers were supportive of the National Security Council’s (NSC) decision to shutter non-essential services until it was deemed safe.

Kong, who contracted Covid-19 a few months ago, said that though he did not require hospitalisation, it was harrowing to go through the fever and aches.

Chang has added homemade cupcakes to her list of online products.Chang has added homemade cupcakes to her list of online products.

Sharing his outlook for the next few months, he predicted that couples would most likely look for simpler packages when the sector reopened.

“With travel bans still in place, overseas pre-wedding shoots, for example, will not be possible for now.

“Most have stopped taking deposits until the situation has stabilised,” he said.

Nevertheless, those who have managed to retain their businesses are not taking the wait-and-see approach anymore, said Kong.

Many, like him, have ventured into different businesses via e-commerce.

He started selling bird’s nests a year ago and will embark on a frozen food business soon.

Using his photography and video-taking skills, he handles all the product shots himself. His wife is his model.

Down but not out

Over in Jalan SS2/64, Amy Chang, 39, runs a wedding accessories shop. She, too, has had to rethink and strategise because of the restrictions imposed by the MCO.

“There are still opportunities for the sale of wedding accessories as people can get married during the MCO.

“Couples may still choose to send out cards, to invite close family members to be present during the ceremony or for the registration. The families may still exchange dowry or send mementos to their close friends and relatives to announce the marriage.

“For now, I am also catering to the gifting segment which covers birthdays, baby’s full moon and seasonal hampers,” said Chang.

To further increase income so that she can continue paying the shop rental, staff salaries and subscription fees for bank card services, she has added homemade cupcakes to her list of products.

“I took a food handler’s course so I could sell food,” she said proudly.

Sia does the online marketing for DIY play and party delivery kits while Chee (below) puts the products together and oversees delivery.Sia does the online marketing for DIY play and party delivery kits while Chee (below) puts the products together and oversees delivery.

As she cannot open shop, sales and marketing are done online.

Fortunately, Chang has been operating in SS2 for the past 10 years and has established a customer database.

“It has been challenging because only 20% of my staff are willing to do online marketing. The rest chose to return to their hometowns,” she added.

Cheyenne Looi, 37, and her husband Alessandro Gan run a boutique selling custom-made shoes for brides from a shop lot in Jalan SS2/24.

Business was down by 80%, said Looi, as wedding receptions were put on hold and there was less opportunity and “motivation” for brides to dress up.

As a result, she had to take a bank loan and cut staff salaries by half.

To stay afloat, she has taken to selling clothes and shoes online since last year.

“Luckily, we do not have any capital tied up in stock as our shoes are made to order.

“We just developed another shoe line, but a more casual and affordable one.

“The loan we took could only last another three months at most,” she said.

Wedding planners Juvien Sia, 28, and Laverne Chee, 38, had not anticipated the MCO to last this long but by June last year, they realised that it would not be a temporary measure.

But banking on the Malaysian joie de vivre spirit and the concept of home deliveries, they came up with DIY party packs.

Their items range from table settings, flowers and personalised name cards to party essentials like cards, banners, balloons, cupcakes and birthday garlands.

Customers can either choose from several themes or engage Sia and Chee to customise one for them.

In addition to all this is a new line of products designed for sensory play; these include play dough, colouring and DIY cupcake decorating sets.

Though Sia and Chee are still maintaining their studio at Jalan SS2/6, the former has opted to move back to her hometown in Melaka so she can be closer to her family.

The working arrangement sees Sia doing online marketing from her hometown while Chee is in charge of putting the products together and delivering them to customers.

The duo started their new venture in time for Christmas last year. To date, it has managed to cover 30% of their current overheads including the RM1,300 rental for the studio.

Sia and Chee are hoping the concept will become a new trend so that it can be incorporated into their existing range of services once restrictions are lifted.

“We still have reserves for another six months.

“We hope the industry sees some revival by then.

“Then, we can also launch new packages for more intimate type of weddings where there are no more than 20 people, with the SOP observed,” said Sia.

Make industry safe for all

Meanwhile, photographer Dylan Yong, 37, who runs a bridal fashion and photography house in Jalan SS2/75, said this interim could be used to raise awareness and strengthen the association’s position among industry players.

Yong, who started as a photographer’s assistant at age 19, suggested that the association play a part in establishing standard operating procedure among members to make the industry a safer one when it reopened.

“If NSC can give approval to National Film Development Corporation Malaysia members to do filming as long as they follow the SOP (according to a May 5 statement), perhaps the association may achieve the same for studio as well as outdoor wedding photography,” he said.

Yong is working on a strategy to propose packages featuring only soft copies of photos and videos to be delivered to clients online once the industry picks up again.

CLICK TO ENLARGECLICK TO ENLARGE

Convenience, health concerns and the needlessness to leave home will be his main selling points.

“A physical photo album may require the client to come to the studio for collection.

“If it has tobe delivered, there is risk of damage during shipment.

“So, if everything can be sent online, it will be easier and there will be less contact too,” he said of his idea.

Yong had an online marketing consultancy before he set up his studio here with two partners in 2019.

He is now back at his consultancy business to make ends meet.

“But I am keeping the social media platform for our wedding business active to tell our clients that we are still around,” he said.

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