|IT'S A GIRL THING
Nine career-driven and determined young ladies bent on succeeding in their undertakings tell us what it takes to thrive in what is sometimes still deemed to be a man’s world
With the growing number of young, professional, knowledgeable, smart and beautiful women contributing to the workforce and the nation's economy, it is clear cut that the girls of today are charting their own careers and taking full control of their lives. With a string of gleaming educational accolades and qualifications to boot, they are obviously second to no man and the best part is that they have the ability to do all this while still managing to look fabulous in designer wear and indulging in all things feminine. It's "A Girl Thing" and all this, paired with keys to head-turning automobiles to match their immaculate style, often makes them the object of envy in many a guy's eyes. What else can you call it but true girl power indeed – in every sense of the word!
FARAH AND TANIA PAWANTEH WITH EISYA ISHAK
Three is never a crowd with these lovely ladies who work their magic as partners and directors of the kitchenware franchise they bought into, marketing a variety of cooking and baking equipment with a twist, they inform. "We organise cooking classes in our shop, taught by chefs, famed bloggers, talented non-professionals, and sometimes us." To further entice, alluring is the façade of their retail store, prettily decorated like icing on a cake.
MALAYSIA TATLER: Do you find it rather difficult being a woman steering your business to succeed and have any of you ever been sidelined or stereotyped as women in business?
FARAH: I have never really found it that difficult being a woman in business, perhaps due to my personality – polite while being firm. But being a plus-sized woman is rather challenging as there are people who look past me, though I never let them get away with it for long. People tend to look beyond my size once they realise I actually know what I am talking about. However, there are many who assume that if a woman is successful in business, she must have rode on someone else's coattails, whether it is her father, her husband, boyfriend or sugar daddy. I think it is very demeaning, in light of the calibre of young women in Malaysia today – educated, intelligent and go-getting.
TANIA: Because of the many successful predecessors before us who have managed to not only crack but shatter the glass ceiling, I think it has been somewhat of an easier process for us now. Moreover, our products run across the gender line and what's important to us is the quality of our products and service. However, being young women, new to business, I sometimes feel we are at a disadvantage and can be taken for a ride but we try to dispel the misconception by being assertive, firm and knowledgeable about the systems and processes of the business and industry.
EISYA: I have not personally experienced any significant difficulty doing business in Malaysia, as a woman. I actually applaud the government for nurturing such an encouraging environment for female entrepreneurs. As women, I feel we have more choices than men – for instance, to be a homemaker or a career woman, or even take on part-time work and have the best of both worlds.
Influential women they admire: Ellen MacArthur, Tan Sri Zeti Akhtar Aziz, Dr Temple Grandin, their mothers
SANDRA LEE AND LEE CHING YI
Explained poetically as the love-child of two fashion enthusiasts who transcended their deep-rooted love for the finer things in life to establish it, Thimble is a self-designed fashion label exuberating femininity, unconventional sophistication and grace, with a twist of fun. The partners in business recently also assumed sole distributorship for Californian label Voluspa known for its luxury range of candles and home fragrances.
MT: What are your thoughts on gender equality and what drew you to your line of work?
CHING YI: I am all for gender equality and I believe, as individuals, we should be given the same opportunities at the work place and equal respect in the home. Gender just describes the sex of a person and not one's character, qualities or capabilities. Although I am a double arts major in Media and Communications, and Cultural and Cinema Studies, like most girls, I love fashion and getting all dressed up. Having studied and been exposed to life in culturally-rich Melbourne, Australia, along with its one-of-a kind, quaint boutiques offering gentle and unique design patterns along its meandering alleys, I wanted to bring that shopping experience back home. I also wanted to make available soft, trendy and feminine designs with good flattering cuts that don't cost an arm and a leg here.
SANDRA: I see no reason why women should not be given equal opportunities. Thank goodness I have never been discriminated against; instead, treated very fairly by business counterparts and in fact, blessed with all the support I could ever ask for. For me as a graduate in Communication Design and Visual Merchandising from RMIT, fashion has always been my passion. I returned to Malaysia and worked as a buyer at a departmental store, moved on to work for a homegrown brand, which turned out to be a great experience, then started Thimble with Ching Yi. It had always been my plan and my dream to start my own boutique, self design and manufacture. Although it's been an arduous journey running Thimble as Ching Yi and I learnt a lot from scratch, we were lucky in many ways and I find it most fulfilling to see our customers enjoying our shop and appreciating our products.
