What started as a mere hobby turned into serious business for leather artisan Chim Yee Hui as she took a leap of faith and quit her day job as an engineer to pursue leathercrafting. After several years of perfecting her craft in Kuala Lumpur and France, she returned to Kuching and started her own business, selling premium-quality handmade leather bags and crafts.
More than just a fashion accessory
Meticulous and detailed, Chim Yee Hui’s handmade leather crafts each holds a special characteristic, driven by her obession for perfection.
The artisan takes pride in her works of art and she explained that every detail was done using traditional craftsmanship techniques.
As a leathercrafter, Chim’s goals are to pursue savoir-faire and perfection in every piece she makes.
Born in Selangor and married to a Sarawakian, Chim revealed that initially, leathercraft was never her ambition in life. While she has always enjoyed arts and crafts, she pursued her studies and career in engineering.
“In 2012, I found a Japanese leathercraft book in a bookstore and instantly fell in love with it. Then, I started leathercrafting as a hobby.”
The hobby magnified as she attended a leathercraft course in Taipei, where she also bought leather and tools to work with. “As time goes by, it became clear to me that leathercraft is my calling. So, I decided to pursue leathercraft professionally.”
With that idea in mind, Chim set her goal to study leathercraft in France as the country is known for its speciality in fashion and leather production.
In a world dominated by synthetic and technology, Chim believed in the autheticity and essence of leather.
“Leather is a natural material and the texture is warmer compared to other soft materials. Furthermore, genuine leather is timeless and unique. It is not uniform as no two pieces look the same.”
Chim then decided to quit her day job in engineering to work for a leather restoration company in Kuala Lumpur. “There I learned how to repair and restore handbags. As I worked with different luxury handbags daily, I learned the intricate structures and designs.”
The enthusiastic Chim, not forgetting her goal to learn in France, also took the initiative to study the language. “After 18 months of learning French, I passed the language proficiency test and applied for a leathercraft school in Paris.”
In France, she set her focus on learning the craft diligently. She gained more experience as an intern in a workshop that repairs Hermes handbags. She also worked as a prototypist in a renowned French luxury house.
“Through my experience in an established luxury house, my skills improved at an accelerated pace. It was there that I honed the ability to detail and perfect the leathercrafts that I do,” said the 34-year-old.
The process of leathercrafting
Chim’s craft is exclusive as she devotes herself to create timeless, functional and quality designs for her customers. Wanting the goods to be a long-time companion for clients instead of just a fashion accessory, Chim dedicates much attention to the process of crafting the leather goods.
The whole process starts with designing, where Chim revealed that she often take inspiration from Malaysian nature and culture. “We are blessed with the world’s most biodiverse equatorial rainforests in Borneo and a multi-cultural society, and that inspired most of my works.”
Then, Chim would transform the design into a tangible product through prototyping. “I would cut, split and skive the leather before I stitch it through the art of saddle stitching. I would sow it by hand, and I use a single linen thread with two needles on both ends. The thread will then be stitched through the stitching holes from both sides, which would make them look like the number ‘8’,” she shared.
Lastly, she would transform the raw edges to a sealed, compressed and painted edge through a process called ‘edge finishing’.
In a niche market in Malaysia, Chim explained that the biggest challenge is the source for tools and materials. “In France, leathercraft is a mature industry. They have a complete ecosystem. From the suppliers, the talents, up to the right audiences.”
She conceded that doing leathercraft in Kuching, can be tough. “Even getting the right glue would took me weeks. All my materials, tools and machineries are imported and I have to buy them in bulk. I have to learn to calibrate the machine and pray that it does not break down, as no technician would know how to fix it here.”
Nonetheless, Chim said that when there is a will, there is a way.
Hoping to integrate more local culture and craft into her product, Chim foresees herself continuing the passion for leathercrafting.
She regularly uploads her leathercraft products on her social media accounts. Those who are interested can browse through her Instagram and Facebook page @atelierchim.