In Conversation with Alia Bastamam: Voices for the Future

In this series of intimate narratives, Alia Bastamam shares her thoughts on Malaysian fashion, surviving the lockdown and her plans for the future post-pandemic.

In conversation Alia Bastamam

Courtesy

HOW IT STARTED …

Looking back, I showed my first collection for the Resort 2011 season, so it’s my 10th year in the industry! I just wish we could have a big celebration. I’ve always enjoyed creating and making things for people. I liked sewing and the precision that went into it—in school I would sew pencil cases out of remnant fabric and embellish butterflies and such on them; then I would sell them to my schoolmates. And then I discovered my mother’s collection of Vogue Patterns, which completely opened my eyes and my mind to fashion. It was the fashion illustrations that pulled me in, as well as the possibility of how pattern pieces materialised to become a dress, or a blouse and so forth.

THOUGHTS ON THE MALAYSIAN FASHION INDUSTRY …
It’s definitely progressed in the past five years or so. I wouldn’t say we’ve plateaued, it’s just a slump that we’re currently in due to the pandemic. If anything, it’s given rise to homegrown, independent home-made fashion. Whenever I’m scrolling through Instagram, I see our local influencers share so many new brands that offer a variety of things like upcycled and deconstructed clothes to accessories inspired from the early noughties. They’re extremely specialised and free of any control from the market and industry—I love to see it!

However, continuous support from local and regional consumers are still important to keep the momentum going. For designers, it’s important to keep inspiring, keep consumers on their toes with what our local fashion has to offer and support peers in the industry (such as stylists, make-up artists, photographers and others). The government does offer support, but I think their support needs to be more easily-accessible. Anyway, they have much bigger things to sort out first, don’t they?

See also
TOD's Newest Store Opens Its Doors in Pavilion, KL

TREADING INTERNATIONAL WATERS: A DIFFERENT APPROACH …
It’s no easy feat to enter a new market. It’s not only about showing a collection. There are many more factors to consider and take into account. From making the right connections with industry players, fashion buyers, press … the list goes on. If anything, our trips to Shanghai and Milan were learning curves and a place to create connections. Now it’s all about waiting for that time to go international again.

As to what can be adapted to support our local talents who wish to expand internationally, I can’t stress enough that the government needs to be much more accessible. Yes, there are many grants and initiatives available from the government, but for it to be accessible it’s as simple as having a user-friendly website to begin with. Furthermore, the government needs to have an in-depth knowledge in global fashion and the business of fashion for them to be able to support the industry properly.

In conversation Alia Bastamam

I’ve said these many times and I will always say them again: expand your knowledge in business management; find your design identity and stick to your aesthetic; don’t do it alone (you must have a team or at least a business partner who understands your vision) and finally, have fun!—ALIA BASTAMAM

COPING WITH LOCKDOWN …

See also
Marc Jacobs Just Proposed To His Boyfriend With A Flashmob At A Chipotle

Despite the challenges and restrictions faced during the pandemic, we’ve kept our momentum by churning out key collections for both our brands ALIA B and Alia Bastamam. Pouring our efforts into digital channels also proved fruitful. Expanding our reach digitally resulted in an increase in sales in 2021, with the Eid collections for both our brands selling through beyond our expectations. We believe a contributing factor for this was the prospect of Malaysians being able to finally celebrate Eid this year (although it didn’t happen). This effect can also be seen with many other designers who did very well too! We will be releasing our Resort collection soon and hope to connect with our audience again.

THE FUTURE OF FASHION …

Trend is a thing that can’t be deducted because everything depends on the consumer market and as humans, we’re fickle and our point of view changes frequently. In fact, isn’t it a trend now to be sustainable? I’m hoping the industry will change in the future by being more supportive of independent home-made brands and designers by means of collaboration, amongst other ways.

In conversation Alia Bastamam

Scha Alyahya wearing Alia Bastamam

IMPORTANT LESSONS FOR THE FUTURE …
Before the pandemic, it’s always been about fitting in with the global fashion calendar—having constant meetings with showrooms and buyers—and bringing my collections to international platforms. Now, with more focus locally, my team and I are able to refine, restructure and explore a new digital approach. It’s all about detailed planning, timing and execution—and for this, I’m very lucky to have a well-rounded team who shares the same vision.

See also
Alia Bastamam ‘Eid Cruise Collection’ 2022

In terms of aesthetic and design, pre-COVID, my designs have been a mix of sellable ready-to-wear and “show pieces”—these are directional looks meant for big runway shows. But since experiencing the pandemic, I’ve been creating more wearable looks that are versatile and functional (to suit the needs of everyday lifestyles), all while staying true to my resort aesthetic, which is already apt for the current situation. We have plans to create more Resort collections that will not only captivate the luxury travel market both locally and internationally but also expand our distribution channels in the near future.

FEELING HOPEFUL …

I can speak for many of us, I’ve been inspired by my mind flying off to distant islands! And when this is all over I look forward to travelling! Work-wise, I’ve missed throwing a big show and a big party, as well as having the industry gather for Fashion Week. But in the meantime, I’m working on the Resort collections for both my brands—ALIA B and Alia Bastamam—and I’m just going wild with colours and prints. I want to give a sensation of freedom, unapologetic sensuality and sexuality. Do they still say YOLO?

 

 

– – – – –
This article originally appeared in Harper’s BAZAAR Malaysia August 2021 issue.

Discover more from this series here: Cassey Gan, Motoguo, Khoon Hooi