Career Spotlight: Accidental Fashion Designer
By June Ramli
Retired airforce technician Safwan Saleh never thought that he would be designing his own label after leaving the job five years ago.
Despite having zero knowledge in designing, it never stopped the 34-year-old father with an engineering degree to give it a go.
Recalling his early days, Safwan said he just finished up a 10-year-contract with the Royal Malaysian Airforce when he decided to dabble as a reseller to earn some side income.
“I was reselling G Shock watches at the time, suddenly the idea for Petak or Square in English came to me,” he told dailystraits.com in an interview recently.
Safwan realised that the market could do with streetwear that had been designed with his daily life musings.
“I felt that it was hard to buy clothes that appealed to my taste.
“So I decided that I would design and sell my own merchandise,” he said.
Safwan also roped in fellow resellers Muzliza Mustafa and Sukri Abu Hassan, who he describes as his best mates to join the business.
The idea then got its much-needed boost when Safwan took matters into his own hands by designing every piece sold by the brand.
“I am a self-taught designer and my inspiration is derived from my daily life experiences,” he said, crediting YouTube as one of his mentors.
Despite not being trained by the creme de creme in the fashion world, Safwan designs have been well received by its buyers and last year the brand opened its first flagship store in Selangor.
“Some of our designs are sold out within 15 minutes,” he said.
Today, the company sells thousands of pieces each month.
But things were not always easy, Safwan recalls.
The brand presence received a much-needed boost after it was launched by former Prime Minister Tun Mahathir Mohamad in 2018.
Recalling the incident, Safwan said the launch was a stroke of pure luck.
“A friend of mine whom I had not met for over 15 years suddenly got in touch on Facebook, wanting me to participate in an auction which was going to be attended by Tun Mahathir.
“I said okay with the condition that I could launch my brand,” he said.
Safwan received the a-okay and the rest was history.
“We were only selling 12 pieces before the launch but after that, we sold over 300 pieces on that day alone,” he added.
He also said that the brand had a humble start with zero capital invested by all three founders.
“We sold our designs through the print on demand concept,” he said.
Print on demand is a business concept that gets customers to purchase items based on digital designs and not physical products, once the order was placed and payment is made, the merchandise gets created for the buyer.
Besides that, it was Safwan’s clever marketing gimmicks that help boost the brand to where it is today.
He said each design was made with a limited stock take, nothing over 300 pieces.
Once that was gone, interested buyers would then have to go to a specially created Facebook page known as Petak Apparel Fan’s Club to purchase items from other buyers at a higher price.
To date, the group has over one thousand members.
The exclusivity that Safwan had created for the brand through limited editions had worked wonderfully well for them as many people were willing to fork out good money to buy items that were out of stock from other buyers who already bought them at a cheaper price.
He said other methods of selling included using agents, dropshippers and attending community events.
“The brand consists of as many as 25 agents and stockists which majority concentrated in Perak, Johor, Kuala Lumpur and Selangor.
“We are pretty much everywhere just our major supporters are from these four states.
“We work in small numbers. We do recruit people from time to time but we only take those who are serious to grow with us.
“This business is fun but we also need people who are committed and believe in us,” he said.
He said the company also uses a variety of manufacturers locally and abroad to produce the merchandise.
Going forward, Safwan said the company is looking at offering custom collaboration with other brands as well as providing designing services for companies or individuals who want to start their own clothing line.
Looking back, Safwan said entrepreneurs who want to follow in their footsteps should always be patient and be interested in the journey of building a brand.
“I was very keen on seeing this (project) through and when you are passionate about what you are doing, you don’t feel much stress. I am like that. Stress, yes, but manageable. It is what keeps me going,” he said.
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