CEO Series

How She Went From Designing Software In Penang To Designing Dresses In A New York Competition

  • JN is a local fashion label started by mother and ex-software engineer Ng Shuh Jiuan in 2016.
  • Designs from JN are designed in-house by Jiuan herself, with plans to expand to Singapore and the rest of the world.

Growing up, Jiuan held an earnest love for fashion and had always had her designs—pun intended—on pursuing a career as a designer, but was dissuaded by those around her.

“I was discouraged from pursuing fashion design back then because it wasn’t a mainstream profession like a doctor, a lawyer, or an engineer,” Jiuan said. “It was always the career path that I wanted to pursue, but I didn’t have any support from my family at the time.”

Jiuan eventually ended up in the field of computers, software, and coding. She earned herself a Masters in Computer Engineering from Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM), Skudai and worked as a software engineer in Penang for a fair period.

In 2007, she decided to try her hand at fashion design, entering DiGi’s FU-YOH Street Blast Fashion Design competition—a contest that gathered thousands of hopeful designers from around Malaysia. In a surprise twist, she landed herself in the top 5.

One of the designs created by Jiuan / Image Credit: JN by Jiuan Ng

“The designs I submitted were really amateurish because I did not have a background in fashion design,” she recalled. “Needless to say, even though I didn’t win the main prize, it was a turning point for me.”

With this boost to her confidence, Jiuan decided to pack her bags for New York and pursue an education at the prestigious Parsons School of Design, earning herself a Fashion Design AAS (the equivalent of a diploma) and even interning with the renowned Zang Toi in the process.

In 2013, Jiuan again received recognition, this time on an international level by being selected as one of the five finalists for the Made for Peroni Young Designer’s Award.

During this period, Jiuan found out about her pregnancy and decided to fly home to Malaysia with her husband in order to take care of her new baby, taking a break from fashion design.

She returned to the scene in 2016 to start her own fashion label.

Making A Fashionable Statement

Since starting up in 2016, Jiuan has been running JN by Jiuan Ng alongside her husband and a number of freelancers.

“Our aesthetic is minimalistic—when I design for JN, I think of how one can mix, match, and style JN pieces with her existing wardrobe,” she explained. “I focus on clean lines and silhouettes, and I like to get a lot of mileage out of what I buy, so I want my customers to feel the same way about JN, too.”

“I get my inspiration from just about anywhere—sometimes from traveling, sometimes from the mess my kids make at home.”

Every design under JN is her own creation, drawn out by hand and then translated into softcopy on a PC. Each design sometimes comes in under 5 minutes when she’s in a creative mood, but sometimes take even weeks when she feels uninspired.

On the creative process, Jiuan revealed that her previous experience in computer engineering still does help her create her designs every now and then.

“One of the many things I find useful from my previous job experience is that I get the hang of using any computer-aided design pretty fast,” she said. “Because I used to develop software with graphic user interfaces, I understand how a software typically works regardless of what its built for.”

“When I was in fashion school, I found classes involving mathematical equations a breeze,” she added. “Many of my classmates struggled with garment construction, especially the pattern-making process.”

“Pattern-making is like creating 3D puzzles for your design—all pieces require reverse engineering and precise measurements to form a design perfectly.”

Image Credit: JN by Jiuan Ng

Moving forward, she also explained that these were all part and parcel of being an independent designer, a position in which she finds the benefits far outweighing the drawbacks.

“As an independent designer, I get to create without restrictions—this is what I love most about my self-funded business.”

She also explained that the freedom to create whatever she wants has led to her creating pieces that have caught the eyes of both the masses and the fashion elite.

Image Credit: JN by Jiuan Ng

“One of my proudest achievements is having strangers coming up to me and telling me that they like my designs,” she revealed. “I’m not a celebrity or socialite, so it means a lot to me when people buy or wear my designs because they genuinely love them.”

In terms of industry-level recognition, JN has already been recognized by the pros, with her business getting picked by GLAM Malaysia after just six months of opening up to become one of their Fashion Future 2016 designers.

“We were featured in the magazine along with JN’s second collection, Borrowed From The Boys, and it was such an honour to be recognized by a publication like GLAM,” she said. “We’re very grateful to the Malaysian media for giving JN by Jiuan Ng the brand coverage we need since 2016.”

Image Credit: JN by Jiuan Ng

Going Beyond The Surface

Moving forward, Jiuan is planning a number of things for her fashion line, with a move to Singapore in the works following her recent family’s relocation across the Straits, as well as the promotion and marketing of their latest Metamorphosis collection.

Image Credit: JN by Jiuan Ng

Eventually, though, the plan is for JN to have an international presence.

“In 2019, we’re planning to do more short-term pop-ups in different locations and countries to create brand awareness and enter new markets, this aligns with our plans to expand globally.”

On a closing note, Jiuan also had some words for encouragement for aspiring local designers, and gave particular emphasis on the attitude of perseverance.

Image Credit: JN by Jiuan Ng

“If I’m brutally honest, fashion design jobs are quite scarce in Malaysia, and it’s common to have doubts when all the odds are against you,” she said.

But noting that even though there wasn’t a local NGO to support fashion designers, like the CFDA in the USA, Jiuan observed that there were still many local designers creating a name for themselves.

“I still see a lot of successful local fashion designers around like Rizalman, Nurita Harith, and Innai Red,” she said.

“The key is perseverance—like how badly you want to be in this business—and knowing your market.”

Feature Image Credit: JN by Jiuan Ng

 

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