BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – Despite naysayers, Wei Yi Lau has stayed true to her passion — she left her secure corporate job for the uncertainty of starting a business designing jewellery.
It started when the 28-year-old was still studying in Australia, enrolled in an art course at Curtin University. Her love for art spawned her interest in jewellery making. Since then, she began creating and experimenting with different designs to hone her skills.
However, upon completing her studies, she took a job at an insurance agency because she didn’t have enough resources to craft jewellery full-time.
“My parents wanted me to get a proper job and that’s when I thought I’d take the opportunity to gather capital [for the business] in the meantime.”
There was no stopping Wei from her true calling. Two years later, she left her corporate job to kick-start her dream and WYL Jewellery was born.
“Most of us don’t try to step out of our comfort zones because it’s exactly that; we don’t want to be uncomfortable. But I have always liked taking the route less travelled.”
She adds: “It was a dream come true especially since I always wanted to do this full time, it was only a question of when,” noting that she aims to create versatile contemporary pieces for women.
While new in the business world and facing many challenges along the way, the home-based designer says it took hard work, patience and dedication to get where she is today.
“There were a lot of naysayers in the beginning, especially since it’s such a niche market and the risks involved in straying from the tried and tested.”
What made starting the business difficult was caring about what others think, she shares.
“But at the end of the day, it’s your life to live, do what makes you happy,” she said, adding that she persevered because of her passion and love for the art.
With four collections out, the young designer has garnered a loyal following thanks to her unique and multi-functional pieces.
“I’ve received a lot of positive feedback about my designs so it’s very encouraging and keeps me going.”
“Frankly, I’ve not kept track of how much I’ve sold but I’m definitely not where I want to be yet. Some months are better than others. My income is unpredictable but I’m making enough to sustain myself.”
A labour of love
Wei says her pieces which are Asian influenced, can cost up to $500 depending on the intricacy of the design, adding that customised pieces can cost even more.
Creating each piece requires meticulous attention to detail, designs are usually thought of while she’s crafting, and one small mistake can be unforgiving.
“It’s very hands on — no sketches, just fresh ideas flowing as I work on them. A lot of time and effort is put into every piece.”
Wei acquires her materials overseas and prefers to use sterling silver – durable and suitable for sensitive skin.
“Over time, [silver] does discolour and oxidise, however it can be cleaned and restored to its original colour.
“Mainstream products are made with cheaper materials such as copper and brass that are silver or gold plated. After awhile, these pieces will oxidise and cannot be cleaned, which means you have to throw them out.”
The designer also reuses her materials either to add to a certain piece or create a completely new design.
“To save on cost, I reuse my materials as they can all be melted together. After I complete a piece, I would collect any leftover silver dust.”
Wei recently launched her fourth collection, Dendritic, which was a collaboration with Sejalin, a premium electronics and furniture retailer. She created 22 exclusive pieces revolving around Dendritic Agate stones. The collaboration was part of the SENSES campaign that promotes creations of local entrepreneurs alongside international brands.
“This collection took longer to finish as I had to figure out ways to work around the stones but I am very happy with the outcome.” According to Wei, the collaboration provided her more exposure and inspired her to craft innovative pieces.
Currently working on her next collection, Wei hopes to see her brand expand overseas in the next few years.
“I took a risk going into such a niche market but I have worked really hard to make it succeed and the support I’ve been getting has been overwhelming.”
She has participated in several international trade shows in hopes of breaking into other markets. “The times I’ve participated in trade shows overseas, I’ve thankfully been able to breakeven.”
“Of course the ideal situation would be to profit but it’s a challenge when you have to deduct air fares, accommodation, booth rental and other miscellaneous expenses from your earnings,” she says.
Five years from now, Wei hopes to be the proud owner of a studio that welcomes a community of jewellers and aspiring jewellers.
“It would be a different case if my business was more established hence why I believe it’s important to join tradeshows; to get more exposure.”
“If you love what you do, believe in yourself and work hard, anything is possible.”