From classic to classy — redefining traditional hand-woven bags

Chloe collection.
In the beginning, San Bong’s entrepreneurial plan was to help local weavers by marketing their overstocked hand-woven bags on the internet. However, along the way, San found her true calling in the business as she began to redefine traditional hand-woven bags under her brand name ‘San Bong’.  

A modern take on a traditional craft

San Bong.

Each of San Bong’s bags is carefully made, and the details feature exceptional craftsmanship to ensure that every piece is of the highest quality. That was what entrepreneur and designer San Bong always kept in mind as she plans for the next big thing.

Under her brand name, San tries to redefine traditional hand-woven baskets to fit the current trend.

Twirling with laces and decorated with adorable pins, San carefully curates each bag accordingly.  

Raised in Serian, the mother-of-four started the brand last October. While her journey was somewhat coincidental, San felt that it was the right time to live her dream in the fashion and art industry. Her initial plan, however, was to help the local weavers who had a hard time selling their hand-woven baskets.

Yara collection.

A plan to help weavers

Chloe collection.

“It was disheartening to see the plight of the local weavers during the lockdown. Their baskets lay all over the floor as they were not able to sell well in the market. Furthermore, they are not familiar with the internet, so marketing their goods online was out of the question. So, I took the initiative to help them with online marketing,” San explained.

Business then started to pick up. However, San said that people started to get bored of the traditional designs, and many had already bought the same ones twice over. “So I thought to myself, why not change the styles a little and make them more interesting and classy.”

As she began the project, the 37-year-old suddenly realised how much she enjoys redesigning the bags. “I try to make the pieces look classy or trendy. I studied the current trend to see what the market demands. Starting from then, ideas to create mini bags, small mahjong bags, makeup bags and many others began to pour out.” 

Pandemic choice

Up to date, San Bong has an array of unique collections suitable for all ages. Exposing the local weavers to contemporary designs, San said that even the weavers couldn’t believe that the bags would be so well-received. 

Proven as a favourite among locals, San revealed that many customers told her that nowadays they prefer baskets over leather bags. “During the pandemic period, women who went out with their leather bags would often sanitise it after they went home. This would ruin the leather. So with ‘San Bong’ bags, they can easily clean it without having to worry about ruining their favourite bag.” According to San, the most expensive bags in her collection are priced at a reasonable RM300, considering that each ornamental piece on the bags is imported. The bags also come with a dust bag.  

San disclosed that many had felt that she was putting a huge price on the woven bags.
“They told me that the bags are not worth the hundreds. But they don’t see the effort and amount of time that the weavers put in making the bag, and the cost of the accessories. 

“Then, there are those who copied the designs. When they see how I tied the laces and how I decorate the bags, they would imitate it. However, I take it as a compliment. As a brand, I need to constantly improve my designs and stay ahead of the competitions,” she added. 

Chasing dreams

As a small-time businesswoman for many years, San revealed that this is the first time that she really pursued what she likes. Being married in her early20s put a halt on everything, as she dedicated her life to her family.  

“I never had the time to concentrate on myself. And when I started to help the weavers market their bags, not only was I helping them, I also discovered something myself, something different than what I had done before.” 

Asked on her advice to mothers, San said that it is important to have someone to look up to. “Look for a mentor, someone to admire and inspire you. Besides that, appreciate the people who are always around you as they will be the ones to encourage you in life. For me, I owe a lot to my friends as they were the ones who encouraged me to start ‘San Bong’.”

The optimistic San also advised aspiring entrepreneurs to always be calm when faced with challenges. “Instead of getting angry, keep your cool, have a seat and think thoroughly about finding a solution. Anger and frustrations will only make things worse.” 

San hopes that one day she could work in the creative industry as an interior designer. “I hope to further my studies in that field as it has always been my ambition.”

As she looks forward to the future, for now, San will continue to create distinguished and unique bags under the ‘San Bong’ brand.