Aw Sim Li and Heidi Aw were working at a fast-moving consumer goods company and a bank respectively when they decided to set up something of their own, to explore opportunities their jobs did not offer.
The siblings eventually launched Livlola, an activewear label that speaks of their interests and represents the values they stand for. A portmanteau of the words “live” and “Lola”, representing a strong and confident girl, the brand was created to serve a specific market. “Five years ago, people didn’t really talk about self-love and self-confidence. With this business, we hope to inspire and encourage women from all walks of life to be confident by offering them products that can lift their spirits.”
They have always been passionate about a healthy lifestyle. “Since we were young, mum was always educating us on healthy eating. She would say cordial drinks were not good for us because they contained too much sugar, and blueberries are good for your eyes, stuff like that. We are also very active ourselves,” says Sim Li.
Established in 2016, Livlola started by selling handbags and accessories before switching direction in 2019 to offer a variety of fitness essentials, including sports bags, tops, shorts, leggings and loungewear. “We started designing a fitness bag, called Lakota, made entirely of vegan leather. At the time, a lot of brands were still using real leather, and we wanted to be kind to the environment,” says Heidi.
“Women typically own five or more bags. It’s the same with clothes. Eventually, some of these will go to waste. The plan came about from the realisation that unwanted apparel tends to create a lot of trash in the environment. The thing we always mention to customers is that our products are built to last. When you buy one piece, you can wear it for more than a year if you take care of it well.”
Besides using eco-friendly materials, the duo brought change to fitness fashion by introducing chic and stylish sports bags in bright and pastel colours. These bags come with adjustable straps at the bottom to hold a yoga mat.
“It was eye-catching and different from what was already on the market, which were mostly in black, grey or dark blue. Customers were excited about this and eager to purchase. They asked if we could also make colourful apparel to match the bags. And we thought, why not?”
However, coming up with an idea is undoubtedly easier than executing it. Sim Li and Heidi took some time to produce apparel because at the time, the requisite fabric were still costly. “We were considering the capital limitation as well. Last year, the material and manufacturing costs decreased a little,” says Heidi. “Eco fabric is still expensive but over time, I believe it will be more affordable,” adds Sim Li.
Livlola partners suppliers in China — “They adhere to strict sustainable standards” — to source for fabrics before coming up with designs that are not already on the market. “Something more fun, chic and feminine,” says Heidi.
The process of finding the right manufacturers that could cater to their needs — and provide the best eco-friendly materials suitable for workout apparel — was affected by Covid-19 restrictions, which further delayed their work. “We even sampled clothes that couldn’t stretch, which were not great because we needed our products to be comfortable since we move a lot in them. It was really back and forth between us and our suppliers,” she adds.
After a long, hard wait, the label released two sustainable collections this year, with the latest featuring a combination of seven bright and dark shades, including Boysenberry, Mulled Wine, Steel Blue, Mahogany and Saturn. The bras, leggings and tops are crafted from a blend of recycled nylon and spandex. The recycled nylon is prosessed and produced from post-industrial waste fibres and post-consumer fishing nets.
The response of existing customers, who had expected the products years ago, was positive. While these collections are priced 40% higher than others in their offerings, people are willing to spend slightly more because they want to be part of Livlola’s journey towards sustainability, the sisters divulge.
For every order placed, the brand grants a portion of the profits to 8 Billion Trees, an organisation that helps heal the Amazon rainforest and save endangered wildlife by planting trees in the jungle. “We try our best to contribute however we can, based on our capacity. We don’t have to convert our whole store just yet, it’s a work in progress,” says Sim Li.
When it comes to design, the siblings do not discount comfort and practicality. They take into consideration what customers want. “Their taste now is different from what they wanted in 2019. L-sized people would usually opt for safer colours. However, when we launched bright shades this year, they asked if we could make more L and XL sizes because they sold out really fast,” says Heidi.
Having a large base of followers on Instagram helps the sisters achieve their goal. They maintain a strong relationship with customers by building a trustworthy community. “We don’t put on a customer service face. We talk to our customers like friends and recommend clothes that will look good on them. It makes them feel comfortable talking to us. We’re sisters, so the way we communicate with our community is very family-like,” says Sim Li.
Selling clothes online has its cons, one of which is that customers cannot be certain about the sizing. The pair joins pop-up stores so patrons can see, feel and try the apparel. Besides working to expand the brand’s physical presence across Malaysia and Brunei, they are considering requests to make sports clothes for men. “It is something to think about, as our identity has always been women. But we do get feedback from men and may explore that area as well,” says Heidi.
This article first appeared on Dec 19, 2022 in The Edge Malaysia.