Yinn Ooi has always had a love affair with jewellery but it was a statement ring bought on her first trip to Taiwan that sparked a business idea. “I really love it and have been wearing it for years. [After I returned,] I began looking for beautiful but affordable jewellery, which was hard. They were either too expensive or not so nice. I realised that there’s a market for this, so I started to think about it,” she says.
In 2016, while still working as an interior designer, she developed her plan. She found manufacturers in South Korea that met her needs. “I realised that the workmanship in South Korea is better. There are a few good local ones but they mainly make handmade jewellery. I need laser cutting for a lot of my products,” Ooi explains.
Familiar with laser cutting because of her work in interior design, she felt that the technique was imperative in creating the unusual shapes she wanted. However, she soon realised that there were more complex processes in jewellery making. “When I first started, I wasn’t sure how it worked. I knew the shape I wanted but I didn’t know how to get from zero to that shape,” Ooi says. Now, she has a system that works perfectly. “I build the image with software, then I have it 3D printed. If I like it, I send it to the producers so they have an idea of what I want. Then I talk to them about materials and what to do from there.”
Another hurdle Ooi faced was choosing materials. Although she wanted to explore stainless steel, she found that the material was too hard for some of her designs. After trying out alternatives, Ooi settled for flexible brass. Her jewellery is rhodium plated — for that shiny silver finish — or 14-carat gold plated. “I go with gold and silver because they are classy and I don’t want them to be too colourful. I don’t know if I will change my mind, but for now, this high-end look is what I want,” she adds.
Ooi named her business Gung (palace in Korean) to evoke exclusivity and regality, and because she loves the Korean language.
“I’m into shapes and structures, that’s why my first collection was inspired by buildings. We make 50 pieces per design, so they are quite limited, and we don’t produce them again,” she says. Among her design-driven collections are Pearlfect, Gatsby and Frosty.
By 2017, Ooi was working full-time on Gung and launched her website with a little help. “Initially, I engaged a website designer to do the coding. Now I have changed to Shopify because I realised it’s more user-friendly. I can change everything myself easily.”
A fan of online shopping, Ooi thought her business would pick up quickly but she found that Malaysians prefer to touch and examine products before making a purchase. “I realised it was good to set up stalls at a few bazaars and let people get to know my brand … let them know why I started this. They then had more confidence in my products,” she adds.
After consulting digital marketing companies, Ooi began exploring online advertising and ways to use social media to her advantage. “I need to fully understand how Facebook advertising works because it’s changing all the time. To do that and to meet our budget with digital marketing is still a challenge. I’m still learning,” she adds.
Ooi has two employees — one handles daily tasks and packaging and the other focuses on marketing. Gung has stockists in Robinsons Kuala Lumpur, Robinsons The Gardens Mall, Naiise Malaysia and Ninth Gallery.
Gung’s unusual and edgy pieces will help reflect your sense of style, says Ooi. “I normally wear plain black, so I like how jewellery can showcase my personality. Everyone chooses different types of jewellery, and from that, you can see what they are trying to say about themselves.”
Gung’s upcoming collection is inspired by texture — from hammered surfaces to natural finishes. Ooi also aims to make more everyday jewellery.
This article first appeared on Aug 12, 2019 in The Edge Malaysia.