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We sat down with mic&ben

Malaysian independent fashion design studio Mic & Ben was founded in August 2019. With an environmentally freindly initiative, and locally made ethos - Mic & Ben crafts accessories that have won awards, like being one of the 2020 IHDA finalists. With everything happening in the world since the turn of 2020, we sat down with founder and designer, Michael Lee to discuss his view on the changing world of design, and how his business has evolved in the face of the Pandemic.

What was the inspiration behind your brand and your products?

I witnessed the amount of waste in the production of luxury accessories, therefore we decided to embark on the creation of a handbag brand, seeking for high-quality & environment-friendly bags that could be functional and practical, without compromising simplicity or design aesthetic. 

We using only environmently-friendly materials such as recycled leather, vegetable-tanned leather, organic cotton and more to ensure less harmful chemicals spread to nature and humans. Our inspiration always will be;

"Form follows Functions, Create with Nature in Mind"

What pushes you to design and bring your idea to life?

I have been in love with handbag design since my graduation from interior design, I like to design a bag that is minimal and simple without compromising functionality. Thanks to my lecturer, Mr. Ambrose, I always get inspired by architecture, nature, and lifestyle, and the idea that we should live peacefully together without the waste any of the space.

Why is it so important [in your opinion] for a brand to enter different markets - particularly the USA?

Any brand should not just focus on the local market, and should explore outside of their country if there's a possibility. We can learn about different cultures and lifestyles at the same time during our business expansion when entering different markets. The USA is a place well-known for its mix of tradition and modern fashion style, therefore all fashion brands should looking forward to their aesthetic, we love to learn and develop new things.

"American people adapt to new styles fast and are always at the forefront of trendy cities"

How has the pandemic impacted your business and how has your business adapted to these changes?

Our plan to have a small physical kiosk has been canceled due to the pandemic situation, during our research, our customer prefers feel-and-touch before they made any purchase.

We have started to look for the curated online marketplace during the MCO (movement control order) which we could possibly sell with, although there's no response yet we are continuing to search. Our business will start to return to working at home if possible and focusing on online stores.

What would you like to achieve in the future with your business?

Our future plan is to have a few stores (around 3) in different countries: Malaysia, Japan, Taiwan, USA, Singapore, and more. We would like to expand our collection to business and travel essentials. And of course, I hope I can debut a luxury line which is purely made in Malaysia with vegetable-tanned leather (there is a unique concept design sample on my hand and I waiting to debut it in future). It is one of my dreams and I would like to achieve in the future.

How has designing for your new collection been during this uncertain time?

I have started to explore different functionality design, the bag should be easy to style and useful for every day.

"I didn't stop designing, and our collection will go on but at a slow pace"

How do you think manufacturing and bag businesses are changing right now with everything going on in the world?

Mass production may not be a good choice for manufacturing and bag business, I think the manufacturer should start to work back on the old-time model, a low MOQ or made-to-order is the best fit to the current situation (and maybe the future as a new norm). Bag businesses needs to focus on how lifestyle has changed and what are the need of clients, online stores and photo/ video visuals are especially important from now on.

If you could give one piece of advice to other small business owners right now, what would it be?

We are all in the crisis. It's okay to struggle but don't give up, keep looking for new opportunities, reform your business operation, and know that the work-from-home model is doable (that's the idea when we started the business at the beginning).

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