armed with passion, creative streaks and deft hands, these two ladies create beautiful carrywear, jewellery, bath and beauty products.
a movie lasts, on average, two hours at the cinemas but putting the footages together in a seamless, cohesive flow is a far more laborious and time-consuming process. so you would think that after a full day at work, film editor lynn wong wants nothing more than to put her feet up and rest her eyes. instead, she finds relaxation in threading needles through fabric and turning them into bags, pouches and gadget cases of various designs.
hers is not a newfound skill or passion; her late mother was a home economics teacher who taught her all the basics of sewing, among other handiwork skills. instead of shopping off the racks, her mum would make her the clothes she liked. in turn, lynn sewed little dresses for her barbie dolls.
“my love for crafting came from my mum,” lynn revealed, “while my sense of curiosity was inherited from my father, who was a school vice-principal and had a passion for science.” sewing, crafting and creating are thus practically second nature to lynn, who had previously co-founded we made this, selling a variety of handmade products that included woodwork and electrical items. the partnership fell through but lynn continued producing her handiwork, expanding her range to include stuffed sock animals and hand-sewn notebooks.
when she first started, lynn was adamant that every single stitch was sewn on by hand. “for two years, my hands were constantly covered by callouses and broken skin! everyone told me to get a sewing machine,” she recalled. it wasn’t until she attended a bag-making class, at her brother’s request because he wanted her to make him a particular bag, that she began to see the benefits of using a machine and so she invested in one two years ago.
selling her wares at crafty by markets at jaya one, which specialised in handmade goods, lynn realised that there was a market out there for her creations. with the support of friends and colleagues who had long been at the receiving end of her sewing projects, she launched hellopfft last year. the name is a flippant expression that doesn’t denote anything in particular but can mean anything.
in a way, it also reflects her repertoire – from coin pouches to ipad cases, organiser sleeves to satchels, the sky is the limit where hellopfft’s offerings are concerned. a quick browse through her collection reveals lynn’s versatility and the brand’s variety: fabrics range from floral prints in pastels to geometric patterns in colours that pop; cotton might be paired with pu leather; shapes run the gamut from regular rectangles to irregular silhouettes.
there is no definitive look to her products, but lynn’s signature is evident in the quality of her workmanship. every piece is padded with batting, a spongey cotton that makes the cloth more sturdy, enabling the designs to hold their shapes well. you won’t find any flimsy, floppy panels in any of her bags. lynn has also recently started making dreamcatchers in a variety of colours, embellished with beads, feather and lace.
besides planned designs, hellopfft takes on custom orders and lynn makes it a point to deliver a piece within two weeks. customers can choose from her stash of fabrics – she buys them in small portions so as not to saturate the selection – or they can source their own.
shelby kho was one of such customer; she had ordered a bespoke piece from lynn for her personal use, and later saw an opportunity for the two to collaborate via the former’s skincare and beauty products brand, bisou bon bon.
a doctor by training, it was during her housemanship at the hospital besar teluk intan in perak about five years ago that shelby kickstarted the bisou brand. “i was attached to the surgical unit and based in the or (operating room), where the temperature is always kept low because of the medical instruments. my skin suffered greatly from the constant cold air, my lips were always cracked,” shelby recalled. generic brands did little to soothe her problems and on top of that, she has sensitive skin.
failing to find a solution at the stores, she decided to make her own, using all natural ingredients. “i was also inspired by a specialist at the hospital, who was an advocate of natural cures such as using manuka honey to treat foot injuries and wounds among diabetic patients. i realised the benefits of manuka and became a believer.”
her lip balm – enriched with olive oil, shea butter, bee’s wax, manuka honey and essential oils – worked like a charm, and shelby started giving them out to her colleagues who suggested that she should sell them. shelbystarted offering her lip balms through her blog before taking a stab at the flea markets, after moving back to kuala lumpur upon completing her housemanship.
