A Malaysian company has found the sweet spot in making covetable handbags at affordable prices, writes Aznim Ruhana Md Yusup.
THE name Sometime by Asian Designers may be a mouthful, but it conveys the company’s aspiration to become a platform for Asian designers to create functional, beautiful handbags for everyday use.
“You can find many Asian designers doing clothing and shoes but not bags,” says Sometime CEO and co-founder Stan Chooi.
“Bags are one of the most complicated products to make in fashion and there aren’t a lot of expertise and resources for it locally. Designing bags comes with a certain responsibility. Aside from how it looks, you also need to consider capacity and durability of the product.”
Since its establishment in December 2012, Sometime has worked with designers Rizalman and Alia Bastamam, FashionValet co-founder Vivy Yusof as well as labels Poplook and Milktee.
“It’s a synergy between our expertise and production capability, and the designer’s creativity. The collaboration has to be mutual. Most importantly, we bear the cost 100 per cent,” Chooi adds.
Meanwhile, the name Sometime doesn’t really mean anything.
“A brand name is nothing until it becomes something. Sometime is a common word that is good for search engine optimisation (SEO) but what we want people to remember is the proposition ‘by Asian Designers’,” Chooi says.
Sometime works exclusively online, selling from its website www.sometime.asia or through online retail sites such as FashionValet.com or Zalora. Not having a physical store lowers overhead costs, and the savings are passed to the customer.
The bags are made of synthetic leather and with prices ranging between RM129 and RM229, Sometime is a favoured brand among local online consumers. It doesn’t spend much on promotions and marketing — aside from the usual buzz that comes from collaborating with a famous person — and likes to let its products do the talking.
Previous releases like the Vivy Yusof-inspired clutch Sofina 3 and Rizalman’s Ribag sell out shortly after they become available. And while there are companies that like to trumpet limited numbers to assert exclusivity or to drive up sales, Sometime’s product limits seems to be a manufacturing constraint rather than a marketing strategy.
“We control our production line to maintain quality, and we have to start small,” says Chooi. “We have been scaling up production, but we’re also staying true to our ethos of being semi-handmade.
“There’s a factory in China that produces the raw material, and facilities in Europe and North America that make the hardware. Components are shipped here and the bags are assembled locally.”
While time-consuming, the bags require some human touch in its construction. It may be that some hardware needs to be installed by hand or there are tricky sections that require hand-stitching. Machine-made may be faster, but the result tends to be disappointing in the long run, Chooi explains.
The bag expert at Sometime is co-founder and head of product Nicole Wong. She was previously employed in the production of high-end handbags for designer brands and was exposed to some of the finest workmanship and material in the bag-making industry.
So Wong not only understands the intricacies of handbag manufacturing but also the economics of it. The extravagant price tags that come with these bags are not indicative of its production cost because mark-ups are necessary to pay for overheads such as shop rental and advertising.
It’s one of the things Wong and Chooi spoke about when they began dating six years ago. Somehow conversations about jobs and career became a business that employs more than 20 people in Malaysia and abroad.
“When we started, no one believed in us,” Wong says.
Sometime is a big enough brand nowadays that designers seek them out. But things weren’t that easy in the beginning, especially since design collaborations require a certain amount of trust and compromise between both parties.
She reveals that one of the first designers that Sometime worked with had an idea for a triangle bag, with a rather complicated construction.
“Normally, a triangle bag comes with a zip and you just throw everything inside. However, this designer wanted to push the boundary and came up with drawer design that you open one by one. But there’s not even a way to fasten the bag. We tried to fine-tune the design but she insisted on having her own way.”
They couldn’t come to an agreement and the collaboration fell through. It didn’t prove to be a major setback though, especially since Wong is an accomplished bag designer herself.
Her Niko-Niko bucket bag is the company’s best-seller following its release last year. The latest Iconic Essentials range is also set to be a hit.
Meanwhile, as the company progressed so did Wong and Chooi’s relationship. The couple got engaged in June, and are currently looking at their busy schedule to find a suitable date for a wedding.
ICONIC Essentials is the latest collection by Sometime by Asian Designers, featuring eight products in nine colours. They’re being rolled out one-by-one on a pre-order basis, starting with the keychain strap on July 20, which has sold out.
Other products include the Esmoon handbag, a satchel, a passport holder, a laptop sleeve and wristlet bag, although only the Esmoon is currently open for purchase.
“The material that we’ve developed for Iconic Essentials is our best and one we’re most proud of,” says company CEO Stan Chooi.
“We spent a lot of time on that material, from January 2016 to early this year, which was when we finalised it and went into manufacturing.
“We think it’s better than leather in terms of durability and aesthetic. It’s all in the composition, which is a combination of microfibre and synthetic leather.”
But while the designs are great and the material remarkable, the key feature of Iconic Essentials is that each product can be personalised. Customers can request to have their name — or indeed any word or phrase — stamped on their purchased goods, up to a maximum of 10 characters.
The company has developed its own machines to do the stamping. Sometime uses 22k gold foil or dark silver foil for the personalisation, although the colour options may be expanded in the future.
“We offer gold or dark silver depending on the colour of the product,” says Chooi.
“For example, gold stands out for bags that are red and blue. But dark silver or grey, is better on lighter colours like turquoise and white.”
Personalisation is laborious work, which is why the products are being launched in stages.
“It’s a new feature and the staff have been training for it for the past two months. For example, one keychain needs 15 minutes, so you can imagine our limitation. If we launch all the products at once, it will be a disaster,” says Chooi.
Products in the Iconic Essentials range retails from RM69 to RM189. Aside from the keychain — which comes with a complimentary personalisation option, the service is priced at RM39, for any number of characters below the maximum 10 characters.