Omotenashi and The Rise of Malaysia's Homegrown Brands

Isetan Front.JPG

ISETAN currently houses the works of eight
Malaysian-bred fashion brand which are spread across all three branches - these include Mimpikita, Variante, Abyjane, Maarimaia, Alia B., Woo by Fiziwoo, Zsay, MagLifestyle.

Gone were the days when buying clothes bi-annually from Jusco was enough.

From undergarments to sports shoes, in the past, we all relied on malls and extinct department stores for our fashion fix. Of course, the atas folks didn’t have to, they’d be repping international brands only available to us by proxy via movies like Pretty Woman and Clueless.

Over time, globalization hit us like a tonne of bricks - international brands like Forever 21 and H&M influenced a more western style aesthetic, therefore leaving us with an “international uniform brand identity” - that’s fancy talk for everyone ends up wearing the same thing. More than ever, many of us find ourselves shuffling through large fashion chains in pursuit of fashion individuality. And with materialism at an all time high, department stores don’t frequent on our go-to’s.

I do however recall a Japanese department store whose continuous battle for fashion relevance, paid off. One word, three syllables: ISETAN. 


Three branches later, the leading department store speaks to us about how 2016 proved to be momentous as it was when ISETAN began placing importance on homegrown fashion brands. This has not only set them apart from other struggling-to-survive superstores, but it has help serve as a playground for the ambitious, creative, and the fashionable of Malaysia. ISETAN currently houses the works of eight Malaysian-bred fashion brands which are spread across all three branches - these include Mimpikita, Variante, Abyjane, Maarimaia, Alia B., Woo by Fiziwoo, Zsay, MagLifestyle.

ISETAN merchandiser of 9 years Hayley Chong confirms that the industry is riddled with challenges but what has always kept consumers coming back is the unique and Japanese hospitality their stores offer.


“We call this omotenashi - this type of hospitality is what sets us apart from other competitors,” SAID HAILEY CHONG


But hospitality doesn’t just mean making consumers feel all warm and fuzzy. For merchandisers alike Hayley, understanding the store’s demographic and consumer wants and needs fall under hospitality. In brief, her job description is beyond looking at trends but also customising each store’s inventories to fulfill consumer satisfaction - for every one of their store’s demographic which vary according to outlets, how intense!

“What’s popular in ISETAN differs from branch to branch, for the KLCC branch we cater more towards our Malay customers who have a preference for local power brands like Mimpikita, Alia B., and Variante.” But it doesn’t always work this way for all 3 stores, for ISETAN Japan located at Bukit Bintang, it’s become clear to the team the difference in demographic. Hayley adds, “brands like Abyjane, MagLifestyle are more popular here as we consider our tourist demographic, particularly our Chinese customers.”


Starting as a magazine and now thriving as a fashion label, MagLifestyle has seen the growth of their brand through ISETAN. One of two founders Yen Lee reminisces on the days when MagLifestyle were only available on a few racks, on a temporary pop-up basis. Fast forward to today, the brand has acquired a permanent standalone with large displays throughout different ISETAN outlets.


As a fellow designer Yen Lee empathises with homegrown talents and the challenges they are commonly faced with within the local fashion landscape. Aside from the highly competitive industry, she reveals that the challenges lie in sourcing. “Raw materials are limited, and we have to look to other countries,” she said. This can prove to be very costly, especially for aspiring designers who are just starting out.

When asked what advice she had for those wanting to create a sustainable but equally passion-driven path in fashion, Yen stands by the notion that “hard work and being consistent with the rolling out of your collections” is crucial when it comes to success in the Malaysian fashion industry.

Credit: Natalie