PETALING JAYA, June 10 — Looking to add a pop of colour to your outfit? Try Manekbeads. The homegrown brand set up by Tan Ching Sim, 56, is all about hand-painted wooden beads.
These lightweight beads, in all kinds of colour combinations, are fashioned into necklaces, earrings and bag charms. We also covet their unique scarf necklace — an easy slip-on piece that ties easily around your neck — jazzed up with colourful beads.
For the first-time entrepreneur, this business was purely an accidental one. “I don’t think of myself as an artist even though I enjoy creative things. As an English literature teacher, I like writing, reading and journalling. The creativity is more along those lines and I’m not into painting, drawing or illustrating.”
One day, Tan stumbled upon wooden beads when she was shopping online. She adds, “I was trawling the Internet and looking at Pinterest or AliExpress for things to buy,” she explained.
The wooden beads were marketed as a teething toy for babies. Unsure about what to do with these beads which she had also noticed at craft shops, the idea to paint and fashion them into accessories only emerged later. “I was following this lady on Instagram who started to paint the beads in Scandinavian colours, similar to Ikea things.”
Curious about their market potential, Tan surveyed the shops. She discovered that most beads sold were given a dark wood varnish. “It’s very different from Manekbeads, which is a combination of different, very bright, cheery colours. I think there’s a small niche market that I can maybe tap into, in a very small way.”
This was two years ago when Manekbeads was started. In April that year, Tan attended her first bazaar in Publika. For Manekbeads’ maiden sale, she admits it was mainly supported by her friends.
Unsure about what colours would appeal to others, she had painted soft pastels for her range of necklaces, bracelets and clutches with key rings. With feedback from her friends, she switched to darker, more intense colours, like golds and browns, which were well received by customers at her next bazaar.
Till today, she admits, it’s still a learning curve on what colours appeal. What may work in one bazaar is not applicable for the next bazaar. Certain colours, like blue, are perennial favourites. Tan also looks into fashion trends to determine what are popular colours.
For instance, she introduced army green, tomato red and lavender shades in her collection, after she saw that these were “hot” colours. In Publika, Japanese expatriates count as one of her regulars, proclaiming each piece as kawaii.
The brand also offers various shapes of beads, from round to geometric ones. In the beginning, she started out with round shapes and moved on to funkier ones. Most people find the round ones soothing especially the older customers. “Definitely, at every bazaar I do learn about changing tastes and what they like.”
Her products maintain an artisan feel as the beads are not mass produced. She adds, “I do them necklace by necklace.” When she sits down to paint the beads, she works out the colour combination. “My forte is being able to combine the colours to make them attractive, so people will want to buy them. It’s the colour matching which I feel is my strength.”
With time, her collection has evolved. She has phased out her bracelets and key rings as they weren’t as popular as her necklaces, or what she calls, “her bread and butter.” For festive seasons, she’ll introduce special collections, like her pineapple series during Chinese New Year. The fruit is a symbol of prosperity for the Chinese.
Currently, she is working on a collection featuring Malaysian motifs. So far, she has unveiled the Attap series with ferns. Next she plans to introduce the elephant ear plant and the spice, star anise. As these beads are painted free hand, Tan’s daughter who is an illustrator and graphic designer helps her out with these special beads.
In June last year, she introduced her scarf necklace. The idea for this interesting accessory popped up when she saw a glittery easy-to-tie scarf that was sold everywhere with plastic beads. “When I looked at it, I decided to modify it and added hand painted beads since it’s my trademark.”
It’s a hit with her customers. Some have picked it up as festive gifts and it’s also good for travelling. The versatile item can also be wore as a headscarf. Even popular local actress Nur Fazura was seen sporting the scarf necklace in the Astro telemovie Janji Zehan which was filmed in Iran.
A collaboration with local batik maker, Suria Artisan Batik, also had her pairing their hand-blocked cotton batik with her hand-painted beads. The batik pieces are fashioned into pareos or scarfs; Tan adds pom poms, tassels and beads to them. Some of her customers even wrap the pareos around their heads like a loose scarf.
Her latest product is straw bags, a personal favourite of Tan’s. She puts her bag charms on them to bring in her trademark hand painted beads. “It goes together with the vibes... the happy, kinda breezy, beach-like feel.” As the current trend is straw bags, they sell well.
With her customers, Tan expected them to be an older crowd but to her surprise, even those aged between 20s and 30s love her products. She has even sold her necklace to a 12-year old before. “I would say my demographics are from the 20s all the way up to 60s. It’s really weird as I thought it’ll be more for the mature crowd.” Most of her customers are locals. Some will even ask her to customise the necklaces, fitting their colour preferences.
Tan tells us, as manpower is limited since she runs the business on her own, she’s not interested in opening up a shop since there’ll be overheads. She prefers hitting the bazaars. She adds, “The bazaars are good as it gets your brand out there.” Her products can also be found in Ilham Gallery and Frankistas Gallery.
In addition, the brand has an international presence, thanks to a lady who buys the necklaces to sell in gift shops at hotels and resorts located at Langkawi, Redang, Bali and Koh Samui. For her, this venture is her creative outlet. “I enjoy painting the beads as it helps me relax and destress. It’s a good retirement thing.”
You can also shop for their products at:
8, Jalan Binjai
No. 21, Jalan Setiabistari