Tengku Syahmi, Joshua Fitton and Khoon Hooi let us in on their lives as a fashion designer, and how they plan to take their labels from here
For November, we're launching a series of exclusive interviews with heavyweights from different industries. Following our first #BuroAList episode with entrepreneurs Roen Cian and Timothy Tiah, we present to you episode two where we're highlighting three of our local fashion designers—Tengku Syahmi, Joshua Fitton and Khoon Hooi (who have been in the industry for different lengths of time) to give us more insight into the world of fashion designing.
A veteran in our local fashion scene, he started out as an assistant fashion designer for brands such as Voir and Isetan before launching his eponymous label in 2000. Fast forward to 17 years later, the brand is definitely one of the most recognised brands locally, and it's also on its way to global expansion. Khoon Hooi has been participating in Paris Fashion Week for over 12 seasons, and with stockists in France, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Switzerland and more, one thing's for sure: there's no slowing down for Khoon Hooi, and we can't wait to see what the designer will be up to next.
A graduate from Raffles Design Institute in KL, Tengku Syahmi bagged his first award even before he finished his studies when he was selected to participate in the Malaysian International Fashion Alliance (MIFA) in 2009. He subsequently worked as a freelance designer and stylist before deciding to take the plunge to start his own label in 2013, thanks to his business partner and operation officer, Natalie Zainal. Focusing on both ready-to-wear and made-to-measure services, Tsyahmi is definitely one of the most promising brands around locally, and his recent #KLFWRTW2017 collection was met with good reviews.
Tengku Syahmi wears the Big Bang Merdeka watch from Hublot
Although it's only been a short few years since Joshua Fitton—an architect-turned-fashion designer—founded Atelier Fitton alongside Misha Shah, they have already established themselves as an up-and-coming sartorial menswear brand that provides premier bespoke tailoring services. The aesthetic of the brand revolves around Joshua's British roots, which is focused on exquisite craftsmanship. The brand recently opened its boutique in the heart of KL at the Zhongshan Art building, and he's in the midst of planning his ready-to-wear collection next.
To gain a better understanding towards their careers, we sat down with the three designers for a Q&A session, and also played a fun mini game while we're at it.
Read on for the full transcript:
Can you please introduce yourself and your labels?
Khoon Hooi: I'm Khoon Hooi, and my womenswear label is called Khoon Hooi. The label has been around since 2000, so it has been 17 years now.
Tengku Syahmi: I started my label Tsyahmi since 2013. Aside from womenswear and menswear, I also do bespoke made-to-measure for both men and women.
Joshua Fitton: Hi, I'm Joshua Fitton, my label is called Atelier Fitton. I didn't study fashion—I was an architect, and my label has been around for about three to four years now.
If you have to describe your label in one word, what would it be?
TS: May I use two words? It'll be updated classics.
How did your career in fashion begin?
KH: Fashion has always been my passion since young. I always knew what I wanted to do since primary school. After high school I went on to study fashion and textile in college, so that's how my journey started.
TS: I've always loved drawing since I was young, so I knew that I wanted to do fashion since I was around 12 years old. I remember watching a TV show about a young designer, and getting to watch the whole process—from sketching to translating the ideas into real life. That really caught my attention, and ever since then I never looked back.
JF: It was accidental actually. I was still practising as an architect, but I started learning how to make clothes and got really into it, and I thought "why don't I just do this full time?", so I quit my job and dived straight into it.
Who or what motivated you guys to start your own label?
KH: I think as a creator and a fashion designer, you always want to have your own label to show your creations to the public.
TS: For me, it's definitely my business partner, Natalie Zainal. Without her I don't think I would even dare to have a business, because at the end of the day, it's not just a fashion label—it's also a business.
JF: It was definitely a plunge. The support I received from friends, family and my partner reinforced the whole idea that if you put your mind to it, you can do it.
What do you guys usually do when you have "designer's block"?
KH: I'll get out from my workspace and have a couple hours break, or sometimes even a day off.
TS: Same for me as well—it's important to get out of the constricted environment that you've been in, or when you've been focusing on a particular thing for too long.
JF: Yeah, just leave your space for a bit, work on something else and go back to it later.
Where would you like to see your brand next?
KH: The brand is still growing; we are participating in trade shows overseas and we have always been receiving good feedback from the clients, so hopefully one day we'll be able to do a catwalk show in Paris.
TS: I've been based in Malaysia for five years, so the next step for Tsyahmi is to participate in more trade shows outside the country and branch out globally.
JF: I think it's unanimous for all the brands when it comes to aspirations; I'm probably the youngest designer among us, but I'd like Atelier Fitton to be more of a household name and eventually expand overseas.
What do you think is the hardest part about branching out?
KH: First of all, when it comes to Malaysia, a lot of people overseas assume our country mainly focuses on tourism, so it's important for us to make an awareness. Secondly, to grow the business, we really need to have financial support.
TS: I totally agree with Khoon Hooi. But aside from funding and I think it's not only about funding, it's guidance as well, especially for brand owners who don't necessarily have the business basics.
JF: That's definitely true. When I was trying to run everything on my own—the business, production and design part—it was such a headache, but now having proper people to look after the business side of things, I can focus on production.
If you didn't pursue a career in fashion designing what would you be doing?
KH: I think fashion will still be my main choice. I still like to create and work with beautiful materials and textures.
TS: I would probably be eating my way as a chef. I love to eat.
JF: I'll just be an architect.
If you could go back to the beginning of your career and tell yourself one thing, what would it be?
KH: I'll probably tell myself to start my label earlier. I started during my early 30s, and I feel it's a little too late.
TS: For me, discipline is everything.
JF: I'd like to learn more about the business side of things and how to run a company, because you need a balance of both. It's definitely The Art of Fusion.
Are there any big projects that you're working on right now?
KH: I'll be moving my showroom from Starhill to APW Bangsar. The brand has been in the industry for over 17 years and it's time to give it a refresh. At the same time we're planning for our Fall/Winter 2018 collection, and then traditional attire for Chinese New Year and Raya, so there's a lot of work in progress.
TS: We just got registered and approved as a vendor for uniforms, so we'll be able to secure corporate projects and government-linked companies. Aside from that, we're planning to penetrate into the China market next year, so we'll be launching our first international women's collection.
JF: I'm in the midst of planning for next year, and I've never done a Raya collection which I'd love to do.
Khoon Hooi wears the Hublot Classic Fusion Chronograph Berluti Scritto in King Gold; Tengku Syahmi wears the Hublot Big Bang Merdeka watch; and Joshua Fitton wears the Hublot Big Bang Unico GMT Carbon watch.
Stay tuned for more Buro A-List in the next few weeks.
Photography: Gerald Goh/Metal Bees Studio
Videography: Octopost Studio
Styling: Joan Kong
Hair: Juno Ko
Makeup: Ling Chong
Art Direction: Chong Yi Suen