TasBijoux: The bespoke handbag atelier

TasBijoux’s handmade leather bags represent the best of local design know-how, coupled with Italian craftsmanship.

The women’s accessory market in Malaysia is not an easy one to penetrate, especially with so many options readily available for the stylish and discerning shopper. So, any entrepreneur hoping to grab a piece of the pie has a huge challenge ahead. Apart from creating a compelling product, you would have to correctly pin down your target market and wade through all your competitors’ messaging in order to reach the consumers effectively.

A qualified architect with experience in both fashion photography and branding, Nur Zalikha Mohd Sabri was more equipped than most people intending to start out in the accessory business. She also had a solid business idea in mind.

“When I was growing up, many of the girls around me owned a lot of designer bags, which many, myself included, couldn’t necessarily afford. But I had an eye for style and quality, though. So, my idea was always to offer an alternative that didn’t try to compete with the designer bag market but to complement it,” she says.

Despite her creative tendencies, Nur Zalikha — who was a smart, straight-A student in school — was compelled to pursue something more serious in university. She obeyed her father’s instruction and opted for the design-driven discipline of architecture, and practised it happily for a few years. It was when she was pregnant with her first child that she started looking for an option that was less stressful — and turned, naturally, to her first love of bags.

The Warisan Emas collection, a tribute to the art of Tekad Perak

In 2013, she started TasBijoux as a part-time enterprise, based on the idea that had struck her all those years ago. “I was so surprised, because my bags were such a hit,” she laughs.

“I kept selling out of the few pieces I made, which made me consider doing it full time. I could finally live out my childhood dream.”

The early days were not all easy though, as she juggled caring for her newborn and nurturing her burgeoning passion project.

It would be some time before TasBijoux became Nur Zalikha’s full-time job, by which time she really had her ducks in a row. “All my bags are made in Italy, because that is where the best leather is from and, of course, where bag-making is a true art form. I went there, established contact with some of the leather suppliers and craftspeople, and attended a whole lot of expos and conferences because I had to really know what I was doing and, of course, make sure I had all the right contacts.”

Today, TasBijoux bags are hand-made by craftspeople in Florence and Budapest, although the design process is in Kuala Lumpur — Nur Zalikha operates out of a bright and cosy space in Taman Tun Dr Ismail, which also serves as a showroom for her creations.

Over time, she also refined her design process. Nur Zalikha started out with basic designs and ideas that had already proved popular — she did not want to reinvent the wheel so early on, choosing instead to test the market first. Her bet paid off as customers grew to appreciate her promise of high-quality materials and flawless craftsmanship, and were willing to forgo the fact that the design of the bags themselves was nothing particularly innovative yet.

Emboldened by her initial success and experience, Nur Zalikha has since become more creative with the designs. “I feel confident enough now,” she admits. “I also know more about the construction of each bag and, of course, what my customers like and don’t like. In that way, the design process is also more instinctive.”

Some of TasBijoux’s most beautiful bags are the ones reflective of Malaysia — Songket Medley features the Terengganu gold-threaded silk fabric, which is sometimes even embellished with delicate beadwork, combined with ultra-soft leather panelling while Warisan Emas pays tribute to the tekat art of gold embroidery from Perak, which is set against a backdrop of modern silhouettes. The Warisan Emas line is new and unique, showcasing the rarely seen skill of tekat embroidery with famously traditional imagery like kerawang paku pakis and awan larat.

The Songket Medley collection

Daily use tote bags and chevron-quilted purses start at RM500 while the Songket Medley and Warisan Emas bags are between RM690 to RM950. Larger bags or those that employ more exotic materials run up to about RM1,500. TasBijoux has both a pret-a-porter selection as well as a bespoke range, where Nur Zalikha herself will create personalised pieces for clients based on their ideas — this is hugely popular for hantaran presents as well as ahead of festive seasons.

“I like this part of the business because I have the chance to educate the customer on why handmade bags take so long to make and cost so much — good quality comes at a price, as does the kind of premium craftsmanship we insist on,” Nur Zalikha says, running her fingers affectionately over one of the beaded songket bags that sit before us.

“I also think this is why we have so many repeat customers — people like the assurance of quality and the personalised service.”

This year has been one of introspection for Nur Zalikha. “I really want to sit and think about TasBijoux’s image and sort of find myself in between all of it. That will better equip me to handle next year, which is when I hope to create more products. I want to put more of me into the brand, but I have to find me first,” she laughs. Till then, TasBijoux’s promise of flawless craftsmanship, premium materials and respectful nod to history and heritage is quite enough to keep her customers coming back for more.

To start shopping or for a consultation on a personalised bag, visit shop.tasbijoux.com.

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