PETALING JAYA, Nov 13 — Tired of shopping for the same brands in a shopping mall that looks more like a concrete monster? Try instead a more intimate kind of shopping experience at Ilaika where clothes, stationery, furniture, lifestyle items and even food is carefully curated with a more personal touch.
Opened barely three weeks ago by sisters Diane and Dora Ong, this select store may just be the place to spark your jaded shopping outlook.
Located in Taman Paramount, the store is a welcome addition to the charming old neighbourhood that has recently seen an influx of more modern eateries. The corner space once housed the Japanese restaurant Prologue that shared mutual owners with its neighbour, Awesome Canteen.
The two sisters were also involved in both eateries and Awegallery, a creative space for events that is further down the block.
Shuttered since February, the space was left empty for some time since the soft economy didn’t yield any new tenants. Rather than give up the space, the initial plan was to utilise it to expand Awesome Canteen’s dining area. This would have also included a small retail space to sell artisan food products.
Finally in July, they decided that a select store would be a better option. As Diane explains, they were initially apprehensive about opening a store here. However they decided to take the plunge after they saw the good response to the weekend markets held at Awegallery.
“People were receptive to it so we decided to dedicate the space to sell just very good stuff that we have come in contact with,” adds Diane.
The idea behind Ilaika is a simple one. As Diane explains, “It’s just a random selection of things we like.” That randomness is also reflected it its name — plucked from names of a pair of twins of Dusun (a tribe in Sabah) origin that Diane happened to meet.
We know a select store is much more than just that though. Most importantly, the person who curates the items needs to have a certain aesthetic to choose products that will appeal to others.
Diane with her artistic background is the perfect person to take on this task. She’s always been passionate about art and in 1999, she set up a graphic design firm together with Dora.
Familiar with the independent artisan scene, she also created Momage, a unique way to showcase photographs in a light box together with Janice Tyan who also works with her in the same firm.
Later she ventured into the F&B scene when Awesome Canteen was started in 2014 with a bunch of her colleagues. Adding to the creative scene, there is also Awegallery which is a popular spot for events and markets.
With Ilaika, she roped in Joshua Tan, her design firm colleague. He has also made a name for himself as the person behind the florist Záhuòháng that crafts beautiful dried flowers bouquets. In terms of philosophy, Diane knew she wanted to support and give a home to talented local artisans. “These artisans are like nomads, trading from one place to another.”
Here you can find more niche brands that are “made in Malaysia” like socks from Good Pair, leather goods from WanPi, natural handmade soaps from SlowSoaps, travel magazine Musotrees and the list goes on. Her network of friends also helps her source for items. It’s not limited to just local brands as there are also some items handpicked from Japan.
Ilaika is much more than just a select store. According to Diane, it is envisioned as three spaces that all come together to form the spirit of the store. Step into the recessed 10-feet area and you will discover a lush garden filled with plants and seats for you to chill. Think of it as a creative hang-out spot where like-minded individuals can come together. Feel free to pick up a drink or a snack from the chiller inside the store too. “It’s like a covered garden with modern amenities like a fan for you to enjoy,” explained Diane. What is also unusual is the plants that make up this greenery is also for sale. You can. For instance, pick up that fern you have been admiring or even an air plant to decorate your home.
In the middle, you have the store where you can browse around. The interiors are kept simple — concrete floors and wood furniture — to highlight the items available. At night, you will spot the words at the side window of Ilaika that says, “Where’s da...what happen.” That interesting quote is a nod towards Diane’s two children. Since young, their inquisitive minds meant they would be constantly asking her questions about the world that those two questions are now immortalised as a tattoo on her arm and now in Ilaika.
Lastly, tucked in the back, there’s a small space dedicated to intimate gatherings. In the works, there are plans to hold monthly workshops for up to 10-12 people to learn how to make terrariums, jewellery and even how to start your own urban garden by Eats Shoots & Roots. The first workshop slated to happen soon would be a coffee one conducted by coffee specialist Joey Mah. You can also organise pop-ups within that space too. “Any brand can hire the space and it’s a store within a store,” said Diane.
It will take a strong will to resist the beautiful products laid out in Ilaika. For those who love a touch of vintage, there are gems such as Duralex clear glassware and enamelware. If you are looking for clothes, there are items from a local brand Twizs, noragi jackets inspired by the Japanese, Joe Chia street wear and T-shirts from Eats Shoots & Roots.
Stationery geeks will go gaga over the small collection that Diane has put together. She is admittedly crazy over stationery. “I used to skip recess time to get stationery.” For Ilaika, Diane decided to try something new by offering a rather “bling” looking range of stationery that includes shiny metal rulers and even gold paper clips that have a touch of luxury to them. “When you bring it out, this quality stuff will speak something about yourself,” she adds.
The store also prides itself by stocking up artisan goodies to fill your stomach. Pick up the unassuming doughnut — a choice of original, shio or matcha. You will be blown away by its buttery taste with a moist crumb; one donuts may not be enough. Diane tells us that these goodies are baked locally by a Japanese pastry chef who hails from Nagasaki. He also makes a silky Japanese custard pudding that is available at Ilaika.
You can wash it down with a bottle of TEHs — artisanal cold brewed tea with interesting flavours like Golden Osmanthus, Pala Imperial, Snow Chrysanthemum and Huns n’ Roses (a brew of rosebuds and natural honey). Other tidbits to pick up include Seniman Kakao’s chocolate bars, Kettlebowl granola, homemade cookies and mini chocolate cherry cakes.
Later there are plans to stock up the food section with homemade sauces from Awesome Canteen’s chef Jack Weldie. Previously introduced in one of the markets at Awegallery, his pesto, special Sabah version of sambal and roasted tomato sauce were a sellout success.
Up next for Ilaika, expect a selection of books from Singapore’s BooksActually. You can also shop for coffee table books on interior design and cooking. There will also be more furniture and bags arriving in the store. Diane will be constantly searching for artisans from markets and through word of mouth so it’s good to pop by to see what’s new in store. In fact, it’s often hard for her to resist her own finds since they are all her favourites and like she says... they are calling her name. Who knows? You may also find an item that will call your name here and make you or that special person incredibly happy.
No. 17, Jalan 20/13, Taman Paramount, Petaling Jaya
Open daily: 11am to 9pm.