KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 10 — Once upon a time, embroidered patches were a way to express your affiliation to a sports club or even your favourite band.
Nowadays, they are back in style as an inexpensive and unique way to shout out your personality and interests. Two homegrown gems — Salang Design and Uncommonco — are hitting our market with their Malaysian-designed patches.
Started last December, Salang Design is a venture by a trio of 23-year-olds: Deryin Teh, Jiun Pheng and Wilden Tan. After their graduation, they decided to take a gap year to do this passion project.
Teh and Pheng are involved in graphic design which they studied at The One Academy while Tan studied architecture. Their first project launched for Chinese New Year featured embroidered T-shirts with an adorable family of chicken characters to signify the Year of the Rooster.
They were surprised when the clothes were well received by their customers. Fuelled by the demand, they branched out to offer embroidered patches with a local theme on sweatshirts, clutches and tote bags.
You can also purchase the patches to stick on whatever you like. “We don’t call ourselves a clothing brand, but basically we are a creative brand,” explained Teh.
For Uncommonco founders Jerrica Khiu and Shaun See, their business started in January this year. Sparked by a love for clothes with patches, Jerrica came up with the idea to produce the patches with a local twist.
She adds, “We saw how successful Pantun Pins were and no one had done anything Malaysian with patches.” As the duo have day jobs, this is a part-time venture.
Their first batch of patches was a mix of things they favoured from the iconic Japanese art piece The Great Wave off Kanagawa to the ikat tepi (takeaway drink in a plastic bag).
Since they weren’t sure about the response, it was more like a trial collection. It also included various Malaysian phrases commonly used in daily life such as “On The Way”, “Hello! I’m hungry” or “Yum-Cha Gang.”
Their latest Merdeka collection features a series of local food items such as nasi lemak bungkus, ABC, ang ku kueh, kopi-o, all based on illustrations by a local talent, Ong Siew Guet. “We didn’t want to just google the images, so we worked with an illustrator whom we approached to bring her designs to life,” said Shaun.
The choice to feature Malaysian items was purely because Shaun felt, “Malaysians are quite patriotic and that is why we wanted to bring in the local element.”
He also believes that patches have a bigger reach since they can be put on anything, from clothes, sneakers to even household items. Moreover, once you apply a patch, it’s permanent.
“A patch is forever. If you attach it to something, it will be there for a very long time,” explained Shaun. Even though their patches are iron-on, they even encourage their customers to sew around the edges just like how bikers do it.
Over at Salang Design, the trio will brainstorm together to come up with various collections with a theme. “There is a temptation to borrow the culture from outside but we want to stay inside the circle and make it all Malaysian related,” explained Teh.
After their T-shirt venture, they released “The Fat Project”, a food-related series with nasi lemak, ice cream, xiao long bao and kopi. This was followed by their “Buatan Malaysia” collection that featured signs for Pasar Air Itam asam laksa, char koay teow, bas pekerja, a Jalan Tun Razak road sign and a roti tag.
“We don’t want it to just be about aesthetics.” Teh further elaborated that as they like nasi lemak, they designed it to seek out similar customers who also like nasi lemak to connect with them. “We want to create a platform for everyone to express what they like about Malaysia.”
Their products also come in nifty packaging they designed. “Some of them love the packaging so much, they don’t want to open it!” said Teh. For their first T-shirt project, it was designed to look like the bak gua packets, even though most of their customers think it’s Chinese medicine packets!
As the patches are small with intricate details, it’s a challenge to ensure what’s designed on the computer when shrunk will turn out in reality. Salang Design tells us that it took them many rounds of visiting their local manufacturer to select different shades of the threads, various materials and stitching styles, to create patches to their satisfaction.
Similarly for Uncommonco, it was a back-and-forth process to translate their designs into patches. They had chosen to go with overseas manufacturers since they felt that local manufacturers were hampered by a lack of colours.
The first batch of patches was done by a company in California using a mixture of woven and embroidered techniques. However, they weren’t very happy with the final products since they felt the colours were too shiny, making some of the phrases unreadable.
Moreover there was a time difference which made it hard to deal with them. For their second batch, they tried a Hong Kong manufacturer which they were happier with. Not only could they relate to their Asian-slanted designs, it was also easier to deal with them since they were located in the same time zone.
In terms of marketing, the two businesses take a different approach. Salang Design has a more conventional way of approaching their customers via bazaars. As some prefer seeing their patches first before buying, they are also stocked in places like Stickerrific, Ilham Gallery and Salt x Paper in Kota Kinabalu. Plans are also underway to launch their own website next year.
Their bestsellers are the kopi and surprisingly, roti tag. “Maybe it’s relatable since everyone eats bread. Even for us, it’s quite funny since we usually just throw it away or lose it,” said Teh.
Most of their customers are locals with some orders from Hong Kong, Taiwan and Japan.
With Uncommonco, their patches can be ordered via their website. Even marketing is conducted via social media, through Instagrammers who are also their personal friends. So far, their best-selling patch is The Great Wave which is also the couple’s own favourite.
Moving forward, both set of entrepreneurs believe there is definitely a market for patches here. “I think patches are very niche in Malaysia compared to other places. Some just buy from high street as they think it’s cool, while some people like the exclusivity,” explained Shaun.
He reckons that maybe more education is needed to help others understand the uses for patches.
With Salang Design, they feel patches will always be around since it’s fun. In the future, they hope to experiment more with the patches, maybe with paper since the technology is available.
The patches are also stocked at Stickerrific, Ilham Gallery and Salt x Paper.
Prices for their patches are RM15 each. The T-shirt is RM55 with a choice of your patch. Any add-on patches is RM6. The pouch is RM45 with your choice of patch.