UNG YIU LIN
FOUNDER OF ShoesShoesShoe
She has always known that fashion was her calling, but Ung Yiu Lin did not answer that call immediately. A good Asian girl, she took the traditional path and earned her Bachelor’s degree in Accounting and Finance, followed by a Master’s in Applied Finance. “Inherently, it seemed like my path was meant to be in the finance and banking world,” said the founder of Malaysian multi-label store, ShoesShoesShoes.
But nothing could stop a woman on a mission — even if she didn’t know it yet. The other shoe eventually dropped when she was 26. Yiu Lin left her comfy corporate job at Boston Consulting Group, and leapt into the unknown.
“I started ShoesShoesShoes, my first baby, from scratch,” she said in a rich, raspy voice that makes you pay attention. “There weren’t many women my age dabbling in business then. It was a quite a big risk for me to take, but I knew it was my calling, and I believe that just because I did not have any formal training in design or fashion, it didn’t mean it should limit me — and it didn’t.”
What started as a shoe brand — whose mission was to sell affordable, quality shoes to women from all walks of life so that they could buy three pairs at one go — has evolved to become “one of the most famous multi-label stores in Malaysia that proudly showcases designers from Malaysia and around the region, including Singaporean brands like Ong Shunmugam and exhibit by Yoyo Cao”.
Through her business, the 40-year-old mother-of-three has played a significant role in supporting the fashion scene in Malaysia. “We are the place that helps to commercialise a lot of the local designers.”
It’s unsurprising that she should be perceived as “an inspiring female entrepreneur” who has liberated herself from what she “should be” to become who she is. “I’d like to think that I’ve helped pave the way for other young female entrepreneurs to break out of their comfort zone to do something they believe in and are passionate about,” she said.
Breaking out of comfort zones, it seems, is what Yiu Lin has become quite comfortable with. The collaboration between the entrepreneur and ByCanary coincided with her desire to get a foot into fine-jewellery design for the everyday woman. On this note, we are pleased to report that the ByCanary X Yiu Lin collection is everything you could dream of — luxe, wearable, versatile, functional, stylish and affordable. We are incredibly proud of our inaugural collaborative collection. Read on for more on the creative process behind it from Yiu Lin, who also gives us a glimpse into her personal style, tips on accessorising, and her advice on being your most confident self.
“I believe fashion is a statement of who you are.”
How would you describe your style, and how big a part does jewellery play in your every-day lifestyle?
Yiu Lin: My style is best described as chameleon, I would say. I have got very classic, timeless looks, but I also like to add a touch of something edgy that would reflect my personality. I like to be bold in my choices, and I love to express that side of me in the jewellery I wear. For me, most of the time, it’s more is more is more.
There are times, when I can’t be too OTT, that’s when I go back to the basics. But the basics are beautiful basics. As you will see in my collection with ByCanary, you can play around with the different shapes of diamonds, and also because of the way the pieces are cut and engineered, the prices are not as exorbitant as you’d imagine or as compared to years ago.
What does fashion mean to you?
Yiu Lin: I believe fashion is a statement of who you are. As women, we have so many different facets to our personality, so we get to play around with that. I may be feeling a little bit more serious one day, and I’ll dress up in a power suit. When I feel more edgy, I wear a pair of ripped jeans with a statement blazer. If I'm feeling feminine, I’ll wear a floral baby-doll dress. So, I really think that’s what fashion should be — fun.
It also should be functional and flatter our unique shape and size. Everyone is different. Ultimately, we need to wear what makes us feel comfortable, and what makes us feel good. I believe that when you have the right attitude, you actually get through the day better, and you’ll do better in your work or whatever.
When you invest in fashion, you should be able to make it your own, so if it’s one piece — whether it’s clothing or jewellery — that you can wear in a few ways that let you express yourself differently, that, to me, is value. I think that’s what consumers are striving for nowadays: To express themselves differently.
Who are your favourite designers?
Yiu Lin: I love Australian fashion. That’s where I studied, and I love brands like Scanlan and Theodore, Zimmerman and Dion Lee. I think Australian designers have a very unique take on fashion. They’re very wearable, and they’ve done really well, too, in the international fashion world.
I also believe in non-designer fashion labels. Take Zara for example — they have made fashion very affordable and accessible to everyone, and it’s now possible for people, men and women, to be more experimental with their style.
