While the horde of exclusive designer labels from Europe and America swarming our market may be one of the reasons, the rapid growth of home-designer labels trying to carve their niche such as Azooi is a valid contributing reason, too.
The birth of Azooi began when designer and former fashion model Shana Azooi, who started an online store to sell bags but couldn’t find anything that she wanted to sell. Subsequently, she also yearned to supply fashionistas with beautiful products to her customers.
As a result, she embarked on a move that soon became a stepping stone to her new career as an accessory designer: Shana began to modify bags; painting and assembling raw clutches.
“The bags were well received and I started making custom clutches,” said Shana, recalling the history of her fashionable brainchild. “But then came a point where I was frustrated at the limitation of readily available base clutches. So, I moved on to working with artisans to create bases from scratch and use them as canvases for paintings or embellishments.”
If you wonder why she chose Azooi as her brand name that is because Azooi is a combination of her surnames – Azahari and Ooi. “This is a bit of tribute to my parents and my heritage,” she added.
Although Azooi made its debut in 2013 through a now-defunct website called clutchabag.com, the brand made its official entry into the challenging yet burgeoning fashion market in May this year, alongside Raya Collection by designer du jour Alia Bastamam.
While most designers tend to design their accessories collection according to the movement of the season, Shana, on the other hand, took a non-traditional approach by following her dreams as part of the creative process.
“I create a series based on how fast I dream it up,” she explained. “I release it as soon as I can, so I can carry on dreaming up the next collection.”
She further added, “However, I do tie certain collections to certain times of the years such as Eid or Chinese New Year or Christmas, but I don’t quite think of the four seasons as a framework.”
Art is the core theme of her collection. From abstract paintings to unfussy shapes, Shana liberally pours her creativity on the clutches and meddle it with a great balance between flair and function.
For creative process, Shana takes between a day to a week to dream up the clutch and allocate from six to eight weeks to produce the product. Although part of the clutches is made in Malaysia, they are finished and assembled overseas with the designer herself being fully involved with the manufacturing process.
“I work closely with the artisans who create the components for the clutches and then assemble them,” she explained. “Furthermore, as we are the only brand that makes painted clutches like these, we spend a lot of time perfecting our methods and improving our products.”
While Shana personally loves Iman due to its elegance and understated style and colours – an embodiment of a woman one would adore – the multi-coloured Amber immediately caught my attention.
Moreover, it is the Amber that triggered my instinct to find out more about Azooi. To create the stunning visual marvel, the creative process began with deciding the colour scheme and the shapes to work with.
“We figure how we want the painting or the embellishments to be like and we simulate the end product,” she explained. “If we liked it, we give it a go ahead."
When asked if she preferred to be seen as an artist or an accessory designer, Shana believes that the two terms are distinctive yet they come with a minimum of accomplishment.
“I've barely started so I can't hope to call myself either,” she said. “For now, I am a painter with a passion for accessory design.”
Besides off-the-shelf clutches, Azooi also offers bespoke service where customers are given the liberty to choose their preferred silhouettes and images to embellish their clutches. Shana shared with me a story on the most complicated order she had received:
“A very loyal customer of ours came back for another custom piece,” she enthused. “This time, she wanted a piece that was both embellished and painted. So, she chose the frame and toile me what she wanted to achieve.”
“As of now, with our current process, we have yet to try to make another mixed media piece,” she added.
With only five pieces of clutch being produced (“Five is a wholesome number and for the size of our brand right now”), Azooi is indeed a truly exclusive label in its own right. Reason being, Shana believes that it will strengthen the brand’s following as they are not trying to reach everyone.
“The reason why we limit the painted clutches is because part of the appeal of art to the art enthusiasts is to own something that’s more than itself,” she explained. “For example, you can own a picture of Van Gogh painting but people will still covet the painted versions and even more so, the original. At the same time, we are trying to connect with people who appreciate our work with artists and artisans as well as our process and values.”
Perhaps, due to its originality and its outstanding nature, Azooi has been tremendously well-received by Malaysian fashionistas. However, as Malaysian fashionistas are well-known for their tendency to favour high-end designer labels over home-grown ones, Shana opined that the lack of self-definition among local accessory brands as clear as their global counterparts is the reason why Malaysian fashion mavens tend to look the other way.
Nevertheless, the entrepreneur has a strong faith in her brand. She is working on expanding Azooi’s product range and strengthening its core to garner wider audience, both domestically and overseas.
“We hope the foreign interest in our brand will help strengthen our position in the Malaysian market so that one day, we may become Malaysia's go-to brand for exclusive accessories,” she added.
Currently retailed at Alia Bastamam boutique, Shana enthusiastically shared that Azooi is now expanding its wing to the other side of the world as the brand is now stocked by Ithemba Design Ethik in Paris, Canada via a representative and starting December, by Quintessential – Singapore’s iconic accessories institution that also carries renowned quirky accessory labels such as Alexis Bittar, Devi Kroell, Ipa-Nima and Isharya, just to name a few.
Multi-brand retailers aside, Azooi also has been approached by a slew of department stores namely Isetan in Malaysia and Takashimaya in Japan. However, the designer is not ready to have her brand sold in department stores.
Now, where does Shana sees Azooi in the next 10 years? The designer shared that it would be her wish to delve into the creation of other accessories — not just to accessorise an outfit but lifestyle that may include clothing and furniture.
“Yet, we do want to stay true to our core and continue to create bags that are focused on arts and aesthetics,” she said. “Hopefully by then, our brand will be as strong as other renowned brands such as Alexander McQueen, Charlotte Olympia and Marchesa [just to name a few], hence fingers crossed.”
Prices for Azooi clutches start from RM850.00 to RM960.00 for available shells; custom shells at RM1,050.00. For painted pieces, prices start from RM1,025.00 to RM1,300.00, while custom pieces start at RM1,200.00.
To get your hands on Azooi’s scintillating painted clutches or if you wished to have your clutch bag design materialised by Azooi, visit www.azooi.com or contact Shana herself at email@example.com. Do follow Azooi on Instagram at @azooiofficial and Facebook at facebook.com/azooiofficial
*Photos courtesy of Azooi
Azooi – Alia Bastamam Boutique, 14, Jalan Chempenai, Bukit Damansara, 50490 Kuala Lumpur; Ithemba Design Ethik, 67, Avenue Daumesnil, 75012 Paris; Quintessential, 9 Scotts Road, #02-01 Pacific Plaza, Singapore 228210.