Like some of us stationery buffs, Eunice Yeoh Yi Ching always dreamt of having her own business that allowed her to enjoy and share her passion for paper creations. Unlike the rest of us, however, her dream became a reality. “In college, I was looking for a journal that was customisable and refillable, and I couldn’t find one in the market that was within the price range I was willing to pay. So, I decided to make my own,” she says.
Yeoh did not intend to start a business right away. She made a journal for herself from sourced leather, and slowly her friends began making requests as well. “After that, I tried doing other products because, from a whole piece of leather, you actually end up with a lot of scraps. So, I made other products with these scraps,” she explains.
Yeoh graduated with a law degree last year and is now pursuing her postgraduate studies. Her business, Align.Co, is her creative outlet. “The whole business is very different from what I’m trained in, obviously. So, I had to learn digital marketing, design and all that. I have some experience with design because, at an internship, I had learnt to use [graphic design software Adobe] Illustrator, so that helps. But, mostly, I had to learn everything from scratch,” she says. Launched towards the of 2019, Align.Co began with an Instagram page that gradually led to a website.
Initially, Yeoh’s main product was her leather journals. “When I journal, it helps me align my thoughts and purpose. You know, what my motivations are. For me, writing things down is different from typing. It helps me to slow down and think through things properly, and plan things properly,” she reflects. Align.Co has leather journals and binders of different sizes that are refillable, as well as leather sketchbooks and rustic-looking handbound journals.
Align.Co’s products, which now include cardholders, wallets, key chains and valet trays, are crafted in high-quality leather. “I chose leather because it is aesthetically pleasing and durable. And because it’s genuine leather, each piece has a different texture; so, no two pieces are the same. It’s unique and very versatile in that sense. That is also why I chose leather as the medium to make my first journal,” Yeoh says.
In the early stages, she taught herself leatherworking via YouTube videos and the internet. Her works were crafted out of her small college room but, now, she has more space in her home dedicated to her creative outlet. Among the challenges she faced were battling naysayers as well as managing time, as she had to juggle her studies while handcrafting items as the orders came in.
“I am a one-woman show, doing it all by myself. So, it’s quite challenging, especially when I get corporate orders of 300 items, for example. That’s a lot. And I also organise shipping and everything else,” she says. Other than large corporate orders, Align.Co has also had booths at events such as weddings, where Yeoh personalised the travel tag door gifts.
The ensuing lockdown last year put a damper on her plans to be a part of more events, and prevented her from attending regular bazaars and pop-ups. “As my products are made of leather, people want to touch and feel them. I lost my income during the lockdown, but I gained time to experiment and carry out R&D for new products,” she says. She also had more time to work on her online presence and ensure that her website features her wide range of leather-crafted products.
“Aside from journals, one of my best sellers are the leather valet trays. My products are designed to be practical and durable, as they are made out of leather. In addition, the personalisation option, which comes with every product, helps make gifting a bit more meaningful,” she explains.
Hopeful for the future, Yeoh intends to grow her business gradually and attend more bazaars and events when it is safe to do so. “I want to scale and diversify my products, without compromising on their quality and workmanship. After Covid settles down, I want to do more events and run workshops to teach people simple leather crafts. I would also like to collaborate with other makers,” she says.
This article first appeared on Aug 16, 2021 in The Edge Malaysia.