Sukka Projects: Turning a hobby for arts and crafts into a business

Ichie Imran and Fya Zainal spent hours on making crafts and all things D-I-Y. — Pictures by Choo Choy May
Ichie Imran and Fya Zainal spent hours on making crafts and all things D-I-Y. — Pictures by Choo Choy May

KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 27 — What started as a hobby, hand painting shoes, spectacle frames and making plush toys, has developed into a passionate enterprise known as Sukka Projects for Fya Zainal and Ichie Imran. They had first met when they were studying multimedia and graphic design in their hometown in Sabah. “Although we were studying different diplomas, we had same subjects so that was how we met,” said Fya. When both of them furthered their studies in Kuala Lumpur, Fya switched to graphic design for her degree because that was what she really wanted to do. Both girls are artistic people who bonded over the love of making things from scratch. Sharing a mutual interest in arts and crafts, they started Sukka Project which they are involved in when they have free time.

Currently Ichie works at Raksasa Print Studio in Bangsar while Fya works for a graphic design agency. “The type of crafts we do is similar to the ones you do in school but those are really basic. We make it better,” said Fya. All of their crafts are painstakingly handmade, making each item unique because it is something, one cannot duplicate. “We do this just for fun but people began to ask us if we wanted to sell our crafts so that is how we got started,” said Fya.

Introducing Hassan who sports different coloured hair and beards whenever he appears.
Introducing Hassan who sports different coloured hair and beards whenever he appears.

Like all budding entrepreneurs, Fya and Ichie juggle full-time jobs by day and Sukka Project during the night or weekends. The first item for Sukka Projects was hand painted shoes by Ichie. They had posted the shoes on Facebook in 2013 which attracted attention from many. After that, Sukka Project started making more things like hand painted T-shirts and hand painted eyewear frames. Looking for another creative avenue, the girls decided to take up something new. “We started to explore more and we also do paper-mâché,” said Ichie. 

Interesting and unique takes on animals can be seen in this pink reindeer.
Interesting and unique takes on animals can be seen in this pink reindeer.

Initially, they made paper-mâché animal heads to sell at the markets. This May, Sukka Project returned to Sabah to teach their first paper-mâché class at CAD Centre for Art & Design. The duo were happy with the enthusiastic response they received from the participants. “Paper-mâché class usually equals to school projects for kids, which is what people have in mind. Throughout the session, they were all excited and the 3-hour class got extended by an hour. At the end of it, they all said that they never thought it could be that fun and agreed that paper-mâché isn’t always for kids.” That class holds special memories for them as the participants were wildly creative that they made all sorts of animals, like a British Shorthair cat, koala, proboscis monkey, tiger and even a little piggy. 

Inspired by the enthusiasm, Sukka Project teaches a paper-mâché workshop once a month at Raksasa Print Studio. They have classes for both adults and children as well. Materials are provided and usually, the class lasts for two to three hours. “Some of the participants enjoy the class so much that it can extend up to four to five hours!” said Fya.

Hassan as a wall clock and Molly with her cat drawn on a plush toy.
Hassan as a wall clock and Molly with her cat drawn on a plush toy.

Sukka Project also makes hand painted plush toys, wall clocks, tote bags and paper-mâché magnets which are very popular during bazaars. “We are just in love with D-I-Y and we are addicted to it,” said Ichie. “We don’t mind spending hours doing it,” added Fya. The plush toys are made by hand painting blank fabric with non-toxic ink. Once it is ready, it would be cut according to its shape, sewn together and stuffed with a mixture of cotton and polyester. Aside from painting and sewing the plush toys, Sukka Project also irons and washes the toys to ensure that it is durable for use. The challenge comes when they have to personalise a plush toy, as it means drawing it to as close as what the customer wants. Usually, plush toys take a couple of days to finish, while wall clocks can take up to one week to complete. “The process is more complicated and requires long hours and precision to detail. We spend our time cutting the board into shape, gluing and painting it.”

Inspiration for Sukka Project’s designs often comes from the duo’s daily life. In the beginning, both of them were into monsters and aliens. “We could not get enough of the two characters during college, as inspired by Jeremyville (a New York-based illustrator)”, said Fya. Later, they fell in love with animals and Nature, hence the proliferation of foxes and racoons in their collection. This was followed by food, which they admit is hard to resist. That love for food saw an extensive collection of items from hand painted shoes featuring doughnuts and sausages, paper-mâché pizzas and doughnuts, and even a watermelon plush toy. 

Pick up one of Sukka Project’s items and you will notice that each of their hand painted characters sport distinctive red cheeks and rectangle noses. The red cheeks are a trademark of Fya’s, while the rectangle nose is Ichie’s signature in all her illustrations. “It’s sort of an identity for us as we want people to recognise us when they see our illustrations.” 

Two of Sukka Project’s creations are the characters Hassan and Molly. Originally a blonde, Molly’s hair colour has now been changed to suit the duo’s preference. Even though Hassan is a Malay name, he looks Nordic. Just like Molly, the girls often change his look all the time with a different haircut or maybe with a beard or without. “We want them to be like a normal human being who has a different haircut once in a while.” You will find Hassan and Molly depicted as plush toys, wall clocks, paper-mâché pins and magnets. They will also soon appear on Sukka’s hand painted drawstring bags.

A recent addition to their plush toy family is Mr. Hairy that has been a big hit with their customers. Launched at the recent Art for Grabs, the travel pillow features an illustrated long hairy arm which double up as a hugging pillow. “People love it and one of our customers even bought it for her next trip to New Zealand.”

Sukka Project makes all kinds of papier-mâché such as this swan head (left). Check out this Hassan figurine who is ready to go surfing! (right).
Sukka Project makes all kinds of papier-mâché such as this swan head (left). Check out this Hassan figurine who is ready to go surfing! (right).

Everything is hand painted unless there is a large order. When that happens, Ichie and Fya will have to screen print it so that it can be produced faster. But most of the time, it would be hand painted, making it a limited edition item. 

Since Sukka Project is a hobby on the side, it started out on Facebook in 2013 by the two ladies. They also have an Instagram account where you can find out more about their latest handmade items and upcoming workshops. “We have an Etsy account but we don’t use it because whenever someone wants to buy something it is already sold. Because everything is made to order, it is difficult to put it up on Etsy,” said Ichie.

Sukka Project participates in art bazaars such as Mari Market, Art for Grabs as well as bazaars in Kota Kinabalu such as The Art Factory and Tamu Tamu. Whenever they go for art bazaars, they make it extra fun by incorporating a different theme for the items they sell. For the Mari Market, the theme was Nature, hence they featured leaf shaped plush toys. Another time, the focus was on food where they sold items like a pizza wall clock and mini drawstring bags with block printed sausages. Their most recent theme was a circus one for Art for Grabs. In that bazaar, they introduced circus related pins depicting pretzels, cotton candy and the characters Hassan and Molly in circus outfits. There were even plush toys with a tattoo man and circus girl. 

The name Sukka Project came about because “suka” in Malay means “like”. The extra letter “K” to them meant that they really like it. “When we started posting in Facebook in 2013, people will ask about the custom made shoes. Because they were friends, I used to draw them for free,” said Ichie. They started charging after Sukka Project was established. 

“Next on our plans is our own official website. We also want to have our own studio, hopefully in Sabah so we can work from there and teach people paper-mâché too,” said Fya. According to Fya, the response in Sabah is good with a healthy growth in the arts scene. “We see it as an opportunity,” she said.

Find Sukka Project at www.facebook.com/sukkaproject and www.instagram.com/sukkaproject