After getting married at 25, Michelle Chu was pregnant with her first child the following year.
She couldn’t wait to begin looking for a diaper bag along with other baby products to prep for her new addition. To her dissatisfaction, Michelle was unable to find suitable bags that were both stylish and practical.
From my own observations, diaper bags usually carry cutesy prints, as if appealing more to the babies than their mothers.
Michelle agreed, sharing that it was the trigger to launch her own brand, Jae Ko Designs (Jae Ko), for minimalistic and stylish diaper bags that appealed to modern parents.
“Jae” is a homage to her firstborn, Jamie, while “Ko” means “baby” in Japanese. “Baby J,” Michelle told Vulcan Post. “If there were three words to describe [the brand], it would be simple, chic, and uncomplicated.”
I’ve witnessed the primitive years of my cousins growing up. As babies, their parents would often be lugging around a large backpack filled with diapers, milk bottles, a hot water flask, extra clothes, diapers, snacks, wet wipes, and more.
While backpacks can get the job done, Michelle believes that they don’t have the proper features of a good diaper bag.
“A good diaper bag would have all the necessary compartments and it would definitely save a lot of time as it’s more organised,” Michelle explained. For example, diaper bags should be water-resistant, have heat-insulated pockets, and stroller straps.
Made with PU leather, the material for Jae Ko bags was chosen as it is easier to maintain and clean. This is because accidents and spillages are bound to happen around babies and children. “So I knew I wanted a leather that I can just use a wet wipe to clean,” Michelle added.
The cost can also be lower compared to real leather, making it more affordable to consumers.
Just like Tracey, another Malaysian-made bag brand we’ve featured, compartments are at the heart of Jae Ko’s designs for diaper bags, which took Michelle two years to design.
Learning to speak the language
With a Bachelor’s degree in Neuroscience from Perth and an MBA, Michelle went into the R&D with zero fashion design experience. All she knew at the time was that she wanted her bags to come with multiple compartments.
Diving into market research, she looked at diaper bags offered around the world and studied their trends. After numerous sketches, Michelle finally had a design that she could visualise as a product.
The next hurdle came from the language barrier while looking for a good, reliable manufacturer in China. While Michelle did speak some “casual Malaysian-Chinese,” as she puts it, she couldn’t read nor write in Mandarin.
She was also adamant that the manufacturers sourced quality materials for her diaper bags.
“It was a very tedious process as I had to create sample bags and prototypes with a few different companies, going around and about an unfamiliar city, looking for the most compatible type of vegan leather and gold hardware,” Michelle recalled.
Although it was a lengthy process, Michelle looks back at the experience fondly and has found enjoyment in it. Jae Ko was launched in April 2019, with a bootstrapped capital of RM60K.
Fitting it all in
After launching the Original diaper bag with 13 compartments (RM299), Jae Ko then released a Mini version (RM200) along with a Tote bag (RM312).
The Mini is fitting for mums going on quick outings, like an errand run, where they don’t have to fit too many things in the bag’s 11 compartments. “They have this as an option so they don’t have to carry a big diaper bag around,” Michelle explained.
Meanwhile, the Tote appears suitable for working mums, as its dimensions imply that one can even fit a 15-inch laptop in one of its 13 compartments.
Of course, Jae Ko isn’t the only Malaysian-made diaper bag brand in the market with more mature and modern designs. Princeton Bag is another name that carries functional and minimalist diaper bags for RM99-RM199, although they do mostly take on backpack designs that look reminiscent of professional laptop bags.
At the end of the day, it’s still up to customers’ preferences on what kinds of bag designs and colour palettes they fancy.
To reach its target customers of mid to high-income young mothers within the age range of 25 to their late 30s, Jae Ko is building a community, on top of the usual social media marketing. The online community is where the brand shares informational content about motherhood or baby care, and parenting tips, to name a few.
In the next three years, Jae Ko intends to expand its product variants, such as releasing a breast pump bag, other baby-care accessories and products as a whole.
The team will also continuously improve on their core products’ designs while getting Jae Ko bags retailed in stores.
- Learn more about Jae Ko Designs here.
- Read other stories about Malaysian startups we’ve featured here.
Featured Image Credit: Michelle Chu, founder of Jae Ko Designs