Options: The Straits Finery turned five last year — congratulations! What were celebrations like during a time of such upheaval?
Amira Yahaya: Thank you! We celebrated the small wins and what we had in our favour. We are fortunate to be a two-woman team, which allows for quick decisions and changes on the fly.
As a business, we have been set up to run all of our operations online, from a website with full e-commerce capabilities to strong logistics partners, without whom we would never be able to stay open for business. Our new Ebb & Flow series was ready, but launching it in the thick of a pandemic proved challenging as we wanted to ensure that what we were communicating was relevant and meaningful.
What was the best decision you made last year?
It was affirming that a key focus was to be a direct-to-customer brand. We had been toying with the idea of working towards wholesale orders, which traditionally is the golden milestone for small businesses. However, with the uncertain and shifting retail landscape, we finally decided this was who we wanted to be, and it’s especially relevant to the times. We used to rely on stockists and our pop-ups, but customers have shifted online. So, we have been working hard to build our digital presence, increase our visibility and create interesting content.
How has The Straits Finery evolved since its inception?
There have been quite a few changes in how we strategise our product mix. We initially carried all designs in both silver and gold to cater for different price points and colour tones, with about 12 designs per collection. This meant fewer collections per year, and customers were looking for something new all the time.
A collaboration with Snackfood showed us that regular capsule releases kept people excited and the conversation fresh. We focus on that now, better curating the theme of each capsule and doing regular releases in small batches.
We also decided to discontinue our silver line in 2019. Silver is inherently softer than gold, so pieces had to be bigger for sturdiness, which wasn’t in line with our streamlined brand aesthetic. All in all, we felt that it almost diluted the message that our gold pieces are not plated, but fashioned from solid 14-carat gold.
What would you say has been a career highlight so far?
Honestly, I still get a thrill every time we decide the line-up of a collection and see the final samples — the fruits of countless sketches on tissue paper and the back of receipts that have been turned into pieces in gleaming gold. For me, it’s really about little moments, like when you’re walking around the supermarket and see someone in a Straits Finery piece. This never gets stale! It always deserves a little happy dance.
How would you describe your personal style, and where does jewellery fit into this?
That’s a difficult question. I would love to say that I have the style sensibilities of someone like Garance Doré, but the reality is that I dress for my mood and comfort. My business partner, Chern, is more minimalist and streamlined, whereas I’m drawn to patterns and colour. But I always try to keep it fuss-free. Even when I have to dress formally, I make sure I feel like me, and I do this with jewellery. I never leave the house without at least a ring on. Jewellery always makes me feel feminine without being too girly.
How would you define good style?
I think it’s knowing what suits you and makes you feel like you. If you like what you see in the mirror, you will automatically carry it well — with grace and confidence.
What sort of environment do you like for your living space?
I love a space that gets flooded with light in the day, with big windows that open so you feel nature around you. My back windows open up to a jungle, and there’s nothing better than crisp fresh jungle air first thing in the morning. I like paintings on my wall — some I’ve painted myself and others I bought. Each takes me back to a cherished moment. And I can’t forget my ginger tabby — she always makes the house feel like a warm, cosy home that’s full of life (and noise).
When are you most inspired or creatively productive?
Inspiration often strikes me at the most bizarre moments. I could be in the middle of a conversation or meal, and a design possibility would strike — hence the drawings on the back of receipts. Being ever open to ideas is crucial for us as our environment has always inspired our designs, from the simple circles of our first collection to the Ebb & Flow series inspired by the elements, emotions and shapes we experience on our own sunny shores and among coral reefs.
Any travel plans once borders reopen and restrictions are lifted?
We’re very much looking forward to going to Europe, where my fiancé’s family is. We haven’t seen them in over a year, and have missed so many celebrations and milestones. I’m also looking forward to finally being able to make our move to Singapore and get back on track to starting our lives together.
This article first appeared on Apr 19, 2021 in The Edge Malaysia.