When her car skidded and crashed along the Penang bridge in August 2017, Lobhini escaped with only 15 stitches to her thighs. Her car, however, did not meet the same fate as it was totaled.
The accident took a toll on Lobhini’s mental health and she found it difficult to return to her then-job as a HR Operation Specialist.
“However, the accident served as a reminder of how there’s so much to be thankful for as there is so little time to not be chasing after the things that you love,” expressed Lobhini.
In her time of unhappiness, Lobhini was offered art tools by a friend as a means of distraction. Instead of falling into the clutches of despair, she decided to de-stress creatively.
Eventually, her creative outlet grew into a brand known as The Sambar Incident (TSI) in January 2018, though she didn’t channel her full attention to it until the end of 2020, when she left her corporate job.
Today, TSI is an independent streetwear brand that is inspired by the culture and heritage of Malaysian Indians.
The brand’s tagline, “Our Culture, Our Brand” symbolises the close-knit Indian community that is bonded by attitudes, values, and goals.
As Lobhini explained, “I am passionate about representing my culture and heritage. Fashion was a route I chose to visually express my designs that represent my roots.”
One example of a collection carrying the pride of Malaysian Indian pop culture can be seen in their Nityataa collaboration, which celebrates traditional Indian music.
The beginning of a global brand
After leaving her corporate job, she took up a Masters in Entrepreneurship and Innovation.
“My Masters equipped me with much knowledge and skills that it led to one of the biggest wins in my entrepreneurial journey thus far, a one-year tenancy with Kedai KL,” shared Lobhini.
With over 50 local brands competing for a retail store at Kedai KL, her business plan and pitch crowned her a champion overall. Besides a retail store at Kedai KL, TSI products are also available on their website.
By focusing on creating designs that are original, TSI has come up with products that resonate with the public.
Furthermore, Lobhini doesn’t have to look far and wide for inspiration. “It hits me from all corners in my day-to-day life,” she said.
For instance, TSI’s best-seller ‘Budak Malaysia” was created during the pandemic, whilst the store was temporarily closed for four months.
The meaning behind Budak Malaysia captures what being a Malaysian is in its essence, with graphic designs illustrating elements of familiar Malaysian culture.
TSI’s classic designs range from RM50-RM59, while their premium designs start at RM69, and hoodies start at RM119.
While Lobhini leads TSI, another crucial creative half of the brand is Vinoth, their brand designer. Having created art since he was 15, there’s one lesson he holds dear and believes every other creative should too: trust the process.
Thus far, this has worked, with his designs catching the eyes and interest of overseas customers too over the span of four years.
Unintentionally going international
TSI has now sent its products to Singapore, India, Australia, Canada, the US, UK, and Dubai.
According to Lobhini, this wasn’t even an intentional growth plan. It simply happened in 2020, and continued ever since.
Their international expansion began in Singapore first, then customers from the UK, US, Dubai, and India started pouring in.
“My focus for the past two years has been to increase brand awareness here locally, and
[we are] very blessed when international audiences appreciate what we bring to the table,” Lobhini said.
Now, she believes that they’re finally ready to hit the international market with intention.
“I think what attracts the international audience is how niche and one of a kind our designs are—[they’re] something unusual.”
“We found that the Tamil diaspora from the US and UK shared their love for our designs as it’s something not commonly found in their countries. In the end, they loved TSI because it made them feel connected to their roots and culture too,” she shared.
Creating opportunities and making a change at the same time
Along with managing TSI, Lobhini launched a series of workshops that helps budding entrepreneurs from all age groups create a brand for themselves.
Her workshops are titled “Creating a Strong Brand” and are run under the umbrella of Sambar Fashion Design. She is currently conducting these workshops as a certified HRDF trainer herself.
She’s come quite a way from the early days of TSI, when it received lots of criticism and sceptical remarks about the brand’s purpose and mission.
But Lobhini understood that it would take some time for people to understand the brand’s vision and the meanings they’re trying to convey.
She believes that TSI has since paved the way for other similar brands to crop up, though she explained, “What’s important at the end of the day as competitors is that we are ethical and respectful of each other’s growth as brands.”
Moving forward, the brand has plans to participate in pop-up events so that customers from other states have the opportunity to feel their products physically, instead of just browsing online.
For the immediate future, TSI will make its appearance in Seremban and Melaka on July 30 and 31, and August 6 and 7, respectively.
Featured Image Credit: The Sambar Incident