KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 12 — Gone are the days when purchasing stationery entailed getting a plain ruled notebook or some safe-looking envelopes in assorted colours. (And by “assorted”, we mean either pristine white or dull brown.)
Today’s stationery tells us a lot about its owner. Is she a quiet soul who appreciates the finer things in life? Is he daring and adventurous, all loud colours and capital letters?
Those who love Malaysia’s colourful heritage will appreciate nala, a product line inspired by our country’s melting pot of different cultures. From angpows featuring auspicious fengshui bats to totebags decorated with peacock feather motifs, these designs by nala founder Lisette Scheers are truly unique and truly Malaysian.
Deconstructing designs from our past
Scheers is of Dutch origin, born in Singapore and raised in Malaysia; hence she understands the value of a multi-cultural background. Calling Malaysia her home, she started nala to revive the forgotten art of letter writing with a simple collection of stationery based on Straits Chinese porcelain.
She shares, “Nala is also the name of my daughter, and it means successful in Swahili. For me, it was a way of giving something back to Malaysia, my home that has given me so much in terms of inspiration. I love finding new ideas from our local heritage.”
Starting her own stationery line was an idea Scheers has had for years, but it wasn’t till she had a rare break between Christmas and New Year’s Day some five years ago that she was able to seriously consider it.
“One of my close friends kept pushing me to start and not keep waiting. There was no better time. I was really lucky; almost immediately I had an order from Deutsche Bank. I also got a lot of attention after nala was featured on the popular international design blog, decor8.”
After this early success, Scheers expanded the nala range from only stationery such as notebooks, angpows and wrapping paper to include accessories and home ware such as pillows, napkins and tote-bags. She adds, “My hope is that nala will make your world a bit more beautiful.”
Auspicious and beautiful
Scheers is meticulous about her designs; for her even the smallest detail matters. She explains, “For the nala stationery line, I do a lot of hand-drawn designs. Our products are printed using 100 per cent recycled paper and soy ink. When so much attention is put into details, my hope is that our customers can’t help but rediscover their love for the written word.”
Currently, nala carries three distinct design collections – Pretty in Peranakan, incorporating traditional Chinese auspicious symbols based on colourful Straits Chinese porcelain; Willow Wishes, based on intricate Blue Willow chinaware patterns such as turtle doves and bridges; and Just Jewels, featuring traditional Malaysian jewellery motifs such as the breadfruit leaf (daun sukun) and the noble peacock, symbolising qualities from purity to fertility.
Scheers shares, “One great influence is the lovely Peranakan culture. If you look at the motifs I’ve used in my designs, they are typical Peranakan symbols that have been deconstructed and recreated into something new but still beautiful. I don’t believe in directly copying something.”
A mother’s gift
Is the daughter as enamoured of design as her mother, one wonders? Scheers admits, “My daughter Nala has absolutely no creative impulse but she’s still young. Who knows what will happen when she gets older?”
Ultimately Scheers is building Nala Designs, the company behind her nala line, not only as a creative avenue but a business that she can pass on to her daughter.
“It’s not easy being a single mother but I hope this is something I can leave behind for her. Right now, I do know that my daughter is very proud of what I do, and the fact the line is named after her.”
Laughing, she adds, “I remember her telling her school friends about the stationery and asking them if they liked it. She told them, ‘If you like, I can ask my Mommy for a discount for you.’ Isn’t that adorable?”
It is, and it is also clear that nala is growing to become a brand that is not only preserving Malaysia’s beautiful heritage but also a mother’s love for her child.
nala products can be found online at
http://www.naladesigns.com and at the following places: Kuala Lumpur (Czip Lee, Gadis Manis, Sundays), Penang (Bon Ton The Shop, E&O Hotel, Lone Pine Hotel, Tropical Spice Garden), Malacca (Baba & Nyonya Heritage Museum) and Langkawi (Bon Ton Langkawi, The Datai)
This story was first published in Crave in the print edition of The Malay Mail on October 11, 2013.