Mother-and-daughter team adds new twist to Japanese knot bag

Accessory brand Eunike offers creative tote bags that can be used for any occasion.

The bags attracted people from different backgrounds (All photos: Eunike)

Norulazami Abu Bakar has a hobby of buying and collecting fabrics. An accomplished seamstress,  she intended to start an apparel business with her daughter Nurshashanayli Shahrir (affectionately known as Nayli) after she retired as supply chain director at Tyson Foods. But the pair had to reconsider their plans once they noticed there was already a plethora of local clothing brands out there.

“We realised there were too many businesses selling clothes, so we thought we could venture into something else,” says Norulazami.

Nayli chimes in: “I did some research on the internet and came across Japanese knot bags. I found it very interesting and it was also not widely popular in Malaysia yet. So, I told Mum and she said we could give it a try.”

Japanese knot bags are totes distinguished by their different lengths of handles. They are designed such that the long handle goes through the short one to close the top of the bag. The wearer can style the accessory like a wristlet.

As the pair did not have physical references and relied on online sources, there was limited information about the kind of materials to use, the style to go for and the sizes of the bags. “In the early days, it involved doing a lot of prototypes. We tried making different sizes for the bags and sought feedback from family and friends,” Norulazami says.

They received different responses — some loved bigger bags, others preferred smaller ones. They settled for knot bags in A4 size (21 x 30cm) and launched Eunike (pronounced “unique”) last September.


Norulazami and her daughter Nurshashanayli

The label got off to a good start. It attracted people from different backgrounds. “We were quite surprised because our customers were not just women; men also acquired the products. Our Chinese and Indian friends were very supportive of our business.” This gave them the assurance that the venture could move further and, for that reason, Nayli decided to focus on it full time after completing her degree.

Their customer base in the beginning comprised mostly friends and family. After some time, they decided it was time to reach out to more people. “From their support, we understood that our products were good enough to market. After all, they could only buy so much.”

As the mother-daughter team focuses only on establishing the brand’s presence on Instagram, they used the ads feature on the platform to promote Eunike and inspire sales, especially among the local market. “We spent some money on ads and it was good for our business, as more people began to follow us. It helped build trust and confidence among potential buyers to try our products.”

Customers use the knot bag for different purposes. Office workers find it convenient to keep their purse and phone while out for lunch. Some use it to carry their daily essentials and male clients often store their chargers, adapters and cables in the tote. “For such a small bag, we are pleased to know it can be beneficial in many ways.”

For now, they are sticking to just one size but in a variety of colours and patterns. Every month, they will release three collections — plain, floral and abstract. Every design will have 25 to 35 pieces.

As a graphic design graduate, Nayli is the main force behind the creative direction of the brand. She is in charge of choosing the designs and shades for each collection. Norulazami manages the supply chain, such as sourcing for the materials.


Every month, the brand will release three collections — plain, floral and abstract

When it comes to product manufacturing, they work hand in hand in a small space at home equipped with the machines and tools needed to carry out their work. Nayli cuts the fabrics, and Norulazami sews the pieces together.

Although the latter has had experience with sewing since she was young, she had to learn new techniques and stitches that suited her products. “This bag is a challenge because we are using canvas lining. We have to carefully match the outer and inner layers so they sit nicely together,” says Norulazami.

The materials used also affect production. Fabrics that have soft and smooth texture such as silk and satin are unsuitable. “We have experimented with different kinds of materials and we were not able to reach the quality and workmanship that we want with most of them. Right now, we opt for cotton-blend fabric.”

Eunike sells ready-stock products, as they do not have the capacity to take custom orders. Because of limited supply, one customer can buy only up to five pieces per pattern. “It is certainly nice to sell out fast, but we also want to make sure more people can purchase and use our knot bags,” says Nayli.

Norulazami and Nayli plan to expand their offerings when they are more confident about their techniques and skills, as well as the brand’s position in the market. Leather and embossed fabrics are among the materials they are looking to incorporate into their premium collections in the future.

This article first appeared on June 12, 2023 in The Edge Malaysia. 


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