Thread Talk with Syazana Sukiman, the Founder and Creative Director of Whimsigirl

For the everyday girl.

Thread Talk is a series venturing into a designer’s inner workings and thoughts. Today, we have Syazana Sukiman, the founder of the local fashion brand Whimisigirl, which has successfully turned traditional wear into a daily wardrobe staple for every modern woman.

The local fashion scene is growing, but to flourish organically into a community of its own like Whimsigirl is a hard-earned badge. While many designers perceive culture as a creative decision, infusing traditional elements into designs, Whimsigirl views it as the foundation of the brand. “The women who came before us wore skirts and kebaya tops, and still ran the show. They didn’t let clothing hold them back, and neither should we,” said Syazana Sukiman, the mastermind behind the fashion brand.

As modern clothing evolves, traditional clothing is removed from our wardrobes, for various reasons like wearability (given the humidity of our region) or accessibility, as the cost of making began to spike. Customary attire is reserved for special occasions like weddings or festivities. At Whimsigirl however, the Baju Kedah, the knot skirts and the selendang, they were made for our climate, to withstand the wears and tears, as well as the shift of clothing styles. It is a time-honoured existence amidst the microtrend-driven fashion realm.

How did Whimsigirl come about?

Our story began in 2009, with a baby’s quilt. I wanted to explore other creative outlets after architecture school, so I learned how to sew. We eventually evolved from baby accessories, then to childrenswear and now, ready-to-wear for women. Whimsigirl was a nickname given to me by my peers, as I was that creative girl who always produced whimsical creations—even as a child! 

The brand started as a childrenswear brand; what led to the change? 

We were making children’s clothes that were comfortable and generous, from its cutting to the use of cotton and linen, that mothers started requesting for a grown-up version! As a mum to two boys, learning to understand and honour the changes in my body, I must have practical yet versatile clothes to move around in. As I design clothing to suit a need, the pieces that we make should last and make sense in our weather, something to be worn every day. We took the plunge in 2017, producing a small collection of baju kurung that sold out! Then we made it available post-Raya festivities, because why is baju kurung just a Raya thing? It sold out again. 

Syazana Sukiman, founder and creative director of Whimsigirl.

You had a background in architecture, how did that help you start and curate the brand? 

Five years of architecture school have shaped my belief system as a creative. Everything you do is intentional. Everything is never what it seems, clothes are never just clothes – it’s our second skin. When you share that perspective, you don’t just focus on the beauty and the art, you focus on the ‘why, who, where, what, how’. Why are we designing this? Who are we designing this for? Where do our women live? What’s our customer’s pain point? How can we make things better? 

Clothes are the wearable architecture of our lives. Just as a building shapes how we move through space, the clothes we wear shape how we interact with the world. We focus on the structure, form and materials of our garments so they offer comfort, support, and a sense of personal expression—much like a well-designed building provides shelter, functionality, and beauty.

Can you walk us through the process of launching a full collection?

It all starts with a post-mortem. I’ll study our previous designs with our production team to see what did or didn’t work, what we can improve on, and what new ideas we can implement. Once I have that as a baseline, then I’ll go away for a few days, depending on the scale of the collection. 

The ideation stage has never been set in stone, because you can’t be creative through rigidity. The way Bill Gates has his ‘think week’, I too have my ‘design week’. During design week, I allow myself the freedom to explore and do anything I want! I’ll read, watch movies, travel, go to Kinokuniya, sit in cafes and sometimes, even doom scroll on social media. Then once I’ve worked out drawings, moodboards and ideas, I’ll present them to the team. 

We’ll source fabrication and begin we going back and forth with sampling. While all these stages are happening, the creative marketing team will work concurrently so that we will all eventually get to the finishing line and make magic happen together.

A lot of the designs here take inspiration from traditional wear. How would you say Whimsigirl has kept up with the trend, or ultimately, set a trend? 

Based in Malaysia, the Eid season has become a distinctive fashion season on its own. As a brand, we can’t have timeless classics as one of our core values and not incorporate our beautiful traditional wear into our designs! The women who came before us wore skirts and kebaya tops, and still ran the show. They didn’t let clothing hold them back, and neither should we. 

The key factor in inspiring a love for traditional pieces lies in making them transition effortlessly into your everyday wardrobe. We focus on breathable fabrics like linen and cotton, to ensure comfort and freedom of movement. These pieces aren’t just beautiful, they’re built to work with and for you. Also, traditional doesn’t have to mean stuffy. We’re not reinventing the wheel, but by incorporating modern construction and fabrics, we create a contemporary take on timeless designs. We see this as honouring tradition, by making it more accessible and comfortable for the modern woman. 

As a local brand, what would you like to say to your audience to encourage them to shop closer to home? 

We’re in a humanity crisis climate, where customers are more conscious about the brands they support. More are doing their very best not just to shop local, but to shop brands with values that are aligned with theirs. Regardless of whether it’s a local brand or not, brands in general should take the opportunity to elevate the standards of our designs, products and brand experience to give customers more reasons to shop locally, and continue to do so.

What is something that you have always wanted to do with the brand, but currently lack resources to do so? 

At this stage of our growth, I have 100% ownership of Whimsigirl. While that feels good, it also keeps us on our toes. Everything we do has to be strategic and lean, to ensure we’re profitable year after year. Exploring new product verticals like Whimsigirl Home is something that we’d love to explore but we’re doing it responsibly to ensure this is really what customers want. And seeing how well received our recent Home pieces did as a bonus drop of our (Wo)manifesto Eid collection, we’re taking the data to explore the category even further! 

Whimsigirl is a community and I appreciate what you are doing with the Everyday Role Model program. How did that come about? What is your ultimate goal? 

Growing up being a tall, mixed-brown girl in Malaysia, I had a hard time fitting in. I didn’t see a lot of representation of people who looked like me, one that I could look up to, and learn from. Now as an adult, I’ve realised it’s the random women that I came across in life that inspired me most! You know the saying, ‘Be the role model you want to see in the world’? That’s the heart of the Everyday Role Model program: When there’s no seat for you at the table, you create your own table. It’s an extension of our community, and it’s a growing network of women we admire and can learn from. It’s also a great way to foster connections, and make friends! And above all, to be reminded that we are all ‘Women in Progress’, and we can get somewhere when we’re surrounded by support. 

As you’ve gone through the ups and downs of the game, what’s one of the biggest mistakes you’ve made, and what lessons have you gleaned from it? 

Tons of mishaps, I don’t know how we didn’t burn down the company—kidding! If I need to name one, it was when I had a less-than-favourable interaction on social media, a few years back. After taking steps to heal my emotional trauma, I’ve learned that people’s perception of us is none of our business. When you understand that, you stop taking things personally. 

Whimsigirl has such an organic growth. Did you ever feel like, “I’ve made it!”? 

I believe that while we can be content with where we are, any time we hit any milestones in our careers and even in life, I don’t think I will ever feel like “I’ve made it!” because there’s always more room to learn and do better. 

There’s this iconic speech by Matthew McConaughey that I think about constantly, “My hero, it’s me in 10 years, that’s who I chase, every day, every week, every month, every year of my life. My hero is always ten years ahead of me”. I love that! Then again, this is coming from Syazana in her 30s who still has the juice, so ask me again in 10 years.