What started out as a pastime has become the pride and joy of Naomi Wong, who was among the many affected by retrenchment due to the pandemic.
Wong, who has a background in science, was working in telecommunications in Melbourne when the coronavirus struck. After much thought and consideration, she decided to start a small enterprise called Tangan Jewellery, selling unique colourful earrings on Instagram in July last year. She officially launched the website a month after that.
Wong’s first collection was inspired by an amalgamation of her interest in modern arts and Australians’ fascination with chunky, quirky accessories.
“I like geometric patterns such as squares and circles. So, I would make earrings with designs like circle within circle, square within square, triangle within triangle or a combination of those shapes,” says Wong, who has since returned to Malaysia.
Seeing a lot of those earrings being sold at markets, she wanted to try making her own. “I had to do it for about 10 times before I could make earrings that looked presentable,” she laughs, adding that polymer clay can be very challenging to handle as it needs the right temperature and thickness to avoid cracking.
Different types of polymer clay can be obtained from different regions, and Wong has tried those from Thailand, Germany and the US. “That from Thailand was rather crumbly and not suitable for jewellery. Currently, I use high-quality polymer clay, which I source from Germany and the US.”
It was a challenge for Wong to start her journey in business, especially during the pandemic, as she could not market her products at bazaars or fairs.
“The real challenge was to put my business online and engage with the audience there. I also had to research the jewellery market and learn about the designs and patterns people were interested in.”
Wong reached out to communities of small businesses on Facebook to learn to navigate the territory; doing so helped her tremendously in overcoming her worries as a newcomer in the industry.
She also struggled with building a website for Tangan Jewellery, owing to her limited knowledge on the matter. “I didn’t have the budget to spend on the website when I started, so it was very challenging to figure it out on my own. Now, if I encounter any problem with coding and such, I will engage an expert to help me.”
When Wong first started, she would make a pair of earrings and put it online to see whether anyone would be interested in buying them. “I don’t produce my jewellery in large quantities so that I don’t waste resources,” she explains.
Wong releases her collections in batches. Once they are sold out, customers are welcome to place orders for any designs available on Tangan Jewellery’s website.
Besides geometric designs, many of the brand’s earrings are inspired by flowers. “Whenever I see a flower, I get inspired to translate it into something I could accessorise myself with. My first floral earrings were actually the hibiscus — our national flower — because I was thinking of home, as I was away in Australia.”
After experimenting with geometric and floral patterns in the early stage of the business, Wong expanded Tangan Jewellery’s range of earrings with a mother-of-pearl collection. The glossy and three-dimensional earrings are inspired by mother-of-pearl and come in combinations of pink, blue, silver, grey and white.
“We are approaching the season of gifting, so I wanted to come up with something different. As this collection is nothing like the previous ones, which had no glossy effect, I spent a good amount of time adjusting the formula so they look exquisite and not plastic-like,” she says.
Tangan Jewellery’s name has often raised the inevitable question as to why the brand specialises in earrings and not bracelets or rings, since tangan means “hand” in Malay. “I envisioned my brand as people-centred. In Malay, buatan tangan means ‘handmade’, and buah tangan means ‘gift’. So, the idea of people buying my work for themselves or to give to their loved ones is endearing. Tangan itself is a short and simple word.”
Being a small business owner herself, Wong believes it is important to show her support for local small business communities while being aware of the environment. She buys materials for the packaging, such as rubber stamps for Tangan Jewellery’s logo, from local businesses. In addition, she uses honeycomb paper to replace bubble wrap and shreds old books to help secure the packaging.
Wong’s wish is for Tangan Jewellery to spread its wings globally. “I hope to incorporate designs that have Malaysian elements because that’s how I can showcase our country to the world.” She also wants to explore retail opportunities with overseas brands and boutiques.
While she receives help from her mother and husband to oversee the business for now, her goal is to grow Tangan Jewellery to the point that she can help the community by employing people to work with her.
This article first appeared on Nov 22, 2021 in The Edge Malaysia.