When Surianie Mohd Tamrin, or Sue, as she is fondly known, began Sueka Sueka, it was completely unplanned. After 10 years in Citibank, she resigned with the hopes of trying something new. “I started buying clothes that I loved, and then materials that I really liked, especially whenever I travelled. With these materials, I made four or five pieces, and that’s how I started,” she says.
Sueka Sueka — a play on Sue’s name and suka, the Malay word for 'like' — was officially launched in March 2013 with a small collection of designs. As the name suggests, the designs were based on what Sue liked. “I wanted something special but with a bit of traditional look. It’s minimal but they are clothes that I can wear over and over. Something comfortable.”
Apart from minimalist designs with traditional silhouettes or elements, what makes Sue’s creations really unique are the fabrics that she uses. “I have a love for natural organic fabrics. Most of our fabrics are linens sourced from all over the world … We have premium linen, 100% linen, cotton linen and all that. We also have a few batik pieces,” she says. In fact, Sueka Sueka’s best-selling items are the linen kaftan tops, which customers love for their versatility, comfort and effortlessness, and the batik pencil skirts that are perfect for any occasion. The brand’s clothes are sold as separates, giving shoppers the chance to decide if they want a set or to mix and match.
As Sue was new to running a business, she came across a few hurdles. Apart from figuring out how to sell her items on Instagram and raising capital, she was troubled by copycats. When trying to explore new tailors to expand production, she found her best-selling linen kaftan top being reproduced by others for sale. “A lot of people tried to recreate it, but the only thing that they couldn’t get was the same quality. They wanted to sell it cheaper than my price and used other materials, so it’s not quite the same. It’s good to be inspired, but when you copy the design itself, it makes it a bit difficult for us,” Sue explains.
Without any background in fashion, she started off with designs she knew would look good, slowly branched off into different colourways, and then began tweaking design elements. Her more recent creations are in a sense modest wear, but she attests to the fact that they are oversized. Often inspired by international brands, she especially enjoys introducing new colour variations for her collections, while focusing on high-quality fabrics.
Sue launched her website a few years after starting her venture and in October 2019, opened a bricks-and-mortar store in Mahsa Avenue. It has been about seven years since Sueka Sueka’s inception, and Sue has learnt so much from her business.
“You have to know how to sustain, and not necessarily make a lot of money. I don’t spend enough on marketing, which I think is my weakness. But I also try not to spend so much and I have realised that’s also the reason I’m still here. I’ve learnt how to keep the capital rolling,” she says.
While she strives to release a few new collections each year, she pays attention to customer feedback and sales to see if her designs resonate with people. “My goal is to have a few designs or a few launches per year but sometimes, the inspiration doesn’t come. When you force a design it doesn’t do well. You have to strike a balance,” she notes.
While she handles most aspects of her business solo, Sue’s items are stitched by a local tailor. “He has an eye for design, so we discuss my creations together. And when I send them to him, he gives his opinions and sees whether parts of it should be longer or shorter, or if it needs any other adjustments,” she says.
In the last few years, she wanted to upscale her production, and looked to manufacturers in China. This did not go well, so she had to refocus on her local production. With Covid-19 and the ensuing lockdown, that ended up being a blessing in disguise. “I think that is my advantage: a local tailor that can cater for my needs. If I want to have more pieces, he can do it and if I have custom orders — some of my customers request a specific length or they want pieces that are bigger, smaller or shorter and all that — we can do that too. It helps in that sense,” she explains.
While the future remains murky, Sue has big dreams for Sueka Sueka. She still wants to upscale her production, but remains focused on maintaining her pace and sustaining her business. The second Movement Control Order means that her store is shut and the shoot for her new video promotion (which was scheduled for end-January) has been postponed. But Sueka Sueka still has stocks of new designs ready to be launched. Customers can also look forward to a colourful new Raya collection, to be released when the time is right.
This article first appeared on Jan 25, 2021 in The Edge Malaysia.