The best laughs — deep, loud, spontaneous — come from the belly, right after you have been gobsmacked. Shoppers sauntering into The Apom Store at Bangsar Village in Kuala Lumpur may not know what to expect. Many leave with A Piece of Malaysia — what the brand name stands for — astounded and amused by how their fellow Malaysians view the country.
Humour is the generous topping on the products that carry the Apom label, founded by Kelvin Long and his wife Chantelle Teoh in 2017. Dig into it — by a happy coincidence, apom is the peanut pancake sold at roadside stalls — and you will find a delectable crust baked from a mix of what is funny, funky and quirky around us.
The seed of the pair’s business sprouted when visiting friends wanted to take something home from Malaysia and they did not know where to go beyond the typical souvenir shops.
“We felt, man, Malaysia is so interesting but no one is bringing that sort of products to life,” Long says. More than just stuff tourists would chuck into their cupboards after unpacking, they envisioned well-designed, quality items locals would wear and proudly call attention to because they reflect what is real in their lives.
“As creatives, what we want to do is put daring ideas out in the market and push them to the max. As an independent brand, we can,” he says.
The couple, who used to own an advertising agency, have come up with T-shirts and totes printed with expressions, slang and lingo familiar to one and all, such as Lah, Alamak, Aiseyman, On The Way, Cun, Chup, Wa Lao, Macam Yes, Kantoi, Buaya Danger, Syok Sendiri, Talk Cock Sing Song and, for the instagram generation, OOTD.
They take a dig at Malaysian foibles and characteristics with cartoon depictions of Mak Cik Bawang, Mr Dato, Encik Bedal, Mr Thani and Little Miss Sombong, and provide brief explanations of what they represent, more for the benefit of tourists.
Long says Geng Malaysia — which includes Little Miss Hijabster, Mr Hipster, Mr Rempit and Little Miss Datin — is one of Apom’s best-selling collections because people can relate to the characters. “Our theme is ‘celebrating Malaysia as Malaysians know it’ and we want to put the local element into our creations and bring them to customers.”
A pop culture series feeds on food and beverage favourites — nasi lemak, ais krim potong, durian, kopi ‘o’ kaw and teh tarik tapau. Nostalgia takes its place on racks with items sporting designs of the pink mini bus from the 1980s, the 555 booklet used to record sundry purchases and two traditional games — marbles and five stones.
Parents — the most terrer mums and onz dads in Malaysia — find cutesy rompers (Susu Kurang Kurang Manis and Hot Weh!!) and little tees that say Bagus, Kepochi and The Youngest Tauke Ever. Young adults heading home for festive holidays can pull on a Still Single top and silence nosy relatives.
Familiar brand names and catchphrases, coupled with cheek, are the inspiration behind tops that say Huat Wei, Mahalbro, Supweh, Mamypokai, Samseng and Just Duit.
Creativity and enterprise are entwined in Apom. From the start, Long and Teoh’s vision is to work with local brands that are doing something different for the country through design. So, Apom carries consigned products by Pantun, Rojak Culture, Bingka, Fit Rebel and Noox. It now stocks watches, earrings, pins, socks, magnets, greeting cards, little gifts, candles, card games, colouring books and more.
Collaborations with cartoonist Zunar and accountant Farhan Iqbal, who is behind the DocumentingKuala photography project, make their works available on T-shirts, totes, mugs, calendars and canvases.
For the full story, pick up a copy of The Edge Malaysia (Aug 26, 2019) at your nearest news stand. Save by subscribing to us for your print and/or digital copy.