Lim Beng Wee’s interest in art started in his teens when he took up a part-time job to help a friend make clay dolls. Familiar with assembling and colouring clay and wishing to give his partner Tan Chee Ling a meaningful gift, Lim honed his skills further by making clay miniatures. “Many years ago, donuts were a crowd favourite. One day, I asked her, ‘Do you know I can make tiny donuts?’ Of course, she did not believe me until I proved it to her,” he says.
The duo then started experimenting with more designs, but merely to satisfy their own creativity. Some friends saw the potential in their works and encouraged them to turn their hobby into a business. “Chee Ling and I joined a market in Penang run especially for business owners who made their products by hand and that was how we started,” Lim says.
The idea to turn miniatures into accessories such as earrings, rings, bracelets, necklaces and brooches came from the belief that women love to adorn themselves with bright and colourful things. “Items that can be worn are more interesting than those we buy only for display. It is also exciting to have something unusual and eye-catching. I have customers who tell me our accessories act as a conversation starter when they are out socialising,” Lim points out.
Graduating from a part-time to full-time business, Weez Concept — a portmanteau of Lim’s and Tan’s names in English and Mandarin — was launched in 2007. For a decade, it operated at street markets and kiosks at malls in Penang and Kuala Lumpur, before they opened a shop in the former state five years ago.
The creative direction for the brand’s pieces is based on the couple’s favourite memories and life experiences. A trip to a friend’s restaurant in KL that served roast pork was the inspiration for its famous Sio Bak accessories, while the curry puff design was created in memory of Lim’s mother. The multiple lockdowns intensified their desire to make more food-based designs as people could not go out to eat their favourite meals.
Although Lim had experience with clay art during his younger years, he and Tan picked up miniature clay art skills on their own. “I have basics that I learnt from my part-time job, but we did not take classes because I believe it could disrupt our creativity, as we tend to follow the style and technique taught by teachers. We could end up creating something really similar to theirs. The best way to build our own identity is to learn it ourselves,” Lim explains.
Trial and error has always been the brand’s fundamental technique for getting the details right. The process of making the products is tedious and demanding as most of them are really small — 1cm by 1cm. The different elements needed to create an item are crafted in different stages before they are put together. For instance, when making nasi lemak-inspired accessories, they will create and paint the rice first, before doing the same for the sambal, eggs, anchovies, peanuts, fried chicken, cucumber and banana leaves.
How long does it take for them to come up with a design? “Some designs take years. Sometimes you have something in mind, but you are not able to realise it into a physical object. We complete one element, then we put the project on hold if we cannot do the next step. The key is to keep trying,” Lim says.
In each production run, they can make 50 to 100 accessories. “It depends on how many parts we need to assemble. The nasi lemak will take longer to finish because there are many elements involved. It is very time-consuming and we don’t want to give customers something different from what they see in pictures,” says Tan.
Weez Concept uses polymer clay from the brand Sculpey, which is sourced from the US. “Our products are really tiny so we need to pay attention to the quality of the clay we use. We find Sculpey suitable and it is also one of the top brands in the US,” Tan says.
The post for earrings and the chain for necklaces and bracelets are made from surgical stainless steel, which is allergen-free, rust-free and prevents colour transfer. “All of the materials that we use are costly but this is how I think: If I spend so much time creating a pair of earrings, why should I compromise its quality by using cheap materials? Our customers can also wear our products for a long time. We have some who are still wearing our earrings after 10 years, even those designs we have discontinued. We feel really happy and thankful to have such supportive customers,” explains Lim.
Besides food, Lim and Tan also make pieces inspired by flowers such as lilies and daisies. “Our business code is very simple. We see something, we love it, then we sell it,” Lim says. Hence, they are not big on custom orders as some requests are not what they personally have an interest in.
There were times when the pair doubted if they were doing well in the business since the response they received from Penangites were not good. Then, they changed their strategy by joining art markets in KL occasionally. Lim and Tan experienced an epiphany when their products garnered exceptional attention from customers the first time they opened a booth in KL. “It made us realise that we were doing just fine; we just needed to get the right audience.”
Now, the brand has thousands of loyal followers on Facebook and Instagram. Its product range has been expanded to souvenirs such as photo frames and paintings as the founders wish for women and men alike to enjoy their creations.
This article first appeared on Mar 21, 2022 in The Edge Malaysia.