I missed it! I missed the fashion shows at the black tent and the white tent. I missed watching all the new and young designers as well older fashion vanguards playing side by side. I missed the carousel with the mannequins dressed in designer togs as opposed to wooden horses (the wooden horses were at the BE wedding of the year, we think). I missed the tunnel that leads to the fashion show tents and display. I missed the cheekily named ” Valentino’ s Corner” with “designer” clothes made from tissue paper… I missed it because of a wannabe dengue virus. But what irks me most although I am thankful mostly it was not dengue but I had missed one of the most significant event for the Malaysia fashion industry to date, in my opinion.
So what am I rambling about, yes I missed the inaugural Malaysia Fashion Week. MFW (Malaysia Fashion Week) started in early October 2014, when for the very first time Malaysia launched a fashion week overseas and at Paris Fashion Week no less – in the World Fashion Week event. In Paris, the Malaysian contingent , represented by some of Malaysia’s best- Khoon Hooi, Radzuan Radziwill, Bon Zainal, Melinda Looi, Joe Chia, Fairuz Ramdan and Hazree Wahid, was reported to have wowed the international audience, who were impressed with our many different talents and the multi cultural diversity.
MFW will go down in history as the first fashion event organised by a government agency together with the private sector. Its very important that we acknowledge all the parties because it was by no means an easy feat to move this giant. The inaugural Malaysia Fashion Week was made possible led by the national trade promotion agency, MATRADE (Malaysia External Trade Development Corporation) and STYLO, the country’s leading fashion event organizer. It was also supported by Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI). MFW, made up of three pillars with Matrade’s CEO, Datuk Dr Wong Lai Sum as Chairman, STYLO International’s President and CEO Datuk Nancy Yeoh as Co Chairman, Secretary General of MITI Datuk Dr Rebecca Sta Maria as advisor and Datuk Prof.(Dr.) Jimmy Choo as Hononary Advisor.
MBSAFW (Mercedes-Benz Stylo Asia Fashion Week) helped made this event an Asian regional showcase with the very experienced FACIT (Fashion, Accessories, Cosmetic,Interior and Textile) the lifestyle component of MATRADE’s trade initiative (INTRADE), a successful national and international trade fair and already in its 8th year. It all culminated in a runway packed with 100 models on opening night; black cube and white cube tents with concurrent fashion shows almost by the hour for two full days just like at Paris Fashion Week – 65 designers from 15 countries and 300 of the most influential buyers. MFW made the playing field bigger. Fashion in Malaysia will no longer be confined to the few same players, but new and aspiring names had a chance to get on the runway. FACIT has also enabled a lot of cross collaboration possibilities with 412 lifestyle and fashion booths on display and with 300 trade buyers congregating on Matrade’s Business Matching floor, this has to go down in history as probably the grandest fashion show in Malaysian fashion history and we are talking about plenty of dollars and sense here.
Why was this Fashion Week more or different from the others and there have been quite a few. It was firstly because yes, we think fashion will translate to real dollar and sense this time since we are talking about one to two thousand business matching exercises a day behind the curtain calls. We know that Matrade have as a government entity been showing remarkable success for helping local SME businesses succeed in the export market. And this year, it decided to bring the fashion industry to a different level. So, who courted whom we asked? Apparently, it all started at last year’s STYLO when the winner of new designer award Fairuz Ramdan was showcased in Paris, he got 5000 orders which he did not have the financial means to fulfil as was related to us by Datuk Nancy Yeoh. And she realized that STYLO alone was not able to give the fashion industry what it needed. But, with Matrade’s involvement, the game became very different. And so began this momentous courtship. True enough MATRADE stepped up to the act and this year, 25 young designers did and will get a lot of hand holding and guidance to realize their dreams of not just being a designer but a commercially viable one.
As Datuk Nancy stressed, the government’s involvement in terms of grants to defray cost of exhibition for the young designers, putting together a lookbook for the designers meant the designers can play at an international level. And what’s good to know is, Matrade’s involvement will extend beyond the MFW, it will continue to micro manage and assist the designers; train , coach and right up to line production. Matrade’s involvement means industry scale involvement. So for example if a designer needed material for knitwear, Matrade can match them to the right people. The fashion industry suddenly seems a whole lot more cohesive. With 80 percent of the 412 exhibitors from Malaysia, there were bound to be a lot of zero to hero stories now and in the future. What used to be a lot of individual hard work and door knocking to gain a foothold in the foreign market, just ask any of our veteran designers who have succeeded overseas, but it will be easier going forward for the new designers.
And what amazed me personally, was how MFW has made Malaysian fashion of world class access. It was far and beyond the frivolous and hoity toity of the few elite of fashion and certainly clearer in objective than the STYLO’s of yesteryear. Yes, still STYLO grand in many ways but it was also subtle, strategic and purposeful. From the onset the execution was visionary to say the least. The brilliant idea and perfect timing of collaborating with a government agency that is ripe and ready for fashion in its lifestyle segment was opportune. The launch in Paris is a clever move and must surely be the cream icing on the cake. But what takes the cake is the foresight for innovation in the fashion industry and recognizing technology’s role in it – the launch of the Asia’s biggest fashion app, WEAR, from Japan as a partner; online voting for the Asia’s Most Influential Designer Award which incidentally was won by Joe Chia ( a popular up and coming designer who is quite popular with fashion editors).
And next year, MFW promises even more technologically advance specs.
As Datuk Nancy put it, this year is about reaching out and chance for more local designers to be exposed to the 300 strong international buyers. It is believable that we might see a Mary Kantratzou of Malaysia, another Zang Toi in our local fashion industry and talented designers get a chance to really thrive and rise up to international standards, the way the United Kingdom’s fashion industry has thrived. And when heart meets fashion, its going to be another Malaysia Boleh story!!