I sat down with Chloe, founder and designer of lifestyle leather goods brand Jacquezel, and team member Alexandrina, on a cool Wednesday night for a drink at Starbucks. Jacquezel creates leather goods that are timeless, minimalist, contemporary, and most importantly, affordable to the market. They are based in North Borneo, Malaysia, and a really great team behind Jacquezel (Chloe, Darren, Alexandrina, Rachel and Maria). What unfolded was an evening of nice chatter, some laughter, and a conversation about daring to turn your dreams into reality..
How did you get to where you are now?
Chloe: I’ve always thought that it was impossible for me to be a fashion designer – you can dream about it but not always achieve it. I come from a not-so-wealthy family, so nobody told me that I could achieve those dreams. My parents expected me to do well in my studies and then get a job after that. I never knew I could do this. Once, I told a friend of mine that I wanted to be a fashion designer. I said, wouldn’t it be great to see my name on bags everywhere around the world? My friend then said that it’s not impossible and that I could do it. At that time I was reading a book, Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill, and I just went ahead and did it.
Alexandrina: Not many of us can do what she’s doing, to follow her dreams and just go for it, knowing that there are so many expectations to meet. I’ve always thought that it was really brave of her. She has everything to gain and nothing to lose. Your heart knows what you want and your heart can tell you what you can or cannot succeed. You only have to answer to yourself – the opinions of others don’t really matter anymore.
Describe the moment that led to Jacquezel’s inception.
It was at 2am. I named it Leather Like at first. I thought I wouldn’t be doing this for long. At first this business was supposed to earn me some cashflow while I pursued my bigger dreams, a bigger brand. I uploaded a few photos of my bags online. A few days later some people asked me to do custom orders and I took them, and those orders gave me new ideas.
I had just graduated at that time and I didn’t know what to do. I told myself that I really needed to get a job. Previously I was working in an office as an intern and I hated the feeling of working for someone else. I didn’t have fun and it wasn’t my thing. I felt so demotivated to go to work.
How did your friends and family react to you wanting to start your own business?
My friends were supportive, but at first my family weren’t too happy. It was difficult to tell them. They kept asking me to get a job, and that I could do this business on the side. Well, that’s what everyone told me. If I were to get a job and do this only at night, if I want to make it big, I can’t focus on two things at once. I know that making a bag requires a lot of time. So it is not practical to be doing this business at night.
Now, once in a while my parents would come up to me and ask, “Is your business doing okay?”
What makes your work different compared to others?
Chloe: I try to come out with really simple designs, to cater to people who have the same needs as I do. So that’s what makes us stand out.
Alexandrina: When we sat down to discuss how the products should look like, Chloe had a great idea to design bags that are classic and timeless, designs that add to your outfit.
Can you tell us a little bit about your design process?
When I see a design I like, I try to innovate on the idea and find ways to make it better. I do lots of drawing and doodling to get the right sizes I need, then I cut the pieces out from leather. Sometimes I may not get the measurements right and I have to do it over again, which can be very costly.
Were you always on the creative side?
Yes. I really like sewing. I would buy things like belts and design them to make them my own and fit my style. I would cut up old dresses and turn them into bags.
How is it like running your own business?
It’s liberating and fun. I have my own freedom to do what I want, when I want. While working I get to watch movies, so it’s not terrible at all!
I have a really great team: Darren is in charge of the online technical stuff, Rachel is our photographer, Alexandrina is our PR person and Maria is our model!
What are some difficulties you face in your work?
Chloe: When nobody buys a new product launch, we wonder where’s the fault it that. Is it the price? The design? We have to figure out why people wouldn’t buy it because to us it looks great and we always try to cater for the affordable market.
Alexandrina: Understanding our target market is quite challenging. It is difficult to find people who feel the same way as you do. You’re doing what you love and you think your products are nice, but at the end of the day you need people who are willing to buy your products for the business to work. So that’s one of the biggest challenges we face.
Finally, any advice for designers who want to start their own brand?
Chloe: Just do it and follow your heart. If you don’t, you’ll always wonder how it might have been. If you do go for it and you fail, at least you’ll know how it felt like.
Alexandrina: Put yourself out there and test your potential. Many times the fear of failing stops a person from making bold decisions. It’s a shame when people don’t take the leap.