Malaysian-made Repleat bags turn heads with their unusual geometric designs

Debbie Leung accidentally stumbled into bag making when she was running a chocolate business. – Pictures by Choo Choy May and courtesy of Repleat
Debbie Leung accidentally stumbled into bag making when she was running a chocolate business. – Pictures by Choo Choy May and courtesy of Repleat

KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 20 — Creativity often comes in the strangest and most unexpected ways, like how Debbie Leung started to design bags for her label Repleat.

It started with handmade chocolates crafted by Leung. In the pursuit of ensuring her artisan chocolates were presented in the best manner, she had designed a hamper bag.

When her friend saw the hamper bag, she asked Leung to make it for her to use as a gym bag. “Many people are taken by the design of the bag, from the most unlikely people such as valet parkers or even old men. It is such a unique design that I often get asked where I bought it,” said Leung.

In the beginning, Leung would make some pieces to sell to her friends. She never really thought much about it until people around her encouraged her to sell them.

The Pleats bag looks like an architectural masterpiece
The Pleats bag looks like an architectural masterpiece

“My daughter told me that it would be a shame if I didn’t sell the bags. She volunteered to create the website for me,” said Leung who has three daughters. Another daughter helped her with the marketing and branding of Repleat.

“I don’t have a grasp of social media,” admitted Leung. She leaves that to her Internet-savvy daughters. Even when she is designing the bags, Leung uses graph paper to sketch each design.

After sketching, she uses paper or cardboard to fold to see if the design would work or not. In a way, the bags are like origami pieces and some models are actually foldable.

At first glance, the bags at the Repleat website look more like an international brand because of its avant-garde, stunning looks. Each bag has an architectural feel to it, with geometric shapes that are similar to Moorish architecture.

Bring the Vertex clutch for a night out with the girls
Bring the Vertex clutch for a night out with the girls

Made of polypropylene, the bags are all designed and made by Leung with the assistance of one or two freelancers she hires. The polypropylene is outsourced to be machine cut before they are hand assembled by Leung.

She chose polypropylene because she likes the colours and the material.

Recently, Leung participated in a trade show in New York. Her daughter works there and she thought it was a great idea for Leung to market the product at the trade show. “The response was very positive,” said Leung.

Now, Repleat bags can be found at some museum shops in the US, such as Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago and The Phillips Collection in Washington D.C. In Malaysia, DESIGNation stocks certain models of Repleat bags. You can also buy direct from the newly-launched Repleat site (www.repleat.co).

Although the website was just launched recently, Leung has been working on the bags for a long time, refining the design each time. “I actually make the bag 50 times until I am happy with the results,” said Leung.

Leungs’ daughters wanted a smaller bag for clubbing so the Lattice clutch was born
Leungs’ daughters wanted a smaller bag for clubbing so the Lattice clutch was born

She also uses the bags frequently, to test drive each design to make sure it is perfect. “The bags are sturdy and easy to clean because it is made of polypropylene. Even for the white bags, you just need to use soap and water to wipe off any dirt. “They are also very light and some are foldable so it is suitable for travelling,” she said.

At the trade show in New York, she learned that there is a need to cater for the four seasons when it comes to fashion collections, so she is now working on a Fall/Winter collection.

“I believe New York was a good starting point because my daughter lives there and I want to reach an international market, not just the Malaysian market. Now with the Internet, you can sell your products all over the world,” said Leung.

The name Repleat is a play on words. Replete means absolutely filling and Leung wants the user of her bags to constantly fill their bags. It also sounds like pleating, which reflects the origami method in which the bags are made.

Gold is a limited edition colour for the Origami bag (left). Leung created the Origami bag as the first Repleat design (right)
Gold is a limited edition colour for the Origami bag (left). Leung created the Origami bag as the first Repleat design (right)

Leung draws her inspiration from books and architecture. She enjoys experimenting with different designs and also learning from her personal usage of the bags. The first few bags she made were bigger but then her daughters shared with her their preference for smaller bags for clubbing and going out.

She then started making smaller bags such as the clutch and the cross body bags which are just nice to fit a wallet, keys and handphone. “The most popular bags are the black bags and white bags because they are easier to match,” said Leung. Her personal favourites are the white ones because to her they look crisp and sharp with the appearance similar to paper.

Whenever Leung goes shopping with her bags, people would approach her to see if they can carry the stock. She uses her bags as a way to promote Repleat. Moreover, she personally likes to use them. The bags come in varying sizes and colours but the white ones are very outstanding. Leung is also releasing a limited edition bag that comes in gold.

Instead of targeting Repleat to be a luxury brand, Leung sees it as more of a niche market for people who are interested in design. Repleat’s customer base range from 20 to 40 years old. Even children are interested in Repleat’s designs. The next design she is planning for is a backpack that can be used as a tote. “Students will find that very useful,” said Leung.

The Infinity bag is a nod to Chinese motifs and symbolism (left). Turn heads with the Capsule bag which is roomy and stylish at the same time (right)
The Infinity bag is a nod to Chinese motifs and symbolism (left). Turn heads with the Capsule bag which is roomy and stylish at the same time (right)

Currently, there are no plans to open a brick-and-mortar shop just yet as Leung finds it to be a big commitment. As the website was launched last month, she prefers to focus on that first. Leung has always liked fashion so it was serendipity that a hamper bag for her handmade chocolates became the first product for her newly-born bag label.

You can find Repleat at:

www.repleat.co

www.instagram.com/repleatco

and

DESIGNation

Art Row, Publika Shopping Mall, Lot 54, Block B3, Level G2, Solaris Dutamas, Jalan Dutamas 1, 50480 Kuala Lumpur

Open daily: 12pm to 9pm

www.designation.co