According to Juliah Tan Feizal Tan, polymer clay items are quite an unusual find in Malaysia. A big fan of earrings made from this material, she scoured overseas sites to get what she wanted. “I had been trying to get my hands on polymer clay earrings from this seller in Singapore for months and months. They were always sold out, so, in the end, I decided to make them myself,” she says.
Polymer clay is a versatile material because it can be worked on for long periods of time without drying out. For it to set, it needs to be baked, which gives the artist time to perfect his/her design. “Polymer clay is light and it’s a blank canvas, so you can create anything,” Juliah says. Similar to regular clay, there are so many shapes you can create and, with the right tools, you can design details that are not possible with other materials. Intricate flowers, vibrant or pastel colours, detailed characters and a variety of silhouettes — the possibilities are endless in Juliah’s repertoire of wearable art earrings.
“I took a workshop but felt that it was nothing I can’t learn from YouTube. It was good in that it consolidated everything you could learn from YouTube in one class … because polymer clay techniques vary from one person to another. It’s very personal — what works for you might not work for me. It’s a lot of experimentation,” she explains.
Juliah slowly began to perfect her technique, making jewellery for herself. Filled with ideas, she realised that she had too many pieces to keep. “It all started with giving and selling to friends and cousins, and they told me that I should start a business. Initially, I didn’t want to but then I thought, ‘why not?’,” she says.
With an already active Instagram page — one that she used to catalogue her creative interests — she started her polymer clay jewellery business, Kittuco. The name, although Japanese sounding, has an unusual origin. “It’s actually an inside joke between my husband and I. We’ve always referred to our future daughter as Kitty and son as Kuttu. So, my company’s name became Kittu and I added the ‘co’,” she says.
Juliah has a background in fashion and marketing and had owned a fashion boutique before she sold her business and went into public relations. Now she still does PR for a premium furniture brand. Although her past experience in owning a business has helped her, she still faces a few hurdles. “The way people do business and the way people market products now is so different — because of social media,” she says.
Juggling her full-time gig with her lucrative hobby has been tough. “My main challenge is time. Sometimes, it takes me a week to finish one collection. After work, I go home and it’s another five to six hours of sitting down and creating,” she explains. Although she has met a few wholesale requests, Juliah found that she could not cope with the numbers. She still attends markets and bazaars to create brand awareness. After Instagram, Juliah tried selling her items on Etsy. “It’s not really user-friendly for Malaysians so I decided to establish my own website.” She launched kittuco.com in January.
Kittuco has released a new collection every month since its inception. Each collection has six to 12 pieces, making them quite exclusive. One of the main challenges Juliah faces now is educating her Malaysian audience on polymer clay. “To let customers know it’s all handmade and that it’s not easy. It takes a long time. I suppose we have to convince them that the price is equivalent to the amount of work I put into it,” she says. Mixing colours can even take an entire day. “You have your basic primary colours, but once you start mixing, sometimes you just need to add a little bit or sometimes you have to scrap it and redo,” she adds.
What makes Kittuco’s designs unique is that they are inspired by the people in Juliah’s life — Za’s Mermaid Collection was inspired by her colleague Zahira, who loves mermaids and unicorns, and Miriam’s Space Adventure is based on a friend’s love for the galaxy. Other collections include Wildflowers, Seloka Flora, Rainbow Drop and Pastel Leaves. Juliah is about to release her wedding anniversary collection, featuring elaborate decorations such as lanterns and Nyonya umbrellas, all elements from her special day.
In August, Juliah got her big break when Kittuco was included in the KL Fashion Week. “Ghaania had a show in KL Fashion Week and they contacted us to collaborate and create really unique earrings for them. At that time, they just gave me the prints. I had no clue what the end result — the clothes — would look like. So I used the prints as inspiration and created a whole line, and they loved it,” explains Juliah.
Kittuco has also collaborated with beauty brand Crush, and hopes to have more partnerships in the future. Juliah also wishes to work towards doing workshops. “Maybe a workshop on how to start a polymer clay business, rather than as a hobby. That’s one of the things that are different about running a business these days; it’s really about building a community and not just competition,” Juliah says.
This article first appeared on Oct 21, 2019 in The Edge Malaysia.