About The Guest
Abigail graduated with a Diploma in Fashion Design and Pattern Making at Esmod Kuala Lumpur, The One Academy. At just 25 years old, Abigail has managed to build her own fashion brand “Is So Basic” from scratch in a mere 6 months, that too in a pandemic. Her passion for basic wear and experience as a fashion student helped her build the resilience and entrepreneurial mind set to break through her comfort zone and launch “Is So Basic”.
Disclaimer: All opinions and views expressed in the video do not reflect the views of Excel Education. Any content provided is solely a personal opinion and is not meant to discredit any religion, ethnic group, club, organization, business, individual, or any other party.
Transcription of The Video
Yi Ran (Host): Welcome to the first episode of Excel Education Talks, we aspire to inspire you through a series of conversations we are going to have with people from different industries and all walks of life. My name is Yi Ran and I will be your host for this episode. I am an educational consultant at Excel Education. We are a university placement agency that has been providing personalized study solutions for students since 2017. For more information about our services and to get in touch with us, you can scan the QR code here.
Yi Ran (Host): We are happy and honoured to have Abigail here with us today.
Abigail (Guest): Hi!
Yi Ran (Host): Abigail is the founder of the fashion brand ‘Is So Basic’. She has been in the fashion industry for the past 6 years, including her studies. She has graduated with a Diploma in fashion design and pattern making from ESMOD Kuala Lumpur One Academy. It is the only Paris fashion design school in Malaysia. For those who don’t know, ESMOD is the world’s first fashion school with 170 years of history. ESMOD is also the first to create mannequins and flexible measuring tape for garments. Today, Abigail is going to share her journey in the fashion industry and how she started her brand ‘Is So Basic’.
Yi Ran (Host): Abigail, thank you for being here. Can you tell us a bit about your background?
Abigail (Guest): I studied fashion design at ESMOD and in the midst of working, I went to study shoe design. So after I graduated from Fashion Design, a 3 years course, I actually went to a shoe start-up company as a marketing executive and later on, about a year plus, I went into digital marketing to understand digital marketing and later on, about more than 8 months, I went back into the fashion industry.
Yi Ran (Host): Tell us a bit about your brand, ‘Is So Basic’, what is it all about?
Abigail (Guest): ‘So Basic’ is about basic wear at an affordable price. ‘Is So Basic’ actually started with the idea of white t-shirts. So how it came across to mind is because I kept thinking about basic wear, basic wear and the first thing to my mind is white t-shirts. And white t-shirts for me are like rice to an Asian, so you know when you eat rice you can mix with sambhal, you can make nasi lemak, or mix with chicken, and it becomes chicken rice. Same goes with white t-shirts; you can match with jeans, you can match with pyjama bottoms, you can match with anything. So it started with white t-shirts but at a very affordable price and later I decided to create this brand to create a collection of basic wear for men to women, from top to bottom, for everyone and source and produce locally in Malaysia.
Yi Ran (Host): Wow, so when you say affordable price, what is the cost of a basic t-shirt at ‘So Basic’?
Abigail (Guest): As low as 13 ringgit 50 cent.
Yi Ran (Host): And you actually make profit out of it…
Abigail (Guest): Yes I do…
Yi Ran (Host): Okay that’s good to know
Abigail (Guest): I have to survive for your guys to purchase…
Yi Ran (Host): When did you realize you were ready to start your own brand?
Abigail (Guest): I really wanted to start a brand but I didn’t know when, I think 6 months after I started my last job I realized it’s time for me to start. I guess towards the end I was actually quite suffocated and stumbling on how long I need to be here, in my own comfort zone. As the tasks I used to find challenging became very normal and no longer challenging anymore and then I thought it’s really time for me to start.
Yi Ran (Host): When was your last job and when did you quit?
Abigail (Guest): I quit last year, mid of 2020 during the pandemic…
Yi Ran (Host): That’s when you started your own brand…
Abigail (guest): Yes
Yi Ran (Host): And how long did you work in the fashion industry actually?
Abigail (Guest): If I do not consider my digital marketing working experience, it’s about 2 to 3 years.
Yi Ran (Host): 2 to 3 years, and you already felt like you were in your comfort zone?
Abigail (Guest): Yeah
Yi Ran (Host): And you didn’t feel like if you moved to another company or a fashion brand with a new position, you would learn something new?
Abigail (Guest): So I realized the company which I went to is usually a very small start-up. The reason for that is that I want to learn because one day I am going to open my own business. It was a very intentional move for me to go to a start-up because I want to learn everything in terms of how it’s run, operations and everything. So somehow I get the hang of it, in the sense if I go to another company the challenge will still be there, but it’s like a cycle, it’ll be challenging in the beginning and later it will become normal.
