Lebihlah., a business venture by J Y Ng and Sugy Tan, sells enamel pins inspired by Malaysian retro items such as RM2 notes and nasi lemak. It was founded on the basis of simply wanting to translate their love of antiques into miniature items. “What we are trying to do is bring back old stuff in miniature form. We actually considered a few more common things like postcards and other printed stuff. But these items were not long lasting, so we settled on enamel pins,” says Ng. They wanted the quality and longevity of their favourite antiques to be translated into the products they created.
Ng and Tan met while working as freelance promoters. The duo later found they shared a common love of nostalgic items that bring back a lot of memories and decided to give the business a go. “To be honest, we did not really want to commercialise our idea in the first place. We didn’t know whether it would be a success. Our first idea was to put local stuff on pins and then we started to try enamel pins because they were quite rare at the time,” says Ng.
The partners expanded their knowledge and abilities with different design software and then got cracking at creating their pins. While they didn’t find it too difficult, it was a time-consuming process exploring software and getting comfortable with designing. Unlike printing on paper, enamel pins don’t allow for much colour gradients, so the designs had to be single-colour blocks, which can sometimes be tricky to do. After designing, production turned out to be a somewhat smoother process. From their jobs came connections with a printer and access to a production team that could help.
Lebihlah. was launched two years ago. “At first, we thought that most people in Malaysia would think this was something extra because they hadn’t seen it before. So, we named it Lebihlah., with this slogan: Something extra that makes you extra cool,” says Ng. Their first collection of pins included a RM2 note, rattan chair, cassette mix tape and jar of Tiger Balm.
The duo hit their first major hurdle when it was time to sell their pins. “We tried a few social media platforms and we started our business as a campaign. We got people to share our posts and gave away free pins. It did not work very well because not many people noticed us and we didn’t really know how all the algorithms worked. It took us around six months to actually sell our pins to customers,” says Ng.
Sales picked up because they formed partnerships with stockists in Kuala Lumpur and Penang. Lebihlah. pins are currently available at TriBeCa in KL, and The Warung, Manoplus and Multi.tude in Penang.
Just like Tan and Ng, customers are attracted to Lebihlah.’s uniquely Malaysian nostalgia. Since their debut collection, they have released a range of pins that evoke memories for many. Some of their designs are of Hup Seng Cream Crackers, a Chinese fan, an old bus ticket, love letters and — their latest release — Super Ring snacks.
The packaging these pins come in is also quite unique. “We get quite a lot of good comments about the packaging, and we honestly spend a lot of time on it. Inspired by tea bags, our packaging is made of cotton paper, so it is biodegradable and has a hanging tab just like a tea bag,” says Tan. It is almost as though the partners are trying to say that their pins are a product of well-steeped ideas.
The lockdown to curb the spread of Covid-19 made things very difficult for the duo, as it did for many businesses. Many of their stockists were forced to close shop. “During the MCO period, we didn’t really sell much actually, but we organised a few campaigns and sales during National Day and 11.11. We also produced a new product, the Kredikaver,” says Ng.
The Kredikaver is a fun sticker that can be stuck to credit or debit cards. Some stickers include humorous slogans such as “Shut up and take my money” or nostalgic designs such as the one that mimics old school 555 notebooks.
Tan is a student of Traditional Chinese Medicine while Ng is a recent graduate of civil engineering. Lebihlah. is a creative outlet for the duo and they admit that the venture takes more than 50% of their time as they hope it continues to grow. “What I like about Lebihlah. is that we don’t reproduce what we find on Pinterest. I mean, it may inspire our ideas but we don’t copy and we don’t produce something that is 90% similar to what is available online. There are hundreds of pin sellers now who do that. Ours is something different,” says Tan.
This article first appeared on Nov 30, 2020 in The Edge Malaysia.