Interview with Jacqueline Cheung

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Founded by Jacqueline Cheung in 1996, Bajoo Boutique has gained momentum in recent years and their creations are now being showcased regionally. Today, Bajoo Boutique has something for everyone including kids. Here we speak to Jacqueline about how she managed to gain success for her business beyond Brunei.

Bajoo recently held a fashion show to showcase their kids clothing line, Tutu Kurung. Fashion shows for kids are virtually unheard of in our country, so how did you come up with the idea? And what’s the buzz about Tutu Kurung?
This is precisely the reason why I did it. No one has ever seen anything like it before. Children’s fashion is a segment of the market that is often forgotten, especially in Brunei. Plus, which parent wouldn’t want to see their daughters in pretty frocks and parading down the catwalk? It’s an experience that both parent and child will not easily forget. And that’s something that I’m grateful for. To have been a part of something that, hopefully years down the road, these kids will look back with fond memories of that fashion show and the brand. We’ve also held kids fashion shows in KL and have been fortunate to get Ainin Batrisya to model for our collection. She’s a seven year old Malaysian actress who bought one of our Tutu Kurungs last year. Her mum contacted me and asked if she could model for us so we scheduled a shoot within two weeks and I flew to KL with the clothes. She was a real pleasure to work with, a natural. Linda Jasmine (famous akademi Fantasia dance choreographer) was also very sweet in allowing her girls Tengku Ratu and Tengku Cleo to model for the show.

Regarding the buzz about the Tutu Kurungs, this is definitely a welcome and pleasant surprise. I came up with this idea two years ago as I knew that little girls loved wearing ballet tutu skirts, so I thought why not combine the baju kurung with them. Then, when I was deciding on a colour palette for the collection, it struck me! When I was growing up, I loved My Little Ponies, so it was a natural progression to combine all these elements that I hoped little girls would like. Fortunately, I was right.

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Photo credit: Rano360

Your clothing lines are currently available in Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, how did you break into the regional market?
Basically social media really got the word around and our Tutu Kurungs went viral. We didn’t produce enough stock last year to meet the demand, but sold the designs all year around in store after Raya as kids used them when attending birthday parties and weddings. We were very blessed in this sense as we didn’t expect any of this.

The positive side of things was our designs were widely accepted to the point they were copied right down to the very colour, but our quality is still better of course. Our  Tutu Kurung collections are launched annually just before Hari Raya and we sell them all year round, so it’s not specifically for Raya. We have also started getting bespoke Made to Measure orders from Malaysia for our ladies collection last year. Ideally our tailors prefer to measure the clients in person for the best possible fit but some of our Malaysian customers contacted us directly and requested for standard UK sizes. This year I’ve put some of our ladies collections and our Tutu Kurungs at a multi label store in Singapore called Enpointe, They are located on North Bridge Road in one of the heritage shop houses. I found them by just asking the locals where they would go to buy their Raya clothes. And turns out a few Malaysian designer friends of mine put their collections there as well, it really is such a small world after all. I went to visit Enpointe, spoke to the boss and got them to keep our Tutu Kurungs for our Singapore customers. At the end of the day I thank my husband for being by my side and supporting me in every way he could, from our successful launch in Brunei to the production of the clothing. He’s the one I bounce ideas off and ask for opinions even though subconsciously, my mind is already pretty much made up.

What are some of the challenges you’ve had to face in taking your brand overseas?
Honestly, there haven’t been many challenges to speak of. I just had to make sure I was able to live up to my end of the bargain by producing the quantity of merchandise in time for the overseas agents. This in itself is a challenge that I face on a daily basis; whether it’s dealing with time frames for my Brunei customer base or otherwise. Delivering on time also means good time management and proper planning. A collection can take up to a year of planning and management to be ready for production. Then you have to manage production, which means making sure that you have everything you need in terms of raw materials and accessories.

Your store has a wonderful selection of both ready-to-wear and made to order clothing. Your designs are also renowned for being able to compliment traditional clothing with a modern touch. Where do you get your creative inspiration from?
I personally wear Baju Kurungs quite often as do most women in Brunei. I go into every design with the mindset of creating something that I would personally be proud to wear. And I think that kind of personal touch and dedication shows in the designs I produce. Of course, I keep in touch with what is going on in the region in terms of trends and shapes. I have to keep things updated but yet practical at the same time.

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Bajoo seems to be a recession proof enterprise. And customers who frequent your shop know that they need to pre-book their Raya orders long before the festive season. What is your secret for success? What can other small business owners learn from you?
There is no secret. It’s the old adage of being dedicated, passionate and committed to your work. The fashion industry is definitely not always glitz and glamour. It’s hard, tiring, non-stop work. Being passionate about something that you do is definitely the key. Passion keeps you going when you are tired or stressed. It keeps burning no matter what. As long as you have a love of what you do, you will never find it a bore or a chore. The store has been fortunate enough to have a very loyal customer base and I have been very blessed to have a supportive husband, family and a hardworking dedicated team who I pretty much treat like family.

This issue is about resilience and overcoming setbacks; as a business person, we all have our share of trials and tribulations, can you share with us your experience in dealing with this?
We recently had our Tutu Kurung designs copied and pirated. There are so called “distributors” all over this country and in Malaysia as well. Some of them pretending to be us and others just blatantly selling their products as the original item. Steps and measures were taken to protect my intellectual property, however, it’s a tough battle to fight especially when pirating is so rampant. However, what is most upsetting is the fact that some of these vendors used the photos of our little models, who worked very hard during photo shoots – they cropped out their faces and replaced them with other faces. This to me is unethical, immoral and unfair to the child. I feel terrible about what has happened and will try and do my best to put a stop to it. However, setbacks and disappointments are a part of everyone’s life. You can’t really avoid it. But it does not matter so much what mistakes we make, what matters more is the lessons that we learn from those mistakes.

This article was published in the Jul-Sept 2016 issue of Inspire Magazine. Download it here!