Feel-good fashion from trio of edgy new designers lifts gloomy mood spawned by the ongoing pandemic

THREE progressive Malaysian fashion labels – Caro Chia, SHAOFEN and Behati – are evolving alongside the unpredictable fashion landscape amid the global Covid crisis.

Caro launched her namesake label last year to explore contemporary fashion through the lens of abstract art. She incorporates a variety of tactile materials into her designs and cuts them into uncertain shapes, which are then layered to create wearable art. She also brings experimental sculptures that simultaneously inform and complement her clothes.

Gender-fluid design label SHAOFEN on the other hand, has made its name synonymous with timeless and sustainable wardrobe essentials that eschew trends. Since establishing the label in late 2019, Seah Shao Fen designs timeless clothes without hassle for everyday life with minimalist yet versatile pieces (to challenge fashion’s obsession for newness). The quality is in the details, even the simplest designs are crafted to the highest quality that are able to sustain wear and tear, and still look polished.

When one thinks of Behati, its viral oversized Baju Melayu naturally comes to mind. The brand’s signature look received mixed reviews during its release in 2019. Some people loved it while others disliked it. Since then, Behati has gained cult status with a loyal following that continues to cheer creative director Kel Wen On.

The spirit of Malaysian cultural identity and heritage runs high in Behati. It is Kel Wen’s mission to reimagine traditional forms into day wear through contemporary and modern shirting designs.

Here, the fashion designers reveal how they are coping with the changes as they reconsider their business model.

$!Caro Chia BARP 2021 collection.

Considering fluctuating consumer behaviours during the pandemic, how is your brand adapting to stay afloat?

Caro: I would say the most challenging aspect is sourcing and production. However, the lucky thing is that Caro Chia is a brand shaped by discerning aesthetics and style, and it has captured the attention of people outside Malaysia, which has helped to sustain the brand during the pandemic.

Shao Fen: The brand made the effort to communicate with our customers via private messages to gain feedback through surveys as simple as through a poll. Like any human relationship, communication is key, so asking the consumers directly has contributed a little to decision-making on my next steps.

Kel Wen: In terms of style, we are adapting to more relaxed clothing that people are wearing today, which will be released in our upcoming collection. The looks are still fun and colourful, with comfortable silhouettes made of thinner fabrics. I believe it is important to let people feel hopeful, with what they wear daily.


What does the role of a fashion designer mean to you?

Caro: The ongoing pandemic has kept our minds thinking and worrying a lot more than ever, and I realised that everything has been moving at a much slower pace. I don’t think a designer could make any contribution worthwhile to the state of the global crisis, nor the state of the fashion industry but I believe in being patient until the world gets better.

Shao Fen: I think as a creative, my reaction to this whole situation is reflected and recorded through my designs which are essentially my pathway to relieve whatever emotions I’m feeling.

Kel Wen: I take it as a challenge by designing with the times, which includes people’s changing lifestyles. Comfort was never something that I focused on in my designs but I think it is so important and I have come to appreciate comfort in fashion a lot more now. It has changed my perspective towards fashion tremendously, for the better.

$!Behati Merdeka 2020 collection.

Was there anything good that has happened with the brand since the pandemic?

Caro: The good thing during this period of lockdown is perhaps it is the most opportune time to rethink the identity of the brand and its direction going forward.

Shao Fen: Realisation on what should be prioritised without getting carried away too quickly. It could’ve been disastrous too, to jump straight into too many things at once.

Kel Wen: Behati has been going viral online quite actively during this pandemic but I will say dressing Datuk Siti Nurhaliza has been the greatest achievement for Behati so far. We custom-designed a total of six looks for two of her music videos, her official calendar and her pregnancy photo shoot. That was very memorable.