Yi Ran (Host): Hmm….So you quit your job in the midst of the pandemic, and you started your own brand ‘So Basic’, how long did it take for you to have that idea, to execute it or actually launch it?
Abigail (Guest): I had the idea when I was driving, but of course I was still in my previous job so I didn’t do anything. It was my last week as well. So a week later I started to execute it. But for the brand to launch officially, about 6 months.
Yi Ran (Host): So do you think this was a long time frame for you or is it too short?
Abigail (Guest): For me, it is. I expected to launch 3 months after I executed because I was expecting it to launch before the festive season because you know the festive season you have to grab that opportunity, it comes at the end of the year, if I miss it now, I’ll have to wait for it next year in that sense. So yes I actually wanted to launch earlier but because of the pandemic, the MCO’s and a lot of things happened so I had to delay the launch.
Yi Ran (Host): Did you get a lot of help though, to launch the brand?
Abigail (Guest): Not really.
Yi Ran (Host): So you did everything on your own?
Abigail (Guest): Yes
Yi Ran (Host): Did you go to anyone for advice on how to do it?
Abigail (Guest): Yes, for advice I definitely did. My parents, my dad and my sisters definitely. But in terms of managing or doing it, it was by myself but I mean along the way I did meet good people so it is my process.
Yi Ran (Host): Wow. If you could go back and do it all over again, would you do it any differently?
Abigail (Guest): No, because I think everything happened at the perfect timing and perfect times and I mean I learned from it, it was challenging, I grew and that’s what I wanted right because I quit the job to step out from my comfort zone and I managed to step out from my comfort zone so it happened at that the right time, I’m pretty sure.
Yi Ran (Host): So what is the biggest challenge you have faced so far?
Abigail (Guest): The biggest challenge is you have to be the thinker and executioner yourself, because you have to do every single thing by yourself. It’s not that this is the hard part, it’s that you have to think in a sense that this is your brand, this is you and it represents you, the system, culture and everything is built by you. So you have a lot of authority and you will keep challenging yourself in the sense of is this good enough and while you’re thinking of that and building it, you have to execute as well. So there are a lot of tasks on your plate so you have to manage your time and manage the work as well.
Yi Ran (Host): Wow. Sounds challenging and you said you also learn a lot. So what did you learn the most?
Abigail (Guest): I think one thing I learned was to get help from people, because as I mentioned I did this whole thing alone and so it was very tough but one person limitless can go so far and now I have learnt to like put down yourself like put on your ego or confidence to really get help from people because it’s easier that way.
Yi Ran (Host): Good. Well said. And what is the most rewarding part?
Abigail (Guest): Um, the most rewarding thing is when I receive reviews from the customers, when their feedback is they are very satisfied with the shirts, with the products. It makes me very happy. And at the same time people actually heard my story, the strangers about my entrepreneurship and they would send me a message that they are very encouraged by my story and the fact they feel encouraged, encourages me as well.
Yi Ran (Host): That’s good. What is a typical day at work for you like?
Abigail (Guest): Flexible hours and self-discipline.
Yi Ran (Host): Is that good or bad?
Abigail (Guest): There is good and bad too. With flexible hours, I can go anywhere, anytime. I can do books anywhere, anytime. But self-discipline means you have to manage your time really, really well. Like get your things done beforehand.
Yi Ran (Host): Yeah. And do you like it now that you are working for yourself, on your own compared to working for somebody else?
Abigail (Guest): I prefer working for myself.
Yi Ran (Host): You prefer working for yourself.
Abigail (Guest): Yes.
Yi Ran (Host): And how would you compare it, like what are the differences?
Abigail (Guest): I think the difference is when you work with people, you will still think but you won’t think as detailed as when you’d be working for yourself. Every decision made when you work for people is made by the boss, you have to do it according to the boss. But when you are working for yourself, it’s according to your style and you somehow self-criticism is much higher and you keep thinking ‘Is this good enough?’ Every detail you would think very deeply before any decision making and it’s your own money so there’s even more decisions, like more details you have to think.
Yi Ran (Host): What is one advice you would give to those who are thinking of actually starting their own fashion brand?
Abigail (Guest): I would say ‘just do it’
Yi Ran (Host): Just do it.
Abigail (Guest): It’s really like, it was very sudden as well for me. Actually though I said I wouldn’t start the brand very long ago but it was a very sudden move that I actually resigned, I thought I would stay much longer after this pandemic and it was very sudden, just within a month I just said, ‘I am leaving and starting my brand’. I remember the first time I made the payment for the fabrics and all the stuff, it just clicked that I paid it though it’s not a small amount, I just paid without thinking, without asking myself ‘Are you sure?’. You just have to do it.
Yi Ran (Host): What’s the reason that you don’t question yourself though?
