“The traditional jewellery industry has been very strong in Malaysia through the decades, but in terms of bespoke designs built from scratch, it remains rare.”
This is the driving force that led Eileen Phoan and Fabian Tan to start Left & Right—a bespoke jewellery startup that was built to reflect the stories told by their consumers.
Together, Eileen and Fabian started an adventure of designing, conceptualising and producing jewellery from scratch, where no two pieces are the same.
In 2014, the duo was even introduced to the Global Student Entrepreneurship Award where they emerged as champions and went on to represent Malaysia in Washington DC as well as land a full feature on Huffington Post.
Passion Project Turned Award-Winning Business
Eileen attributed the real idea behind Left & Right to her late grandparents.
“Growing up, my grandparents were splendid storytellers and I was always moved by their stories. When they passed, I moved to creating jewellery pieces with a story to tell, as my own way of having a conversation with them,” said Eileen.
However, the stories and novelty behind her pieces quickly caught on. Eileen soon started to receive emails and text messages about how her pieces resonated with those who came across them on social media.
Noticing a real demand, Eileen and Fabian teamed up to display their pieces in bazaars and other pop-up events.
This was early in the days when Left & Right was still not a proper brand—and Eileen and Fabian weren’t even done with their university degrees.
“We started organically somewhere during the pursuit of our degree. Initially, it was a means to support ourselves financially, very often completing assignments and studying for exams behind a sales booth when customers were not around,” Eileen mused.
But along the way, the duo took the dive and started to chase their passions full-time.
The Left & Right brand name was then born, embodying the duality of what they do and the significance of how science meets creativity.
Away With The Generic Ring Shopping Experience
They start each customer off by sitting them down and learning what they want to be seen through a design. This could be done by a Skype video call or walk-in through their atelier.
Left & Right’s services start from RM1,800 for a bespoke consultation, first designs and sourcing for materials.
Since the end product is custom-made, they operate on quotation based pricing. The final price would depend on materials, the gemstones used, the craftsmanship involved, and so on.
Our inspiration centres around the clients’ story. We rely on their openness to share their message and what they would like the piece to carry on.Eileen Phoan, co-founder, Left & Right.
“Each piece is a design that reflects on them as a person,” Eileen summarised.
Understandably, we had some questions. What if all that work is done and it doesn’t mirror the expectations of the customer? How expensive is it to make changes?
When asked, Eileen told us that in the rare occurrence this happens, they always make it a point to provide follow-up assistance at a separate, but fair rate.
“We rarely experience that, as the entire process involves a lot of communication. We update our client of the progress—from sketching to sourcing and completion,” she said.
According to their website, a single project can take anywhere from 10-12 weeks to be completed.
50% of the project quotation is collected as a deposit. After the piece is done, the full payment is then required at least 5 days before collection at their atelier or via delivery.
Crafting Forever From Scratch
Eileen and Fabian’s story didn’t start out glamorous.
Eileen told Vulcan Post that finding the right talent for their bespoke concept was difficult at first.
“We used to have to go door to door and be passed from one referral to the other in order to find craftsmen.”
But then Lady Luck shone upon them.
One day, they came across a retiring master craftsman, who sold them his tools and poured out 55 years of knowledge to the duo on the proper practices of jewellery-making.
Then again, both Eileen and Fabian came from a mechanical engineering background, after all, so they were no strangers to the world of hands-on building.
“Both of us love the idea and school of thought of engineering being a problem solver. From engineering, we are introduced to the systems and methodology needed to verify our steps and then produce the desired outcome,” Eileen explained.
In terms of who does what, Eileen told us that she is mostly responsible for conversing with each client about their design preferences and personality.
Fabian, on the other hand, spearheads the behind-the-scenes of the business, making sure that logistics, development, finance and everything else runs smoothly.
The day-to-day operations—including brainstorming—is carried out with help from their own creative team, who help materialise a customer’s imagination into tangible artwork and images.
Once a design is finalised and confirmed with a customer, it is then sent off to their craftsmen to produce.
Learning Something New Each Day
In 2019 alone, they have been awarded the Young Master Award by Craft Council and the Young Entrepreneurs Award by Higher Commissioner of Australia.
They’ve also managed to rack up quite the portfolio—with customers hailing all the way from the USA to Netherlands, New Zealand, and about 20 other countries.
Yet, Eileen told us that there’s still nothing quite like the gratitude and feedback from her customers.
“Our biggest sense of achievement is when they tell us how meaningful our pieces are for their proposal, union, arrival of new family members, remembrance, or purely to celebrate a moment.”Eileen Phoan, co-founder, Left & Right.
Keeping all that in mind, Left & Right is adding onto their services and working on a more ‘made to measure’ line.
This entails a more minimalistic concept where customers can choose the centre stone with only minor personalisation instead of building a new piece completely from scratch.
The team is also looking towards opening one more gallery in Kuala Lumpur.
- You can read more about other Malaysian startups here.
Featured Image Credit: Left & Right