PETALING JAYA, June 22 — Tucked above an inconspicuous self-service laundromat in Subang Jaya, Malaysian hat designer Hanna B. was in the throes of getting dolled up for her interview session at her modest but chic studio.
It’s where all the ‘magic’ happens, a word she also uses to describe her meteoric rise in the fashion scene.
Known for her dramatic straw hats, Hanna’s foray into the cut-throat fashion world began two years ago when she was a lifestyle writer at homegrown magazine Glam.
“I was going on a beach vacation with my husband and I was looking in Zara and H&M for a straw hat and I thought ‘Gosh, how boring’,” the 29-year-old told Malay Mail.
As the type who would custom outfits to get what she wants, the style-conscious former journalist started sourcing for someone who could make the type of hat she wanted.
“I wore the hat on my holiday and I brought the hat to my office to show my colleagues what I customed.
“Everyone went crazy and they all wanted to order the hat.
“I thought ‘Hey, I can do a business out of this’,” said Hanna whose real name is Azza Farhana Borhanuddin.
That’s when she got lucky, unaware that she was going to become the only designer making and selling luxury handmade straw hats in Malaysia and Asia.
She started taking orders, from friends at first, and soon enough, socialites and celebrities came knocking on her door.
And then, she got her big break.
In March last year after Los Angeles-based fashion blogger Aimee Song wore an oversized Hanna B. straw hat during a trip to Langkawi, the post quickly went viral thanks to the popular influencer’s 5.5 million followers.
Hanna wasn’t sure at first if the Forbes 30 Under 30 personality was interested in her hats when she approached her on Instagram, but the social media personality responded and the rest was history.
“I remember shaking like hell because orders came in as far as Brazil, the US, Japan and South Korea – suddenly everyone wanted my hats,” she said.
Her hats which come in various sizes and colours ranging from small (which is her best-seller) to XXL, are priced from US$120 (RM509) to US$500.
Soon after, fashion titles – Vogue Australia, Vogue India, Vogue Italia – started calling, followed by beauty giant Laura Mercier.
“The biggest project I received was with Laura Mercier UK where 20 most famous influencers wore my hats – another OMG moment for me,” said Hanna, whose third collaboration with the brand is just around the corner.
Her hats will next be seen across billboards in the US for Michele watches.
While the recognition and keen interest were exactly what a budding designer needed, Hanna said the price to pay in order to be featured in glossies is a hefty one – quite literally.
“The struggle I have right now is the postage cost because the hat may not be that expensive for them (magazines) because of the currency but when they find out the postage cost, they’re shocked,” she said.
“Whatever savings I had from my then-writing job I spent on shipping costs – no shopping, nothing – that’s the sacrifice I had to make.”
Today, the bulk of orders come in from sunny Los Angeles and Hanna’s hats are sought-after by those who are going on travels.
“The Hanna B. girl loves beaches,” she quipped.
Ironically, the Malaysian designer who is making waves abroad is relatively unknown in her home country.
“Of course I feel sad because the demand is higher from other countries,” she confessed.
When the hats went viral, Hanna admitted she was overwhelmed with orders and was frustrated because she couldn’t cope with all the orders as a new business owner while working full time.
But she is getting the hang of it with the help of two interns and after drafting a business plan.
“Suddenly, I learned so much mathematics after embarking on this business,” Hanna said laughing.
Born in Johor and raised in Kuala Lumpur, Hanna recalls dolling up her late mum who was a schoolteacher when she was getting ready for work.
“Whenever she had school dinner, I would be the one who was most excited – I think I inherited my love for fashion from my late mum.
“I have always loved fashion – even though I’m plus-sized, I don’t give a damn.
“Some people when they’re plus-sized, they feel a bit down, they have no idea how to dress because they feel everything looks ugly on them, which I do sometimes but I will find a way to look good and present the best of me, just because I love fashion so much,” she said.
Hanna credits her husband Muhammad Azri Azman, whom she met when she was 15, as her biggest cheerleader along with the help of supportive family members.
Hanna’s next move is to grow her brand internationally to become an A-list brand, collaborate with more big brands and continue working on new designs.
Her one piece of advice for aspiring business owners?
“Just chase your dream – you will never know where your dreams will lead you one day.”