Noelle Kan lovingly describes her fashion label KANOE as “a child of the tropics who is a wonder lover and a collector of beauty from all over the place so she can wear it here in the urban tropical heat”.
KANOE is really like her own child, birthed out of her own journey.
Noelle recalled being in different cultures, living among different environments of beauty and design, and discovering who she is and what she really loves, as the basis for the brand.
Her vision is to provide a better living through sustainable wear that KANOE promotes.
Even as a child, Noelle harboured an interest in fashion, dreaming of being a fashion designer.
She would try to copy the design patterns from the books and even tried to draw figures by herself from a fashion illustration book she bought.
When it was time for her to choose her university, one particular course made her heart beat a little faster: fashion design.
“If I could do anything I wanted to do, I would study fashion design. I remember telling my father this, and he said no. I did not take that answer too well.”
The next option was for her was humanitarian work; her father suggested pharmacy.
They found a middle ground with a Bachelor’s of Arts and Science in Adelaide, but dreams don’t die so easily.
“I was still persistent in my desire to do fashion, because art was something I was naturally gifted in. I found it such a waste if I did not see what I could do with this natural talent the Creator himself had lovingly bestowed unto me.”
Taking matters in her own hands, she bought a sewing machine and attempted to sew her own designs.
When calling home to her parents, now and then she would question what she was doing and express how much she wanted to study fashion.
Six months in, her father caved and said, “Ok, go do what you want.”
Finally free to pursue fashion design, Whitehouse Institute of Design, Sydney was her first port of call.
“In my second year, I started winning design competitions in Australia, and in my third year, a scholarship for a Master’s Program in Fashion as Art at Accadamia Italia in Florence, Italy,” she said, in a previous interview.
However, when her studies were done, her fashion aspirations were put on hold, for another path.
After teaching in high schools for two years before spending another two years in Boracay, Philippines doing social work, she returned to Malaysia due to health concerns.
Unsure of what to do next, she considered working with a church or teaching, but had no idea she’d be diving into the fashion industry.
“I went for a marketplace talk because Hannah Yeoh was speaking at it, and she was talking about the importance of a good name and branding.”
But even then, design or fashion wasn’t on her mind.
That changed when a pastor prayed for her, and said, “Noelle, you have buried your talents too deep. It’s time for you to use them Lay off the expectations of others on you, and do what you were created to do.”
Having a pastor encourage her fashion dreams instead of supporting her going into church or social work was the rebirth of her fashion path.
So on October 31 2016, Noelle launched KANOE with a capital of only RM5,000, which came from her parents.
“I started with where I was, what I have, doing what I could.”
The materials sourced for her designs are chosen with great care, as she believes that ethical fashion can be just as profitable compared to mass-production using synthetic fabrics.
Besides fabric-sourcing, she designs them and makes them in her own studio to eliminate unwanted waste and create a greener future in the long haul.
“Being ethical is more of having the right heart when it comes to making decisions and I would like to see each part of my production process benefiting others and the environment.”
KANOE also partners with lower-income groups and organisations who support them, in order to make a difference in their lives.
Some of the past projects have included working with single mothers and training them to sew her garments. She also partnered with Women’s Weave in India, a charitable organisation that supports women with jobs and sustainable income, using their hand-woven craft in her designs.
“It’s beautiful being able to support those in poverty, to inculcate their skills and talents to ensure they are paid fairly and to support their family. Knowing I can create job avenues for them or partner with an organisation, that is already doing an honorable cause.”
– Excerpt of a past interview with Malaysia Tatler.
Noelle added that her latest project comprises of a festive collection. She is looking forward to recruiting some ladies to help with the needlework and let them do something fulfilling with their time while profiting financially.
“Giving birth to KANOE and deciding to study fashion is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made in life.”
Besides meeting new people, she also enjoys being part of a community of women she met in various bazaars and pop-up event, who all have started their own businesses.
In fact, one moment in her journey that stood out to Noelle was when speaking to a girl she met at a popup event. “She told me how much she loved my designs and how she was going to study fashion!”
Noelle is very grateful for everything her business has experienced so far in its one year of existence, and is now looking to the future.
“I am enjoying learning so much while on this journey, and definitely thankful for the ladies out there who love KANOE. I would love to see KANOE expand to many places, having girls all over the world wear Kanoe… that it would be a name for the wonder lovers out there.”
Feature Image Credit: KANOE