Abigail (Guest): Because the more you question, the more doubts you have.
Yi Ran (Host): It’s true. Okay. And from what age did you notice that you have an interest in fashion?
Abigail (Guest): I think when I was 8 to 9 years old, because I wasn’t really looking that good back then, very skinny, had a ‘rabbit tooth’, so people would somehow tease me and laugh at me in that sense, I would get bullied as well, like being poor and all. So at that time I just thought that because I couldn’t change my look at that time, I thought I wouldn’t do plastic surgery, so I just thought that the only way I can transform myself is dressing up. So I thought I want to enter the fashion industry, I want to be a stylist and I want to dress myself up and I want to dress those who feel the same as me and to dress them to save myself.
Yi Ran (Host): I think you did a great job, you look great right now. Where do you draw your inspiration from, in terms of how you dress yourself, your fashion aesthetic?
Abigail (Guest): I drew it from my sister and dad. My dad is very particular in dressing, in terms of how must dress to look presentable, not very well but presentable. So he always suggests wearing t-shirts and jeans, that is the best look for four of us, he says. And my sister reads fashion magazines and would teach me how to dress up. So that’s, I think, how I drew the inspiration, but I started to discover my own style when I entered the fashion industry.
Yi Ran (Host): I’m pretty sure that a lot of girls out there could relate to your experience like, being bullied, not feeling great in their own skin. What is the one advice you would tell them, especially to those who are going through it right now?
Abigail (Guest): I would just tell them right, just dress up really. Not to sound very shallow, but it was a period of time where I felt very down and I felt like I found the power in dressing up, in a sense that when you dress yourself, when you dress well, you automatically feel good and my lecturer told me from Paris, from ESMOD, he told me that in Paris right, a lot of doctors actually decided to study fashion at the end because there was very big difference in the end. So why do they do so is because doctors heal people but fashion heals people as well and that’s their perspective. So all these doctors couldn’t help with depression or someone who is deaf, it was very painful so they decided to study fashion to save people as well by dressing them up by making them feel good.
Yi Ran (Host): Wow.
Abigail (Guest): So yeah, I would just tell you, just dress up really whatever it is just dress up.
Yi Ran (Host): You know like having an interest and passion in something doesn’t mean that you can actually make a career out of it. So when did you realise this is what I want to do, this is what I want to do as my career?
Abigail (Guest): When I was in high school, you know close to high school when you are starting to think what to study after SPM, so that’s why when I was in high school I started thinking what should I do and I have a conversation with my sisters that I’m interested in fashion design and she was very supportive and said just go ahead, as long as you know what is your purpose, what is your goal for studying fashion design and make a purpose of it. So I thought I am going to send out a message to Re Fashion telling people that fashion is not about appearance, not about your look, it can also help those who are disabled or unfortunate in different ways.
Yi Ran (Host): In what ways? (13.15)
Abigail (Guest): You know those disabled or unfortunate children think they don’t have to dress up, they actually have certain brands that create clothes for you, easy for you to dress up, to still look good in a sense. Like one of the campaign which is Tommy Hilfiger, he did that which is something that I feel I am very touched by and I have thought that one day when I make collections with having their drawings and embroidery on my clothing, so that is what my thought was back then, now maybe in a different way.
Yi Ran (Host): Would you say this is what ‘So Basic’ is about as well?
Abigail (Guest): Yes, it’s going to be related to that in the future.
Yi Ran (Host): Awesome, we are looking forward to that. How much of what you studied at ESMOD would you say applies to your work?
Abigail (Guest): A lot actually. Especially since I am doing my own brand, there’s a lot of things I have to apply like fabrics, materials and sowing, like I have to thoroughly apply every single thing, but this is because it’s my own business and it’s very subjective to your career. There are some that would only apply design, some may apply only Photoshop skills.
Yi Ran (Host): How did you go about finding the school, university you actually wanted to go to, because you knew you wanted to study fashion, but how did you pick the right university?
Abigail (Guest): So I went to check out the top 2 universities one of which is ESMOD, so the first one I went to, I went to twice and met the counsellor twice. I think the advice and everything the university provided me options for fashion marketing and fashion design so I can choose either and these both were degrees. But I didn’t do that because it’s not really what I wanted and I thought it wouldn’t be much skills that I would learn. So I went to ESMOD, I went their 4 times with the counsellor, and at the time I was asking the counsellor, I might want to start my own brand and they said if you want to study fashion design with fashion business, you need to understand the fashion industry, which I found to be very true. I wanted to study overseas in Paris but I wasn’t sure if I was ready back then because I was really young back then, so being at ESMOD I was able to get the Parisian education without having to be there and you know Paris is one of fashion cities. So it was a win-win situation and that’s why I chose ESMOD.
