In Conversation with Khoon Hooi: Voices for the Future

In this series of intimate narratives, Khoon Hooi shares his thoughts on Malaysian fashion, surviving the lockdown and his plans for the future post-pandemic.

In Conversation with Khoon Hooi

Courtesy

HOW IT STARTED …

I started my ready-to-wear label in 1999. Growing up with my Kebaya-loving grandmother, I paid attention to not only what she wore daily but to every aspect of her daily life as well. Perhaps it was due to her influence that I grew up with an interest and a passion for discovering beautiful, artistic things.

THOUGHTS ON THE MALAYSIAN FASHION INDUSTRY …

It is hard to comment on how far we have progressed as the home- grown fashion labels generally prefer to stay local as there’s money to be made from the mass consumers. Only a handful of us will venture out into the global market to trade and to be seen and heard. The process can be both daunting and rewarding. I’m hoping that more designers will take their labels abroad and make the country proud.

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I also think it’s important for us to start investing in the future generation. At Khoon Hooi, we have put together an extensive internship programme that involves production, retail, commercial and creative training. Management trainee roles are also offered post- graduation. Assistance should also come from the Trade Ministry to push the local creative industries forward to an international platform. An idea could be bringing together a panel of international buyers to view the collections at a designated location. This could be beneficial for the wholesale component of our industry.

In Conversation Khoon Hooi

A/W ’21 Collection

COPING WITH LOCKDOWN …

Adjusting to the onset of the global pandemic was not easy and we are still learning as we go along. Business-wise, we had to adapt quickly in order to keep our doors open. We were lucky that we were able to rely on multiple sources of income needed to keep our business running. Instead of panicking or making quick decisions, our team was trained to look at how to make the best of our existing resources and adjust our capabilities to suit the current environment.

Ensure you have a strong team surrounding you for guidance, support and advice. Be inspired—get inspiration from everywhere. Your vision has to evolve constantly with time. Be flexible. Know your A-Z from production, to finance and business.—KHOON HOOI

THE FUTURE OF FASHION …

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Brands are constantly thinking about merchandise that will be suitable for our current needs and lifestyle. A recurring theme is “Personal Space”, as well as the benefits of getting dressed for the day to boost positive emotions. There is also an emphasis on comfort and sustainability, tied in together with the “less is more” approach.

IMPORTANT LESSONS FOR THE FUTURE …
After the pandemic, it is not possible to return to the quick pace of the industry pre-COVID. Instead, we need to find value in it. As a brand, in addition to what we do best (occasion dressing), we would like to continue to focus on creating merchandise using upcycled fabrics from our archive that would have otherwise gone to the landfill. We are also working on creating relaxed contemporary separates at accessible price points that would be appealing to most consumers. Being innovative with a clear and meaningful direction is what will separate us from other labels.

A/W ’21 Collection

FEELING HOPEFUL …

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It’s intensely difficult to plan for a future that is so frighteningly uncertain but the most powerful thing in the face of adversity is HOPE. When this is all over, I very much look forward to gaining market share in the occasion-wear category internationally; be stocked in A-list locations and continue to be seen at highly visible awards season in Los Angeles. I’d like to also urge people to please support SMEs and to keep them in business.

 

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

Discover more from this series here: Cassey Gan, Motoguo, Alia Bastamam