Kelly Lee Of Leeks (Exclusive Interview): Malaysia Fashion Local Designer

Having such a diverse historical fusion of Malay, Chinese, Indian and other indigenous cultures to choose from, it’s always awing to see how fashion in Malaysia blends all these together. 

Obviously, our fashion sense & ways of dressing has evolved from the early years of traditional outfits up to the modernized clothes right now. 

With so many local fashion brands popping up, it’s hard to keep track of them, especially when it comes to smaller & less-advertised homegrown ones.

Well, we at The Cool Bears decided to do an interview with one Malaysia fashion local designer hailing from Penang who specializes in handcrafted earrings with local fusion. 

Malaysia Fashion Local Designer, kelly lee, leeks

After becoming a finalist in Air Asia’s Runway Ready Designer Search in 2018, Kelly Lee started her own jewelry line which sells earrings inspired by our local food such as nasi lemak to ikat tepi kopi. 

Read on to find out more about Kelly Lee and her brand, Leeks and we’re 100% sure you’ll fall in love with her designs just like how we did! 

1. Tell us about your background

I’m Kelly Lee and 23 years old this year. I did my diploma in Fashion Design from Equator College, Penang. After finishing my course, I am currently freelancing as a fashion designer and have established my own handmade jewelry brand named Leeks. 

2. Have you always had a passion for arts & fashion? If yes, when did it start and how did it develop?’

Since I was 7 years old, I’ve been exposed to the local art & culture scene by my mother. She used to enter me in singing and dancing competitions, beauty pageants and child modeling. Thanks to her, I’ve always had a keen sense of fashion & style. 

But honestly, this passion almost went out back in my diploma years because of my lecturer discouraging me on my designs & personal style. They said it was “too out there” and “too complicated”. Pfft! After graduating, I managed to prove them wrong by finally establishing a fashion brand on my own and seeing results. 

3. What inspires your jewelry? 

Just the small details of everyday life that I stumble across. You can see it come through in my designs that are heavily inspired by our local customs & knick-knacks. 

Malaysia Fashion Local Designer, kelly lee, leeks
Malaysia Fashion Local Designer, kelly lee, leeks

4. Is selling your jewelry a full-time business or just a side business? If it’s a side business, what do you do full time?

It’s a full-time business as of now.

5. Why go through all the effort in making handmade jewelry? Especially with the rise of China/Taobao that manufacture earrings for cheap.

Honestly, I’m obsessed with Taobao as much as the next person. But as a fashion designer, I still appreciate personal and stylistic details that only designer pieces have compared to Taobao’s mass-produced items.

Leeks’s IG page does get the occasional comment of customers going to find it in Taobao but I know they won’t be able to since my designs are too specific to Malaysia’s culture. 

Malaysia Fashion Local Designer, kelly lee, leeks

6. How has social media help your business?

It has definitely helped promote my brand and get my designs out there. Not only is it effective in spreading my work into numerous other states & countries (Most of Kelly’s customers hail from KL despite her being based in Penang), it’s also the cheapest way to showcase my collections (Buying an ad spot in magazines are sooo 2000 & late) to anyone, not necessarily Malaysian.

Malaysia Fashion Local Designer, kelly lee, leeks

7. What’s your personal opinion on Malaysia’s fashion scene?

I think Malaysians still have that old-school mentality of how fashion should look like. Basically still keeping in with the norms of the older days. Anything different from the usual aesthetics will bring about a lot of flack & negative comments. Recently, I was scrolling through Facebook and chanced upon a fashion editorial shoot of men in skirts. Lots of the comments (coming from Malaysians) were mocking them, saying stuff like “So this is fashion?” And which I say, YES that is fashion because fashion is all about wearing whatever you like & want. 

8. Any advice for individuals aspiring to enter the local arts & fashion scene in Malaysia?

If you truly have the passion or love for it, you must be courageous enough to just put your stuff out on social media. Just like the saying “Never know, never try”, you might be surprised and receive positive feedback from people who appreciate your talents. 

9. Which local brand would you love to collaborate with?

Kittie Yiyi.

10. What is next for Leeks?

I am ready to combine the knowledge I learned from establishing a fashion & jewelry line to help create an even more interesting collection soon! 

Fancy some nasi lemak earrings?

We love a happy ending and we’re glad Kelly Lee didn’t give up on her dreams of pursuing fashion in Malaysia!

Check her work out on Instagram now!

Wanna read more articles like this? Check out our other stuff on local indie musical artists or about a local cartoonist

Katricia Lum
Katricia Lum
Will write for iced blacks and Panadols. Also if I'm not hunched over my laptop trying to meet deadlines, I'm most definitely sleeping.

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