Yi Ran (Host): Okay. So you mentioned a degree, so between bachelor degree and diploma you ended up going for a diploma. Why is that?
Abigail (Guest): I think the reason is that in the design industry it really doesn’t matter if it’s a degree or a diploma, it’s about your portfolio and I was very confident in ESMOD as all the lecturers were from Italy or Paris so I knew about their skillset and also my confidence in the world academia standard which is really high ranked in all other courses as well. So I was pretty confident in ESMOD and I thought I knew although it’s a diploma, if my portfolio is good then it doesn’t matter.
Yi Ran (Host): So you actually look at program structure more than the name of the qualification itself? Alright, okay and do you have any tips or advice for students considering studying fashion design?
Abigail (Guest): I think to understand what your goal is and to understand your passions because a lot of people asked me about fashion design, I would just tell them, ‘don’t think because you like to dress up means you’d like to be in the fashion industry, because dressing up and being in this industry is totally different’. You have to face the challenge that your hobby becomes a chore for you, something you do every single day. You have to really ask yourself, are you really passionate about fashion design? Are you really passionate about the fashion industry as your career?
Yi Ran (Host): So you said that passion turning into your career can become like a chore which applies to you right now, how do you manage that or balance that out?
Abigail (Guest): It comes from it being my passion. I really love it and that’s why I can make a career out of it.
Yi Ran (Host): So you don’t feel like it’s a chore?
Abigail (Guest): Unless you come to designing, yes (laughs)
Yi Ran (Host): What are the key skills that students need to develop, in order to succeed in the fashion industry?
Abigail (Guest): I think the skills you learn along with ESMOD would be more character wise because character is what can help you succeed. So it’s like you just endure, keep an open mind and build self-confidence.
Yi Ran (Host): What are the advice and tips you can give students who are currently in school studying fashion design right now?
Abigail (Guest): Like I said, keep an open mind, because a lot of people actually struggle after fashion design courses after they graduate, they ask themselves what should I do? Should I be in the fashion industry? Everything is interrelated, if you go into FNB you can actually apply the things that you have learnt in fashion design and apply it to that, it’s an inter-related thing. Similarly if you do graphic design, you learn Photoshop and you can do graphic design anywhere. So what you learn is more than what you think it is.
Yi Ran (Host): What do you think students who study fashion design can apply to the F&B industry?
Abigail (Guest): How they run it, is technically the same, just the operation wise. The industry is different. Like me when I graduated, I went to a digital company, I work for Baskin Robbins buffet too and it’s a very different thing. So it’s FNB but I applied what I know like Photoshop design and creative ideas but I applied it into FNB and that’s how it works.
Yi Ran (Host): I love how you don’t limit yourself to that particular industry even though you are pretty set and sure that you know the fashion industry is what I want to do but you actually, you are pretty open minded and don’t limit yourself to a box, you know like it’s out of comfort zone or not what I studied, so yeah I actually like it a lot.
Yi Ran (Host): What are your thoughts about the fashion industry in Malaysia?
Abigail (Guest): I think it is blooming, in the sense that I realized that there’s a lot of universities providing fashion courses so I think they’ve seen the importance of it and I’ve seen a lot of fashion universities trying to build their cultures for young designers and provide the platform, so I think the young designers are blooming.
Yi Ran (Host): Is there something you wish someone would’ve told you about the industry before you stepped into it?
Abigail (Guest): Yes, I wish someone told me how it is really the inside professional industry, before I entered. I never expected the fashion industry to have so much to it until I started studying it myself. I do have counsellors but I prefer to have known someone from the industry would tell me that this is how it is going to work, what it is etc.
Yi Ran (Host): What is that one thing you wish you knew?
Abigail (Guest): Fashion industry is competitive.
Yi Ran (Host): Okay and so what have you envisioned for the future of ‘So Basic’?
Abigail (Guest): My vision is that it would be the next ‘UNIQLO’ of Malaysia but in an affordable price.
Yi Ran (Host): Woohoo! We are looking forward to it.
Yi Ran (Host): Anything else you’d like to tell the audience of Excel Education talks?
Abigail (Guest): No, just work hard and study.
Yi Ran (Host): (Laughs) Alright I think that’s about it. If you wish to know more about ‘So Basic’ and add some basic t-shirts to your wardrobe you can visit isobasic.com. For collaborations with Abigail, you can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll put the website and email details in the description box.
Yi Ran (Host): Excel Education has been assisting students to make their educational aspirations come true by guiding them towards the right course and placing them in their dream universities in Australia, Malaysia, UK and Canada. The best part is all of our services are free of charge.
See you in the next episode of Excel Education Talks, bye!
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If you’re interested in watching the full interview with Abigail Leong- Founder of fashion brand ‘Is So Basic’, click the link below!