Sasha Rowena

Updated: 18 May 2011
Sasha Rowena

The young designer takes us through her story of how she went from potential lawyer to designing her own handbags. By Emma Chong

How did it all start?
It was a fluke. Actually I graduated in law, did my Bar, then I worked with a fashion house and discovered that fashion is fun. So that was my learning ground. After that I decided to design bags for myself, and my friends saw me wearing the bags – that’s why I said it was a fluke, because I had no intention of selling the bags or anything.

So when I was discovered in the Jendela CSR program, they gave me a timeline to complete X amount of bags and they said they wanted to launch it. I agreed, and then it took off from there. On the launch day it was a really really bad date. November, Friday 13, 2009; but the success was overwhelming on that day. I didn’t expect it to do so well – it boosted my confidence and I just continued to pursue from there. We had a Langkawi launch at the Four Seasons, which did really well with the foreigners, so I thought if the foreigners could appreciate a Malaysian product, why not continue, right? My main concern and what I’m trying to put across is that I think Malaysians should appreciate Malaysian-made products more. Most of my clientele are foreigners. And also a lot of Malaysian bags are monotonous – a lot of blacks and browns, they’re very safe. So that’s why mine are electric blue, orange.

Do you design everything yourself?
Yes, I do.

Was it something you always wanted to do?
No, but now I really want to keep doing it. I wouldn’t do anything else for the world. I really love my job. I wanted to be a doctor. Then I was scared of blood, so I went into law. Then I did fashion and decided that was so much better.

Will you ever go back to law?
[Shakes head]. No. Maybe a corporate lawyer. But to me it’s a pretty dull profession. But I do my own contracts now, I save a lot of money. [Laughs].

Are you planning to go international?
We’ve had offers, however I want to have a stronghold in my own country first, I want to create awareness in my own country. We’ve had offers from London, Moscow and South Africa so far, they really love the bags, but the issue for export now would be delivery time. Whether we could deliver big bulk on time and whether there’s little errors, we’d have to pull everything back right? Of course I want to make sure everything’s flawless, so I’m going to give it maybe another year, and then I’ll start exporting since I already have the demand. It came in so early. But everyone grows at their own pace, I’m not in a race to say 'oh I conquered this country first'. As long as the quality and the design is there. Every brand is different.

What do you think of the local designer scene in Malaysia?
I think it’s getting a lot better. Even the consumers are getting very fashion-savvy. The older ones still tend to want to stick to the Birkins and the Chanels but a lot of the younger ones support me. I even have ministers and royalty buying my bags. Recently one of the minister’s daughters tweeted saying: Oh my mum just came back with a Sasha Rowena bag, which was the wayang kulit one. I was really proud to hear that. I had the honour of giving Datin Seri Rosmah a handbag as well, so it’s been good.

Celeb Chic in Ash GreyCeleb Chic in Ash Grey, RM2,500. 

Are you going to go into anything different?
I am going into clothes. It’ll be everything below maybe RM200 or RM300. I’m hoping to launch in November and I also have an environmentally friendly brand, moo-ve (storage line made out of upcycled magazine paper). It’s been flying off the shelf, so that’s my contribution to the environment.

What’s been your biggest challenge so far?
I think a designer’s biggest challenge is not to make the product but get your product out there and get people to believe in it. It’s about creating value in your product. The value in my bags is that you’re supporting local culture and you fusion it with Western motifs and styles. There’s a nationalistic sentiment there when you purchase the bag. You’re not buying a Gucci or Prada, you’re buying your own Malaysia’s luxury products. I’m the first in Malaysia to do the wayang kulit on bags. You won’t find it anywhere else, it’s patented under me.

Are there any designers you’d like to work with?
Datuk Jimmy Choo. He’s always been my icon – because he’s Malaysian and started from humble beginnings. I would love to work with him. Or Kimmora Lee Simmons – she’s so out there and fabulous.

Who would you most like to design a bag for?
My wayang kulit stuff would really suit Nicole Richie or Sienna Miller.

If you could change one thing about Malaysian fashion what would it be?
I think there should be less of the ‘oh he’s doing that, so I should do that too’. That kind of attitude. Because I noticed a lot of them are like – if someone’s doing weddings then your next door neighbour is doing weddings as well, and the trend goes everybody’s doing weddings. You have to break out of the box and do something different. For example my wayang kulit one, not many people believed in it at first. They were like: oh you’re doing Malaysian culture, no one’s going to buy it, but it’s done really well and I actually have to order more because it’s out of stock. Designers should believe in what they really like and stick to it and as time goes by, people will believe in you because you believe in your product.

Sasha Rowena bags are available at Jendela KL, Starhill Gallery (03 2144 9189/www.jendela-kl.com) and online at www.sasharowena.com.