The art of fashion and stones
GEORGE TOWN, Aug 9 — In the flamboyant world of fashion, there are fashion designers and then, there are fashionable artists turned entrepreneurs. One could rightly describe Eugene Lim as the latter even though he was trained as a fashion designer and had been one many years ago.
For the 47-year-old, the world of art and the world of fashion are actually two overlapping industries that co-exist together. Having worked as a fashion designer before switching to working in bridal shops the past 12 years, Lim has kept his passion for the fabulously fashionable and artistic alive. Bored of the bridal industry and tired of keeping his artistic talent reined in, he decided to cut himself free from the shackles of employment to strike out on his own.
“I’ve left the fashion industry for quite a while and I know it will be hard for me to go back to designing clothes so I decided on another fashion niche rarely found in Penang... fashionable handmade handbags,” he said when interviewed at his stall at the recent Little Penang Street Market.
Last October, he developed the Etanzo brand of handmade handbags and he seems to have done well because his bags are a hit amongst the fashionable young crowd.
“My handbags are all hand made by me and the materials I use are imported. In fact, many of my handbags are unique and you won’t be able to find more than four similar handbags in my collection,” he said.
Boasting of tote bags, small clutches, medium-sized handbags and shoulder bags of vibrant colours, his stall, boldly proclaiming the Etanzo brand is hard to miss. Other than the Little Penang Street Market, Lim also participates at the weekend bazaars in the high-end marina retail centre, Straits Quay and Gurney Plaza.
“I mostly sell my work on the weekends as I use the weekdays to design and sew the bags,” he said.
The eye-catching Etanzo handbags are apparently quite a hit amongst the Miss Malaysia contestants as he proudly announced that they had ordered handbags from him in bulk. Of course, it has not all been fun and games for him.
“Initially, I’d get customers telling me that my bags were too expensive because they assumed I had simply imported some China-made or Thai-made bags and sold them at a higher price,” he said. So, he had to “educate” many of his potential clients on the fineness of his stitching and most importantly, on the artistic value of each handbag.
“Each bag is a work of art as I personally designed and sewed it. Most are unique with only four to five exact same ones while some are one of a kind,” he said.
Though Penangites have started to appreciate the fine quality of art and handmade crafts, Lim still feels that there are many who do not understand the blood, sweat and tears that artists like him go through to create their products.
“There is a gaping need to educate the locals on the priceless quality of handmade arts and craft. These are all handmade items that the artist toiled over for hours and are not merely mass-produced,” he said. He also lamented that nowadays, many others imitate his work so that they can sell similar bags like his at a lower price.
“The economy is also slow. Many people tend to spend less and I know I am not the only one affected as my other friends who are also entrepreneurs are also suffering a decrease in sales,” he said. “I just hope that things pick up before it gets worse and I also hope that all locals will gradually appreciate the handmade art that we do,” he said.
While Lim is the master of handbags, housewife Yong Fong Keng is the master of stone art. This petite 62-year-old picked up the interesting hobby more than 10 years ago and in the past few years decided to sell the by-products of her hobby — painted stones.
If someone were to try and sell you a stone, you probably will balk and walk away but when it comes to Yong’s stone collection, it drew many a curious stares and naturally, had people buying some of them. This is because Yong can see the shapes of animals and plants on these stones and then paints them to resemble the animals.
From owls to cats to beautiful scenic views of rivers, mist-draped mountains and willow trees, Yong’s painted stones are spectacular to behold. Spending between one hour and several days painting on her unusual “canvases”, Yong painstakingly ensures each and every stone is unique and as life-like as possible. In fact, her eye for detail and careful strokes of the brush have turned every stone into a miniature art work.
Though not exactly making a living from these stones, Yong said she decided to start selling them as it would be a waste to just keep all of her work at home. “I want to share it and brighten someone’s desk as a paperweight or someone’s home as a decoration with my art work,” she said.
Yong buys mostly smooth river stones as her canvas and would usually spend most of her time painting the stone one by one. “I used to just do this for fun until my friends kept telling me to start selling them and I realised that they are right as I should share my art work,” she said.
So, do people actually buy her stone art? According to Yong, yes. Someone has even bought the whole set of some of her stone art series like a family of owls of different shapes. This has inspired Yong to continue painting stones and perhaps come out with more series for those who appreciate her special stone art.