KUALA LUMPUR: It’s never too late to pursue a dream. That was what Linden Leong believed when at 50 years old, she left a successful corporate career to become an artisan in handicraft sewing.
It was a corporate career spanning over 25 years in management consulting and banking, yet Leong knew that it was time.
Her love for sewing started in childhood, she told FMT, inspired by her mother who also loved handiwork.
The former student of Convent Ipoh said that she never pursued this particular interest before, opting to study in the science stream instead as it presented better job prospects.
But, in 2017 everything changed when Leong learned how to use a sewing machine. And it was as though something was ignited in her. She sewed 50 dresses in two years and moved on to make bags.
She gave the bags to friends and colleagues and their positive feedback gave her the confidence to pursue her passion commercially. So, in January 2020, she left her corporate job and started her own business.
She initially made tote bags with fabric straps and although her days at the sewing machine were a far cry from the corporate environment, she loved every moment of it. She named her business, “TAS by Woman of Substance”.
“I chose the name because ‘tas’ means handbag in the Malay and Indonesian languages. The words ‘woman of substance’ came from a novel titled ‘A Woman of Substance’ by Barbara Taylor Bradford,” Leong, 53, said.
She added that she was particularly inspired by a character in the book named Emma Harte, who rose from poverty to eventually run an empire.
“In the book, she said that her secret to success is to endure, which I found meaningful. Because when I started this, I realised that it was going to be a very long journey and I must have the stamina to endure.”
It proved to be true when the pandemic hit in March 2020. Rather than let her anxiety over the future of her new business get the better of her, she kept on sewing and marketed her products online – on Facebook and Instagram.
Her persistence paid off and today, her business is growing. “I even have customers from Singapore, Australia, UK, US and the Caribbean Islands who discovered me through Facebook.”
These days, although tote bags remain her core product, she sews purses, clutches, crossbody bags, keyrings, and cases for laptops, iPads or tablets.
Leong uses different Chinese silk brocades, Japanese obi, batik, “Ankara” (African prints), jacquard, denim, and cotton in her products.
“There are also a variety of handles such as acrylic, wooden, bamboo and leather,’ she shared.
Labour of love
Looking at her exquisite and neatly sewn pieces, her creativity and attention to detail are obvious.
“My business is very laborious. If it isn’t, it won’t be artisanal,” Leong mused, admitting with a laugh that she feels a tinge of sadness when she has to part with a completed piece.
“I’m looking for like-minded people who share the same passion to join me so I can expand [the business],” she added.
She is also thankful for the support of Persatuan Pembangunan Artisans (PPA), an NGO that helps local artisans to market and widen their distribution channels through its online platform, physical stores and pop-up events.
“Their [online] marketplace is equipped with the necessary payment portals which help small players like me, so I don’t have to worry about processing payments.
“They also have physical stores which I believe we still need. It allows people to touch, feel and gain confidence in a product.”
Ipoh Girl is coming home
As she looks to the future, Leong plans to open a physical store in Ipoh this year.
“I am calling my shop Ipoh Girl,” she said with a smile, adding that she will divide her time between her hometown and KL.
Her ultimate dream, however, is to turn the business into a social enterprise. Giving back to society is important to her. Presently, she helps several local NGOs by contributing funds or donating bags for them to sell.
For Leong, her business journey has been a gratifying one. “From what I’ve experienced in these short three years, if you have a dream, pursue it. Don’t give up because dreams keep us going and they keep us alive.’
Their products are also available at these locations:
- Anggun Bintang boutique in Kajang, Selangor
- Persatuan Pembangunan Artisans’ store at Tokyo Street, Pavilion KL
- The PWW Shop, Ipoh
- 22 Hale Street Heritage Gallery, Ipoh
Read more PPA stories and get to know its artisans here.
For CIMB customers, learn more about exclusive discounts under PPA’s Empowering Women and Communities programme in collaboration with CIMB.