Alia Bastamam’s climb to the top in our local fashion industry was only way too fast! Since graduating from Raffles College of Higher Education, this designer’s managed to sweep the industry and its customers by storm with her beautifully crafted bridal wear. After being chosen for Samsung’s Experience Unique Malaysian Moments campaign as a Fashion Innovator (which you can read more about here), we talked about her plans for the future and what inspires her as a designer.
Your brand has risen pretty fast since launching in 2011. What were some of the challenges you face breaking out?
When we first started out, we had a small workshop. It was only two and a half years ago, but it was half the size of this room, and it was just me – one seamstress – and a business partner, which made it pretty challenging. But once we had a few supportive friends wear our brand, we got some attention from the media, and went into the fashion shows, which picked up a lot of speed for us. It’s been great so far; but it’s a constant struggle meeting time for production because we’re growing so fast.
You mean … Everything’s produced here?!
Yes, for now, everything is produced here in my workshop.
Damn, girl! What else should people know about you?
Three things … One: I’m actually a closet hippie. I’m not constantly glamorous – it’s just that when you’re working, you’re always working. Two: My design aesthetic’s a very personal take on fashion. It’s what I would wear on a daily basis, when I’m feeling a bit more glamorous. Three: I’m a nerd, and gadget freak!
So tell us about some of the gadgets you own.
I’m always playing with my phone. I love my Galaxy Tab, but right now the current favourite is my new X4 Zoom – it’s a camera first before a phone. The functions are really awesome – I haven’t been able to put it down since I got it!
How long have you been using it?
It’s been a month. I’m still figuring out new functions everyday, and so far so good! It’s like a pair of binoculars – you can really zoom in and see things from really far away, which is awesome for my line of work, because I sometimes take inspirations from the streets.
Are there any standout features that you really like about this phone?
For now, I’m really into sharing pictures during calls. ‘Cos me and my creative director, Shah, we’re constantly working together on the phone, so to be able to forward photos to him, while explaining the ideas and concepts behind them, is a really convenient and integrated way of communicating back and forth.
How did you venture into bridal to begin with?
I think it was how I started the business. My friends were really supportive, and I’d make dresses for them. So when the time came for them to start getting married, they would ask me to make their wedding dresses – then it grew.
Is it easy to sell bridal gowns here?
Our bridal market is growing and I’d say healthier, compared to Singapore’s – where they still rent out dresses. Right now in Malaysia, I think a lot of brides want custom-made gowns. And it’s amazing what social media can do. We always take pictures of our dresses and clients during their weddings to post it up on our social media networks, and we get a lot of response from it. We’ve even gotten inquiries from brides in Pennsylvania online!
Do you think bridal collections are more sustainable than Ready To Wear?
I can’t say that it is … Bridal has always been a money-making industry, but Ready To Wear is also good because people wear clothes everyday, and they shop. But there are barriers with Ready To Wear, such as accessibility.
Do you plan on entering Ready To Wear?
Yes! It’s in the plans next year, to come up with a Ready To Wear collection, and make it available online. The big plan is to launch a diffusion line – something more affordable and accessible for everyone.
Do you have a favourite material to work with?
I like natural fabrics. Cotton, pure silks, instead of mixed materials, because Malaysia is so hot. Also, they’re natural and biodegradable. I’m a tree hugger!
Are there any fashion trends you wish would die?
I think a lot of designers have said this, it’s the peplum. You can still find them in the market, especially for Hari Raya, but I think it should’ve stopped last year.
What do you think are the current trends to look out for right now?
That’s a very interesting question. Trends aren’t fixed anymore. When shoulder-pads blew up in the ’80s, everyone wore it and even until today, there are some girls that continue wear it. Right now, everything is so accessible … Within a click, you can learn a lot about different cultures and things that are happening outside our country. I think because of that, there are too many influences for a specific trend to be completely zoomed in on.
What can we expect from Alia Bastamam in 2014?
We’ll have six collections coming up next year, so that’s all in the works and in our timeline.
Before we part, tell us: What do you personally like about the Malaysian fashion industry?
We have culture. We’re colourful in so many ways. Like how Datuk Tom Abang Saufi actually brought out batik, and at that time people weren’t really into the idea of it. But now, other Malaysian designers are injecting what is truly Malaysian into their designs, but in a modern way.
Image credit: Rathika Sheila + courtesy of Alia Bastamam