Ever had days where you would just stand in front of your closet, piles of clothes already on your bed and some littered on the floor, shoulders sagged in dismay as you figure out what to wear for the day ahead? Yeah, we feel you. We’ve been there more often than we like to admit. You would rather bail on that outing and stay home in house clothes, or you'd even go as far as to appreciate once having uniforms in secondary school so worrying about what to wear wasn't a chore. But these two amazing homegrown fashion brands may just add that twist to freshen up your existing wardrobe pieces and spice up your outfits!
This two-women-show starring a mama and daughter duo who goes affectionally by Nellie Song and Jee respectively, began when Nellie started making modern batik clothes for Jee a few years ago for the fun of it. Little did they know, that was the start of their fashion journey in spreading their modern take on our traditional textiles.
Gone are the days when Batik was a classic textile typically worn by the older generation. The beauty of batik textile is now embraced by many urban youth and their families, thanks to innovative local designers like Nellie and Jee.
“It was important for us to attract the younger generation, so we did this by showing people that batik doesn’t only have to be worn by government staff on Thursdays—it can be fun and casual too”.
From wrap skirts to camisoles to face masks, Batik By Nell has something colourful for just about anyone. As a Nyonya herself hailing from Melaka, Nellie has always adored the intricacies of batik fabrics. At just the wee age of 10, Nellie started making dresses for her dolls! Then at 23, Nellie graduated from fashion school and has been tailoring professionally ever since.
“She used to take on any dressmaking project that came her way, with a particular interest in ballet performance costumes. She loved the thrill of creating challengingly tedious garments and studying the movement and flow of different materials” Jee says of her mother.
However, as her workload increased while having to raise three kids, Nellie focused on making batik garments of cheongsams, sundresses, and kebaya sets. Jee, your local budak Subang and the biggest supporter of her mom, was Nellie’s personal, walking marketer by adorning herself with her mom’s latest creations. Her enthusiasm paired with her mom’s detailed handiwork attracted many onlookers.
“Growing up, I was always an annoying little megaphone telling absolutely ANYONE who would listen that “My mum made this!” (gestures at my school backpack, my prom dress, my dog’s jumper)”.
However, with only twenty fingers and two pairs of legs, there are moments where both Jee and Nellie find themselves having more than five jobs in their small business. Yes, at the same time! Nellie focuses on designing, cutting, sewing and sourcing as Jee aids in any other area she can while also learning her mother’s craft.
“I have no prior experience in running a business, so all of this is very new to me and I’m learning a lot as I go. Our customers so far have been nothing short of lovely and understanding, and I honestly can’t thank them enough. My mind and body are exhausted, but my heart is so full!”
Top local pick(s): Aik Cheong Coffee helps keep this mother-daughter duo awake!
Born and raised in the humble but bustling city of Petaling Jaya is Esmod fashion graduate, Ryan Alexander Tan who decided to bring back the good ol’ days of corsets but add a little … spice.
We see them in historical movies and shows; tightly bound dresses with poofy skirts, intricate laces and ribbons that can be deemed quite deadly when fastened too tight on one’s body, upon layers and layers of garments over each other. Well, the tropical Malaysian weather (politely) says no.
Thus birthed Ryan’s avant-garde creations under the crafty name, Huntilanak. Glimmering with traditional Eastern patterns, finished with studs and chains over denim - Ryan has set a new edgy standard of corset fashion.
You’re probably wondering: What is Huntilanak?
Huntilanak is a combination of the words ‘Hunty’ and ‘Kuntilanak’. ‘Hunty’, slang for the word ‘Honey’ usually used by drag queens coupled with ‘Kuntilanak’, a vengeful Indonesian vampiric female spirit seems to be the perfect brand name. As Ryan would describe: “Two of my biggest personalities combined into one”.
Being a big enthusiast of the Asian culture as seen here in his divine collection of traditional face masks, Ryan considers the South East Asian culture to be his main inspiration behind his pieces. He incorporates traditional fabric and juxtaposes them with modern silhouettes.
The sheer effort our local creatives put into their work will never fail to leave us in awe. The long hours of planning and executing ideas which can be seen in each of his designs. Just like his collection of antique face masks, each corset holds its own character that leaves lasting impressions.
Similarly to most small businesses, Huntilanak too is a one-person show. Ryan juggles from designing, sourcing to even producing each of these one-of-a-kind corsets,
“It can be draining when you’ve got the make the product itself; the visuals for it; market it; the social interaction that comes along with networking; not to mention my work never really leaves my mind, even when I’m lying in bed”.
Fun fact: Several pieces were actually made from upcycled materials and finds from thrift stores and old textiles! He has yards of old songkets, sarongs and batik textiles that are breathed new life into.
Even though this fashion creative has been inspired by many Asian countries, Ryan still keeps Malaysia as his number one love. “I really love Malaysia. Whenever I come back from overseas and I hear the “And to all Malaysians, Selamat Pulang” over the PA in the airplane, I actually get a little teary eyed. And it’s just a lovely feeling when you’re at a mamak and you see people from different races all together. Gosh, it warms my heart thinking about it”.
With these local brands, you can now confidently step out in style! These one of a kind pieces are sure to be conversation starters. Happy shopping!