In 2008 The Malaysia Star newspaper in Malaysia recently reported on a new rising label, ThirtyFour, a new fashion label on the radar with fashion insiders.
ThirtyFour was founded by the Chong cousins, Shuenn Kee and Linda looking for a way to express their creativity.
(Image of Shuenn Kee - Facebook - All Rights Reserved)
Linda trained in industrial design and design management at the Birmingham Institute of Art and Design in Britain while Shuenn Kee is a metal-smithing graduate of the renowned Parson's School of Design in New York.
The cousins appear to be on the right tract with their bags and accessories. Linda who lived in Sweden and Shuenne Kee in New York and Hong Kong.
Linda was a design consultant working on projects that ranged from home and office products to food branding and market research.
Shuenn Kee worked as an accessories designer in New York and Hong Kong, where her designs were also carried by various specialty and department stores including Takashimaya New York and H.P. France in Japan.
The two cousins hooked up at a family gathering in Malaysia while led to them sharing their visions for their new company, ThirtyFour that convinced them to move back. The homegrown brand has made it a point to fuse form with function for their products.
The result is design-driven collections of practical bags and accessories with clean lines.
"We invest heavily in the development of each single item, how it looks, how it carries or hangs and feels to the touch and most importantly how it works," says Linda.
Shuenn Kee, 31, handles the creative role of product designer while Linda, who is also in her 30s, handles the production stage. They work on product development together.
Unlike many designers who prefer to design their collections around a theme, item or place, Shuenn Kee draws her inspiration from daily life and her friends. And she does most of the pattern-making herself, along with a variation of draping. However, she admits that a lot of the silhouettes she comes up with look like clothes.
"I have received cheeky comments on how some of my detailing brings undergarments to mind," muses Shuenn Kee.
When asked to elaborate on the names of the ranges, Linda revealed that the bags have female names (Edie, Bree and Hannah) while the sandals have names of beaches (Skopelos, Mykonos, Boracay, Salinas). Belts and wristbands have closure/detail-based names like stud, keeper and double ring. The pet accessories have yet to be named as the range is still under development.
ThirtyFour uses brass, copper and silver for its hardware (buckles, rivets and studs) and mainly calfskin leather for its other products. Lambskin is used for softer items like clutches and wallets. Linda and Shuenn Kee generally avoid the more exotic materials like lizard and snake skin (for example, python), chinchillas and foxes but they do offer some sea snake skin items.
"We pick leather based on our taste but we are moving away from certain exotics as some of the processes can be quite cruel. We are trying to use what's abundant like chicken feet skin, which is a recent addition." says Linda.
So for textures, ThirtyFour goes for the closest thing - calfskin that is embossed with croc prints, or perforated. For something hairy, they use hair on calfskin.
Currently, ThirtyFour does three sourcing trips a year - two to China and one to Bangkok - where Linda and Shuenn Kee keep abreast with developments and renew ties with contacts and friends in the industry. According to Linda, one exciting find from a past sourcing trip is chicken feet skin, which they decided to use for wristbands as it is too small for bags.
Bespoke sandals, belts and wristbands are handcrafted in their Kuala Lumpur workshop, which is also their office and showroom. The manufacture of their bags is outsourced to factories, both local and abroad.
Those of you who would like to have your sandals made to fit from scratch can head to ThirtyFour's workshop in Bukit Bandaraya, Bangsar. All it takes is for you to settle on the design, material and colour from the choices available, have the measurements taken and then leave Shuenn Kee to work her magic.
"There is a wide range of sandal tops to choose from but the soles are fixed," says Shuenn Kee. The soles are moulded with an arch which shapes to your own with regular use for a more comfortable step.
According to Shuenn Kee and Linda, they don't usually add any embellishments on their products and if they were to do so, it would depend on the situation.
ThirtyFour's products are currently being sold in Malaysia and Singapore, but there are plans to expand into Sydney and Melbourne in Australia, and New York in the United States later this year. Its products are available at the Bangsar workshop and at 2201 Fashion Avenue at The Gardens, MidValley City in Kuala Lumpur.
In Malaysia, ThirtyFour hasn't debuted with a flashy bang. Instead, it has relied on word of mouth for business. So far, their clientele comprises professionals, designers and people in the arts.
Linda and Shuenn Kee don't attach an age to their products but notice that professionals tend to go for the bags while younger customers prefer the wristbands and smaller accessories.
"Feedback on our products has been quite good," says Linda.
Linda believes that while the label itself is young, their sophisticated aesthetic means that their products are loved by those with more discerning tastes regardless of age. In researching for an upcoming brand campaign, Linda has discovered that their clientele is indeed a very diverse group. Take your pick of the Bree gym bags which come in various colours.
"It's very interesting to note that in KL, there's an 11-year-old wearing our Ulyseus double sea snake cuff and even a 62-year-old gentleman sporting our Skopelos sandals," she reveals.
"We like our products to speak for themselves," says Shuenn Kee.
So far, how have the different markets reacted to their wares? According to Linda, Singapore has been more receptive to ThirtyFour's products than Malaysia. This can be attributed to the fact that Singapore has a lot more niche products.
"In Singapore, they have a lot of that and they know where we're coming from. It's a lot easier to position ourselves in the Singapore market because they focus more on design and not the brand name." says Linda.
So what's been the biggest challenge for them so far? Linda is quick to point out that the bags and accessories business is one that is extremely capital-intensive. First, materials have to be bought and the products to be manufactured . The whole process takes quite a few months, which requires them to work one season ahead.
"We are grounded by our philosophy, our processes, and the way we work. It's what we believe in," says Linda. "Our core philosophy is functionality, understated design, and high quality materials. We don't want to be a cult brand. We'd like to carry on doing what we love for a long, long time."
ThirtyFour is located at 86-1 Jalan Medang Serai, Bangsar in Kuala Lumpur.
For enquiries, call 03-2095 0034 or log on to info@thirty four.net
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