Influential women they admire: Their mothers
NASHA ALYSSA HISHAMMUDDIN AND ALIA ALIZAR
It all began when Alyssa met Alia, while the former was undergoing an undergraduate degree in marketing in Australia, and the latter just completed a degree in fashion design from London. Today, the online fashion store with a boutique at Solaris Dutamas offers women a portfolio of four ranges or categories of fresh, modern and contemporary wear – YA.SA, YDS24, Yadotsa and Yadotsa Limited.
MT: What are some of the pros and cons and challenges of being in this type of business and what are your hopes for the brand?
ALYSSA: The good part of being in this line is the very fact that it is something I enjoy doing and am interested in. It is also empowering to meet other independent women in different fields and lines whilst on the job. As a woman in business, I've not come across any major setbacks although there have been some male parties who have commented that running a fashion line is an ‘easy' job compared to other businesses. It may not encompass the same kinds of difficulties but there are definitely trials and challenges as in any business. Generally, the goals I have for the relatively new Yadotsa, is for it to penetrate the international market and expand its styling under Yadotsa Caracter, apart from developing the other labels. I would also love to see Malaysians take on a different look and style as we encourage our clients to be daring, different and experiential, where dressing is concerned.
ALIA: Like in any business, there are pros and cons with new things to learn and for me, one of it was how to hand-sew appliqués and beads on garments. Being in this industry also taught me about time and speed – how to work efficiently within a given time frame. But most difficult was having to deal with people, as I am physically petite and many mistake my age and, inadvertently, my competence. Still, this in turn has nurtured me to become the stronger and more confident person I am today. At the end of the day, my goal for the brand is for it to be able to break into the international market, and for me to gain as much exposure and experience as I take the label forward, into the next level. I would like to develop the company, perhaps transform it into an affordable luxury fashion house some day.
Influential women they admire: The late Lady Diana Spencer, Tun Dr Siti Hasmah, Anna Wintour, their mothers
LIM AI SAN
Inspired by her mother looking fabulous at her age, living a healthy lifestyle along with using the right inner garments, and wanting to share the experience with all women, Ai San decided to set up Petite Fleur to assist womenfolk in looking and feeling great. As a retailer of ladies' innerwear, her company provides consultancy on fashionable and functional body sculpting lingerie for women under the portfolios of Revinus, Make Body and her in-house brand Fleur.
MT: What does your working experience encompass and what are some of the best things about being a woman?
AI SAN: Although I am involved in every aspect of the business, PR and marketing of the brand is my key focus, apart from managing the team. My previous work revolved around politics, international policies and the duties of an administrative and diplomatic officer for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Malaysia. So, exploring fashion retail was something relatively new to me; still, I have learnt so much more about women's bodies and innerwear, market needs and behaviour, retail and sales. Some of the best things about being a woman for me are being able to live a life of ‘variety' as in the choices a woman has in terms of haircuts, clothes, looks, careers, and the works! A woman also possesses the gift of bringing another life into the world, and has a higher threshold for enduring pain (what with the bikini waxes and childbirth). Hence, we women are tougher than men.
Influential women she admires: Her mother and the political figures she previously worked with
AMANDA IMANI PRODUCTIONS
Just 20 and having won awards and nominations, apart from coming up with a Malay album, an English EP and recently a new single Cemburu featuring Malique, not forgetting concerts abroad, it's business yet therapy for young Amanda, director of her own production company. Passionate is she in music and in every sense of the word. From writing, listening and performing, she recognised her creative talents as her strengths, and exploited these to create the best outcome, contributing towards the pleasure of her audience and community. Clearly age doesn't define her maturity and capabilities.
MT: Explain your experiences as a young woman in this industry, your thoughts on gender equality and an initiative you'd like to promote in aid of the skilled, talented and capable women of today.
AMANDA: I love every minute of being in this competitive industry as it's a privilege to be doing what I love most and being female, I have a feminine advantage when coupled with great vocals and presentation. As director I am accountable for the whole nine yards of branding, artiste and repertoire strategy, marketing, production, et cetera. All these experiences have moulded me to be very hands on. As a businesswoman, I like to be respected for my business intelligence, quality of music and entertainment expertise. I am also a great supporter of gender equality and my observation is that many may be culturally influenced that women are typically associated and valued for their more caring and nurturing roles rather than providing leadership and material substance in a business scenario. If I could set up an initiative in aid of today's women, I'd foster quality part-time careers in competitive packages as in quality positions that value women's expertise in their fields. And that part-time also not be exploited otherwise.
Influential women she admires: Oprah Winfrey, Lady Gaga, her mother