What inspired your collaboration with ByCanary and the designs in the collection?
Yiu Lin: Every woman loves jewellery and diamonds. But gone are the days when you only receive diamonds on your engagement, wedding or anniversary. Women want to be buying their own diamonds — they work hard and sometimes they just want to buy themselves something as a reward or to mark a special occasion, but they don't want to be forking out an exorbitant amount of money for it.
ByCanary approached me at the perfect time, because I was already looking to do something with fine jewellery. I think there’s a gap in the market in Malaysia. I was looking to do something that is multi-functional, versatile with diamonds that are affordable and intelligently designed and cut to make it very interesting. I envisioned a collection that expresses a sense of timelessness — classic pieces that could at the same time be interpreted with a twist so the wearer is free to express her mood or spirit of the moment. I’ve always believed that jewellery is a form of self-expression.
So, what you’ll find in this collection are beautiful stackable and buildable pieces that will take you from day to night, from classy to edgy, which to me is the fun thing we are incorporating into fine jewellery. That serves the modern woman a lot better than a static piece. At the same time, these are pieces that can last a lifetime, that you can pass down to your children.
At the end of the day, I put myself in the customers’ shoes when I’m designing, and it excites me that I can now invest in fine jewellery with real diamonds at a fraction of the prices of before.
Can you offer a few tips on accessorising? For example, how would you style some of the pieces you’ve designed with ByCanary?
Yiu Lin: This collection is very stackable and interchangeable. I love stacking my rings. But sometimes, I want to focus on my neckline and I’ll have many layers of different stones and chains going on. This collection is your first investment into the future where you can keep adding on to the pieces you’re purchasing.
What is the most important thing you look for when you’re shopping for jewellery?
Yiu Lin: I’m 40 this year, so I’m at a point in my life where I want to buy quality pieces and invest in things that will last a lifetime — pieces that I can reflect on and be reminded of certain memories and milestones, pieces that evoke warm feelings you truly love. I believe that’s what fine jewellery should do for you.
I am tired of wearing gold-plated jewellery. Eventually they are going to tarnish and you’ll have to get rid of it. You do fall in love with the piece sometimes and you get so used to wearing it, so I want something that lasts. So I look for 18K gold. I want real diamonds, real stones. But like I said, I don’t want to spend a lot of money on it, so this collection with ByCanary is going to basically hit the nail on the head for most women.
The other thing is, buy from a reputable brand you trust, so you have peace of mind that you’re buying a quality product.
“. . . Pieces that I can reflect on and be reminded of certain memories and milestones, pieces that evoke warm feelings you truly love.”
There’s a charity aspect to this collaboration. Can you tell us more? What cause are you supporting, why?
Yiu Lin: In this day and age, especially being an entrepreneur, you want to start thinking about how you can help the less privileged. I have been very lucky to still be operating a business after over a decade, to have done quite well. I feel like it’s time for me to think about how I can help other people and help improve other people’s lives.
I feel that a lot of us take for granted our access to basic education. In Malaysia, more than 330,000 children cannot attend school.
Without education, the cycle of poverty will continue from one generation to another. Children become vulnerable to all forms of exploitation, their freedom and dignity robbed. As such, we feel that we can impact these children’s developmental years (even if it’s by a notch), to give them an equal access.
Dignity for Children Foundation is a non-government organisation that provides holistic care and education for urban poor children in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
There are over 300 students who are fully sponsored at the moment. Many others are still on our waiting list. So we hope that our HOPE Collection will help. Your support will enable a child to receive quality education, nutritious meals, basic health and hygiene care, and other needs which he/she needs to develop academically and socially to break out from the cycle of poverty.
Finally, do you have any advice for women on how to feel / look more confident?
Yiu Lin: I think it comes from the inside. It’s not all superficial. We need to work on ourselves, and constantly be on a path of self-improvement, whether that is to surround yourself with people who elevate and inspire you, or learning new things and improving yourself, being proactive about being a more well-rounded, positive and better person, and contribute more to the world. I feel like we all need to make our mark in this world in the short amount of time that we are here, to make your life count, you know? By working on yourself, you will exude the right confidence internally. It’s not just about packaging yourself in a certain way. It comes from deep down. Once you have that, then whatever you put on yourself, whatever you wear, you that’s a bonus.