KUALA LUMPUR, May 15 — Simple, understated and minimalist can be used to describe homegrown fine jewellery brand The Straits Finery. Founded by school friends Amira Yahaya and Foo Chia Chern, The Straits Finery jewellery is made from solid 14-karat gold and sterling silver. As the jewellery is delicate, the duo wanted 14-karat solid gold since it is more durable. Moreover, the yellow golden hue also complemented the sterling silver.
They were inspired by the lack of simple, fine jewellery that is accessible to everyone. In Malaysia, they found that there was a gap in the jewellery market as it seems to be divided into two extremes. “It is either diamonds with ostentatious designs which are high end or costume jewellery that does not last as they turn green and tarnish,” said Foo.
Both Amira and Foo met while studying in Penang. Foo studied creative advertising and film and TV in college and worked in an advertising agency but she always had an interest in the design world. As for Amira she studied fine arts then decided that she wanted to be practical and find a job that would put food on the table so she did her main degree in psychology. Currently, Amira is a freelance market researcher while Foo became a full-time mother about three years ago.
It was Foo who sparked the interest in the jewellery business after she took up a silversmithing course in Kuala Lumpur. Early last year, the duo decided to start The Straits Finery. The name was picked because it reflects the duo’s roots with a local identity. Last December, they participated in Le Marché de Noël, a French Christmas market in Carcosa Seri Negara to gauge the market’s reaction to their jewellery. The response was really good, according to them.
Fast forward to March 31 when they officially launched the brand at I Love Snackfood. “We launched the website together with Snackfood at the same time... they are our only physical stockist and Epik — Shop, an online stockist,” said Foo.
Simplicity is the key inspiration for their designs. When they started designing the jewellery, the first thing they bought in terms of equipment for the design was a compass because rings are made of circles and they wanted to draw it on a piece of paper. They bought the traditional Oxford mathematical compass set to draw circles.
“You know we can do a lot with the shape of a circle. There are different permutations, angles and shapes. We were going to launch in the beginning of the year so it was like the new moon in Chinese New Year which is how the first collection went,” said Foo.
Being simple was the way to go because they wanted their customers to be able to customise and style the jewellery themselves thus making the jewellery their own. “We want them to be the best version of themselves, you don’t have to be a stylo mylo fashionista. It is to feel like your jewellery shouldn’t speak for you, it should always be the woman who is the centre of the focus,” said Amira.
The Straits Finery jewellery is handcrafted to be stacked. “Our necklaces can be customised to be stacked and layered so that it can be more elaborate if you want, it is like LEGO... you can mix and match and you can have a bit of fun with it. There are a lot of stacking rings in the market but not designed to fit into each other. They would be plain bands that don’t really stack whereas ours can be fitted together,” said Amira.
It was a challenge for their silversmiths to make the jewellery based on their designs but that’s what makes it special, adds the duo. “It is about the details, what can you do if you can’t stack them together,” said Amira.
The Straits Finery has two collections, Essentials and Luna, that was launched concurrently. “Essentials is a capsule collection because it’s only a few basic pieces, while the Luna Collection features modular ‘stacking’ designs which the wearers can style as they please. These have also been designed to stack with the basic pieces as well,” explained Foo.
There are 13 designs in total: nine ring designs, three earring designs and two necklace designs. Each design comes in either 14-karat gold or sterling silver. Each of the ring designs has five sizes. There are sizes with conversions for UK, US and Asian sizing. There is no resizing service now but you have the option of swapping with another size if it doesn’t fit you.
“People are surprised that we are actually solid gold and not plated gold. In this market we have carved a niche of our own,” said Foo.
Once the duo decided to start the business, they connected with a partner in Bali and it was a long search to produce what they wanted. As they wanted to commission a total of 750 pieces for their first batch of jewellery, they knew that they couldn’t produce the sheer amount of volume themselves. Moreover in Malaysia you can only find 18-karat and above gold because there is no market for 14-karat gold.
“Our metals are sourced from Sumatra while our crafters are based in Bali. There were no silversmiths here who wanted to make our designs because they didn’t want to work with independent designers. Most of them were already attached to bigger jewellery houses. Also, they only wanted to work with a specific method and mould. For The Straits Finery, our designs are handcrafted and unique. Somehow they didn’t see the value in our concept because they were more familiar with stones instead of pure design in metal,” said Amira.
The pricing at I Love Snackfood is slightly lower than on the website to cater to the Malaysian ringgit while the website is in US dollars which is for the international market. The price ranges from a couple of hundreds to less than a thousand for a gold piece. The sterling silver pieces are slightly lower in pricing.
“Price has not been a problem for our customers. What we have learned is that within the landscape of jewellery, consumers are more discerning about assessing the value of design as opposed to going with a ‘cheap cheap cheap’ mentality. I think they appreciate that it is real gold and the authenticity,” said Amira.
“You don’t necessarily want to wear diamonds all the time. I have a lot of doctor friends who leave their jewellery at home. With our designs it is not just aesthetically pleasing but functional, the rings are so thin and flat, it doesn’t get in the way of typing. We are very practical people and we wear it to the gym,” said Foo.
Being new to the jewellery business, it’s been an uphill battle for the duo to get up to speed with the market. Foo is in charge of the design aspect while Amira heads the business side of things. She also acts as their consumer insights consultant. “Everything was a learning curve for us because we had zero experience in jewellery design, zero experience in starting a company and managing one so everything was a challenge and was quite overwhelming so we ended up targeting to finish the website,” said Foo.
The hardest part was making the connections with the who’s who in the business. As Foo adds, “We are very new at this so we’ve got to build contacts and building trust in the industry is not easy. The industry is so small that everyone knows everyone so when we came in they are like, ‘Who are you?’ We still have to improve ourselves and get those contacts.”
So far, the brand is gaining interest on Instagram and their website has visitors from the international market. The duo prefer to sell their products on their own website rather than a marketplace like Etsy as the website allows them better control over their brand image.
Currently, they are in talks with other stockists. There are also no plans to start a brick and mortar store as they are concerned with the challenges of running a physical store. Ideally, they prefer to focus on the brand and the design, leaving the retail part to the experts. “We firmly believe that retail should be an experience of the brand and in order to be able to focus on that we will be wearing too many hats. Once we have more exposure and demand maybe perhaps,” said Foo.
Their next collection is targeted to be launched later in November.
Check out The Straits Finery on http://www.thestraitsfinery.com or:
I Love Snackfood
1st Floor, 17, Jalan Telawi 3, Bangsar Baru, KL
Open daily: 12pm to 7pm.
The jewellery is also available on Epik-Store