Melinda Looi on creativity, challenges and choices


Melinda: “I think that the key (to success) is to be able to priorities and do the important things that matter to you.”Melinda: “I think that the key (to success) is to be able to priorities and do the important things that matter to you.”Melinda: “I think that the key (to success) is to be able to priorities and do the important things that matter to you.”

Award-winning fashion designer Melinda Looi is known for her creativity and avant-garde style. She has admirably managed to forge a successful fashion career while finding time to be a mother and newspaper column writer as well. How does she do it? She shares with Business Circle about all these things and more. 

Nature versus nurture, that’s the question when it comes to creativity. Are people born creative or is it something that can be taught. Melinda doesn’t think so. “Only some people are born with natural talent in certain areas,” she says. While she thinks it’s impossible to master creativity through taking classes or lessons, she believes that creativity can be triggered when someone is inspired by something.

So where does her creativity come from? She thinks being born into a fashion industry family has something to do with it. “I grew up working in my parent’s company sewing, ironing, and basically learning everything that was involved with it,” she recalls.

“Back then, what I really wanted to pursue was graphic design, but my parents felt it was not a safe career option, so I went into fashion design instead. This was when I discovered the art of couture, and truly fell in love with fashion. I could still pursue my dreams of being an artist, with the only difference being that fabric is my canvas, and I am using needles, thread, and scissors instead of a paintbrush!”

Malaysia is not a fashion design haven and it’s not an easy industry to be successful in, mainly due to lack of demand for local fashion products. “The general Malaysian public is stuck in the mentality of ‘buy now, throw away later’, so the bulk of demand is for commercial, mass-made apparels.”

Another challenge local designers face is the relatively high cost of production. “Compared to other countries like Thailand and Jakarta, we do not have the infrastructure – specifically textile and production – in place to produce garments locally in a cost-effective manner,” she says.

There have been some improvements introduced by the government though, such as industry trade and retail events, as well as marketing initiatives by Tourism Malaysia to attract tourists to come and buy locally-designed items when they visit Malaysia.

“I believe that with our unique Muhibbah cultural background, Malaysian designers have a one of a kind perspective that is translated into our designs and would be appreciated by a wide range of audiences on an international level,” she says.

Melinda is a busy businesswoman but she is also a parent who has managed to achieve a good balance between career and family. It’s all about the choices you make, she says.

“I think that the key is to be able to priorities and do the important things that matter to you,” she says.

“Once you’ve prioritized your duties at home and at work, decide what you need to do yourself and what someone else can handle. Distributing some of your daily tasks to others, and trusting them to get this work done, will help you focus on what really matters. Saying ‘no’ to projects and engagements that will cut into your priorities is an essential ability in the work-life juggling act. Setting boundaries both at home and in the office will help you remain present and focused on the task at hand, which is especially important during family time.”

One of the things she made time for is to write a column for a local newspaper. After writing nearly 100 articles she recently decided to end the column at the end of last year, but she plans to continue writing on her blog. Interestingly, in her writings, she touches more on life than about fashion per se. To Melinda, writing is an important outlet. “My writings give me a chance to speak directly and share my thoughts with the public,” she says. “I am not a professional writer but I enjoy writing the column to share my work, travel, experiences and life stories”.

Oon Yeoh is a new media consultant.

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