Huey Sy Bags offers unique statement pieces that look good from boardroom to ballroom

The bags come in various materials, including batik, songket, silk, obi and tweed.

Founder Woon Huey Sy (Photo: Shahrill Basri/The Edge Malaysia)

Woon Huey Sy was happily running a few businesses in late 2017. However, her friends who were starting a handmade bag brand as part of their retirement plan, had decided to rope her in to help market their products. “They were employed by public-listed companies and wanted to retire early at 55. I was still working at the time and even had my own company; but they wanted to enlist my skills in marketing,” says the 61-year-old.

The problem was that Woon could not sew at all. “When everyone gathered for the initial meeting [to discuss the business], I was the only one who had no clue about technical terms used in sewing or the parts of a sewing machine. I couldn’t manage a single stitch,” says Woon, who had been involved in a male-dominated industry, selling spare parts for cars and trucks. 

Eventually, she learnt to sew on her own, starting with something as simple as stitching a straight line to make sure she could contribute and make tote bags for charity, together with her peers. As her skills developed, a more complex project came her way, which involved mastering techniques and methods from the grandmother of a Japanese friend. “I told my college friend what I was doing at the time. She said her grandma used to sew kimonos and make bags for relatives as well.” 

To celebrate Woon’s new interest, her friend shipped over some fabrics from Japan, including objects that were essential to sewing. With the help of the friend and her grandma, who were elated to pass on the knowledge, Woon successfully used the material to create a bag of her own.


The handcrafted bags serve the styles and needs of different customers (Photo: Huey Sy Bags)

Then the genial oba-san taught her the technique for a proper bag that was more structured and easier to carry around, something Woon happily continued making since 2018. “My friends eventually stopped pursuing the business but I remained passionate about it. I did some research and found that nobody in Petaling Jaya was making this type of bag then. I then thought it would be a good market opportunity for me to explore.”

Starting a new brand was a piece of cake for Woon. “I’ve had prior experience so I was used to it.” But fulfilling the orders flooding her Facebook page soon proved overwhelming, especially for a one-woman show. “I had to shut down the account immediately after receiving about 30 inquiries in one day. This is a handmade product and I cannot promise people that their order can be completed in two weeks.”

She then spent the next three months quietly producing over 100 bags to sell at a four-day bazaar. “I came to the pop-up booth with 168 bags and went home with just 38. I thought to myself, there is a market for this.”

Keen customers are encouraged to purchase Woon’s ready stock at pop-up stores across the Klang Valley. She does not decline custom orders anymore but expect a long wait still as Woon remains occupied with commissions for her work until the first quarter of next year.

On the lengthy process, Woon shares that a single item takes at least four to five hours to complete. In the early days, she would spend two weeks on a bag. Having a template for fabric-cutting has sped up the production process immensely. “The bags comprise three or four layers while batting is used in-between to ensure they are sturdy and have a solid structure.”


Keen customers are encouraged to purchase Woon’s ready stock at pop-up stores across the Klang Valley (Photo: Huey Sy Bags)

Batik bags require an added step: soaking the material in vinegar and waiting for it to dry before cutting. This prevents colour bleeding that can occur when exposed to liquids such as rainwater. The accessories, priced between RM180 and RM550 depending on size and material, are equipped with pockets, for which she outsources the sewing to a B40 group.

Created for women who want a statement piece to carry in the boardroom or ballroom, Woon’s bags come in a variety of materials, most of which are washable, including batik, songket, silk, obi and tweed to serve the styles and needs of customers. The latter is one of Woon’s favourite fabrics. “Some years ago, I bought a tweed bag on a trip to Europe which cost me €200. That’s expensive! So, naturally, I wanted to offer a more affordable option to Malaysians.” Having since created a perfect tweed carrier, Woon admits to using it daily to observe the fabric’s durability. 

Although her eponymous label appeals to international customers and bigwigs on the local scene, Woon’s ultimate goal is to establish its presence across the country. Her mission is not so much to take the business overseas, but to highlight the unique qualities of Malaysian offerings and showcase them to the world.

This article first appeared on July 31, 2023 in The Edge Malaysia.


Follow us on Instagram