like lynn, she too found the markets at jaya one to be greatly encouraging and set about establishing her brand. a francophile at heart, shelby picked a french moniker (bisou bon bon means ‘kiss’ and ‘candy’) and decided on a candy-esque packaging that was inspired by macarons maker and beauty house laduree. she tests all the products on herself before releasing them, and aims to make everything as skin-friendly as possible – although, those with sensitive skin should always do a patch test first.
a one-woman show, shelby takes care of every single detail herself, from the label design to copywriting product descriptions, and of course, the production itself. so much so, bisou has become a full-time endeavour while she locums at night at selected clinics.
from that one lip balm, bisou bon bon is now 11-product strong, its repertoire extended to bath salts, body scrubs, argan oil, solid perfumes, inhalation balms and hair spritzers. the range grows according to shelby’s needs as well as those of her customers. she uses only natural produce, sourcing them from local companies or directly from farmers, making it a point to support small and independent companies. the bee’s wax that features in many of her products, for example, comes from a third-generation bee keeper in the usa.
bisou’s prices, between rm10 and rm55, belie the quality of what goes into the products. “it may not make much economic sense, but i wanted to keep the pricing reasonable so that everyone has the opportunity to enjoy the products,” shelby explained, “goodness can be for everyone.”
indeed, many have found her products to deliver on their promises where store-bought brands failed. her customers’ feedback is what keeps shelby going. “one customer told me my shh-sleep balm worked so well that she didn’t wake up in time to send her children to school!” shelby shared, while an office executive found her lemongrass-scented hair spritzer so refreshing that she would spray it onto her hair, not to detangle her tresses but to inhale the aroma and keep herself awake after lunch.
men too, often find their way to her stall whenever she sets up shop at bazaars and markets but are often shy about buying. “i do offer products that are suitable for men as well, but as the packaging is so girly, it’s understandable that they find it awkward to be seen shopping bisou bon bon,” shelby revealed, and related how a young man covered his face with his hands while handing over money and indicating which product he wanted! shelby is looking at revamping her brand to make it appear more ‘grown up’ and gender friendly.
since last year, she has also been focusing on a jewellery line she named shelbijou. “i suffered a miscarriage in april... i wanted to take a break from bisou bon bon. i had been making jewellery pieces for myself and friends and family for a while before that, and would sometimes slip a complimentary item into bisou packages for customers. creating shelbijou was exactly what i needed at the time,” said shelby.
while the brand may have been born out of sadness, the range is anything but. from bracelets to earrings, necklaces to rings, the pieces carry simple designs that are highlighted by exquisite details. take the ‘debbie teoh’ earrings, for example, which feature vintage ceramic nyonya trinkets that shelby chanced upon in melaka and decided to name after the renowned peranakan chef.
a stunning pink seashell, sourced from shelby’s holiday to the bahamas, was turned into a pendant that adorns a simple gold chain. she also favours semi-precious crystals and tries to up-cycle vintage goods whenever possible, such as her personal collection of ceramic animal figurines. transformed into pendants, they make for striking fashion statements that will brighten up any outfit.
if you think shelby has her hands full, she is also pursuing a master’s degree in aesthetics and anti-ageing at ucsi university, which will certainly benefit bisou bon bon’s product development as she continues to grow the brand. another thing that her regular customers know to look forward to is her special kits on festive occasions such as chinese new year, valentine’s day and christmas.
last yuletide, shelby and lynn teamed up to produce the santarina sos kit, containing party essentials and emergency helpers the likes of bisou bon bon’s lip balm (flavoured with candy cane, a seasonal special), solid perfume, first aid salve, dental floss, bandage, hair clip and safety pins all stored in a handmade envelope pouch by hellopfft, made of snazzy printed fabrics in bright red and apple green that were reflective of the occasion.
the limited edition kit was a beautiful keepsake that not only fused form and function but also captured the artistry of two artisanal home-grown labels in one nifty, practical package.