For those who are fashion-conscious, finding sleepwear or lounge wear that is both stylish and comfortable can be a challenge. With Classé Couture, however, life just got a little easier: Its luxury pyjamas come in a range of soft, breathable materials and fun designs.
Founder Ooi Shir Nee had always wanted to start her own venture, but after completing her degree in global business, she was unsure of which industry to be in. “I knew that if you want to run a company, you have to learn everything, even the very basics. I went to work at my [father’s] company as a product quality controller. I really didn’t like it. I felt bad because he supports me a lot but I didn’t want to take over. I told myself that I have to be successful in my own business,” she says. After working in her father’s plastic packaging company, Ooi moved on to intern with a fashion retail store.
Her lightbulb moment came when she spoke to a friend who wanted to travel to Thailand to get a particular pair of cosy sweatpants. Ooi thought about the importance of comfortable loungewear and how the fabric made a huge difference. “I never thought of selling pyjamas until then. I shared my thoughts with my family and friends, and then my friend told me about how there was a pyjama trend on the runway: European fashionable pyjamas. And that’s when I decided on it,” she explains.
Ooi began bouncing ideas off her partner (who had to leave the business some months later) and headed to China to find fabrics and tailors. “I decided on China because of the language. Countries like Vietnam and Thailand are famous for producing clothing but, with China, at least I know how to speak Mandarin. They also have the most attractive costing,” she says.
She did not anticipate how difficult it was to find producers, especially as she could not use her usual search engines. “I did a lot of research, but it was very hard to get information because they don’t really use Google. I also hadn’t used [written] Chinese words for so long.”
Even after she hunted down the right fabric suppliers and tailors, she met with a few hiccups when she returned home. “I tried to arrange everything via WeChat, but the currency exchange was another problem. For one bank transfer, the money just could not be changed from ringgit to renminbi. You had to change to US dollars first. Once, for some reason, we got rejected; and when they transferred that money back, a lot of it was actually lost to the conversion rate and the processing fee,” she says.
Classé Couture’s website was finally launched in March 2018; positioned as a lifestyle brand that provides comfortable, luxurious sleepwear. What makes its sleepwear unique is the range of materials — from cotton to 100% mulberry silk — so everyone can find a fabric that suits them best. Unfortunately, sales were initially slow. Ooi suspected that the high price point was making customers wary of online purchases, but she did not want to lower her price as her pyjamas were of premium quality and craftsmanship.
Coming across a bazaar in Publika, Ooi decided to take her product offline as well. “The bazaars were actually quite good in the beginning. I met many people and they taught me a lot. It was also easier because people got to touch the fabrics, and they started to trust our brand,” she says.
Ooi then decided to bring some of her production back to Malaysia and started a range of nighties inspired by old-school European princesses. These cotton dresses are ankle-length, with intricate detailing on the sleeves and an adjustable waist. Although she had received her stock of these new night dresses, the rush of Christmas and Chinese New Year bazaars kept her hands full. She managed to send a consignment in December to be sold at a bazaar in KLCC but, now, because of the Movement Control Order, Ooi is unable to do a photoshoot with her new pieces or sell them at bazaars. “On my website, there are mostly pants sets. So, when customers ask about dresses, I tell them about this new collection and send them photos I’ve taken on my phone, for now.”
Although the Covid-19 pandemic has triggered a lot of difficulties, Ooi looks on the bright side. “I don’t have a lot of experience in digital marketing. I have learnt everything on the go … Earlier, I had no time; but, right now, I can focus on the online side of things, which is good.”
Classé Couture is currently a one-woman show, so all the patterns and designs are chosen by Ooi. The brand’s range — for men, women and children — includes pants and shorts sets as well as dresses and sleep masks. “I myself am not a designer and did not study fashion. But I get inspiration from other designs and then make changes according to what I like. I wanted to have my own fabric designs but, for that sort of customisation, there is a minimum quantity for the order and I don’t have enough capital for that yet,” she explains.
Ooi hopes to collaborate with local artists in the future as well as offer customised designs.
For more information or to purchase, visit classecouture.co.
This article first appeared on June 1, 2020 in The Edge Malaysia.