Eight years ago, Syazana Sukiman bought a sewing machine to teach herself a new skill – sewing. She’d just graduated from RMIT University in Australia with a degree in architecture, but she wasn’t sure about pursuing a career in that field. She had also just married her high-school sweetheart, and so she decided to take a year off to “do some soul searching” and “find her purpose”.
In no time, she, was sewing clothes for her nieces and friends’ toddlers. Little did Syazana realise this would lead to the birth of Whimsigirl, a fashion label that has garnered a cult-like following or that she’d be getting hundreds of orders daily for her line of “comfortable, easy, everyday clothes for every girl”.
“I started sewing for fun. It was something to keep myself occupied. My designs were well-received and before I knew it, I was making a small collection for Hari Raya.
“This was back in 2011, the same year I had my first son and I remember going into labour, worrying about all the orders I needed to attend to,” recalls Syazana, 33.
The collection sold out. Syazana had found her purpose, or perhaps, it had found her. She started Whimsigirl, her children’s wear line.
Syazana opened her first brick and mortar shop in Publika, Kuala Lumpur in 2013 and Whimsigirl became synonymous with upscale children’s clothes, made from mostly cotton and linen.
Last year, Syazana decided to venture into women’s wear. Her inagural collection – launched for Hari Raya – sold out within two weeks.
“I really didn’t expect that. I guess the trust in the brand and the momentum from the children’s line were strong enough to translate into our women’s line. Mothers who liked our designs for their children, wanted to wear our clothes as well,” says Syazana.
Now, her brand focuses on women’s wear while maintaining a small children’s wear collection. They operate solely as an online business (whimsigirl.com) with a showroom in Bukit Antarabangsa, Kuala Lumpur, where customers can try on the clothes before purchasing them.
Syazana emphasises that Whimsigirl isn’t a fashion brand and therefore not in competition with other fashion labels nor dictated by popular trends.
“We design for purpose. Comfort comes first, and quality. The clothes need to be wearable and last you for life.
“I want girls of all sizes to be able to wear our clothes and feel good about themselves. Our clothes are simple. We don’t have any embellishments because we believe our girls (customers) are enough,” she says.
She adds that her background in architecture informs her design decisions, so that the clothes fit the climate and are functional.
The brand is a reflection of Syazana’s minimalist beliefs. “I wear my clothes to death. I like simple styles and I don’t mind repeating my outfits because I love my clothes. And that’s what I put into the designs. I want girls to love their Whimsigirl outfits so much that they will wear them over and over again,” she states.
The brand philosophy has apparently hit a chord with women. Whimsigirl is recording hundreds of sales daily, and Syazana and her team of six have their hands full, packing and shipping out orders before Hari Raya.
Their Eid 2018 collection comprises just eight designs – named after the brand’s early customers and staff who have remained loyal to the label through the years.
Designs are modest, practical and versatile with soft structures that allow wearers to go about their day without feeling restricted. Though they are traditional wear, they are modern enough to be paired with pants or skirts.
“Our clothes are not cheap and we want to add value for money by making them wearable and long lasting,” she says.
Building her brand has been challenging, particularly because her business evolved so quickly.
“The hardest bit was making the right financial decisions. I made many mistakes in the beginning because I don’t have a background in management or finance. I didn’t go into this with a conscious decision to start a business. I kind of just fell into it, so I didn’t have a business plan or financial strategies.
“I went into it as a designer and made mistakes that cost me money but I have no regrets. I learnt from it, asked for help and moved on,” she says, adding that her sales have doubled annually.
Syazana’s husband, Ahmad Anis Abdul Aziz, is now a partner in the business, leaving his job in Oil and Gas in 2013, to build the brand alongside her.
“You know people always say that behind every successful man is a strong, supportive woman? Well, it’s the other way around with Whimsigirl,” she says.
In 2017, Syazana was selected to go on the e@Stanford programme organised by Magic to learn from world-renowned faculty and industry experts from Stanford University, United States.
“It really changed how I saw things. I came back with a bigger outlook for the future, not just financially but also on the impact that we want to make with Whimsigirl,” says Syazana.
After Hari Raya, Syazana is looking to launch a range of casual wear. “Our clients are our think thank, actually. We ask them what they need and want,” says the KL-born designer.
A mother of two young boys, aged seven and two, Syazana dreams of creating a “movement of everyday girls” who can empower each other to be comfortable in their own skin.
“We have customers who don’t know each other but feel connected because of their affinity for the brand. Some send us photos of themselves with a stranger they saw wearing the same outfit. I mean usually it would be a nightmare to bump into someone wearing the same outfit but these girls seem to be bonding over it. It’s really nice and we want to have their back,” says Syazana.