Tote bags are my perfect choice for running a quick run or spending the day at the mall, coffee shop, or a friend’s house. More often than not, these bags tend to have a minimalist design or a logo of a brand that had offered the bag for marketing reasons.
With designed tote bags being a standard for me, I was surprised to stumble upon a local Instagram business called NO DESIGNER HERE. He sells tote bags with, you guessed it, no designs.
What interested me more was how its founder found the company good enough to do it for almost 8 years. Who was behind?
Selling plain bags is just more sustainable
Besides just painting or creating artwork on regular canvases for sale, some artists have found that creating patterns on blank, practical objects like clothes or shoes can be a more lucrative business.
Amirah Azhari was a designer who painted custom designs on tote bags for sale to students at her university in 2013. She sourced the fabric bags wholesale from a local supplier and took orders from her customers who asked for personalized works of art. .
Business started to look bright and Amirah got serious in the hopes of continuing her full time. But creating personalized tote bags took time and didn’t bring in enough income for a steady income. So, she decided to sell the plain tote bags so that others could paint on their own designs.
“That’s where the name ‘NO DESIGNER HERE’ comes from. There is no designer here in my company, you have to be your own designer and paint your own tote bag, ”Amirah told Vulcan Post.
But the supply was not easy
Amirah is determined to produce the perfect tote bags for her customers, whether it’s the A4 or A3 sizes of the bag or the length of its handles. Other sellers she found often sold bags with short handles that make it difficult for tall or plus size customers to put on.
Although she wanted to sew each bag herself for quality control, the work was intensive and she struggled to keep up with demand. Finally, she decided to outsource the production of her bags.
However, finding reputable suppliers is another challenge. Finding a manufacturer of plain canvas tote bags was rare and expensive, she said. And while research could be done online, samples were needed to make sure they met Amirah’s product standards.
Amirah explained, “The samples are also very expensive. A sample for a simple tote bag can cost up to RM200 just to ship to Malaysia. And I need to have samples from different factories to compare them, so these can get very expensive. “
Still a student at the time, Amirah kept her budget low and started NO DESIGNER HERE with a capital of RM100, which also resulted in 30 pieces of tote bags. She would also remain cautious when it came to restocking her supplies from 500 to 1,000 pieces each time.
With his family as support, they often loaned him money to fund NO DESIGNER HERE. Amirah also explained that she had to borrow her sister’s credit card to pay vendors because online banking in 2014 was not as fast as we know it today.
A few years later, Amirah became more independent and took out business loans from various banking programs.
She also joined a free entrepreneur class run by the Ministry of Internal Trade and Consumer Affairs, which then introduced her to Kajang Prison.
The prisoners there were assigned to sewing 2 types of NO DESIGNER HERE tote bags and pencil cases from 2017 to 2021. The company would supply the materials while the prisoners sewed them into finished products.
“Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, they had to stop taking orders to make way for the production of PPE for local hospitals,” Amirah said. While the founder continues to look for a local tailor to produce the bags, NO DESIGNER HERE is currently sourcing from a manufacturer in China.
A canvas for practical use
Although Amirah’s business started with students as its primary customers, NO DESIGNER HERE now supplies its tote bags to print shops, small businesses, artists and hobbyists. The brand has even fulfilled orders for 4Fingers.
Individual customers bought the plain bags to hand paint their own designs while others used them for embroidery work, a recent trend during the MCO.
NO DESIGNER HERE plain tote bags are priced between RM 7 and RM 9.80 per bag, but the prices can drop a lot when purchased in bulk. On average, Amirah reported that the company generates revenue of RM 10,000 per month.
In the long term, Amirah hopes her business will sell other cotton canvas products beyond bags. This year, it has already supplied cotton canvas to customers wishing to sew their own bags and accessories with this material.
“I’m also in the process of renaming my business, maybe changing my business name to start,” Amirah added.
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We have written about many companies and startups with innovative solutions, services or products that target specific industries, so NO DESIGNER HERE has stood out with its simple and “unsexy” product that appeals to the general public.
Being a small business, it doesn’t seem like Amirah is aiming to become the supplier of plain tote bags, which makes sense as this is a company with seemingly very low barriers to entry. Its advantage is its use of social media for the brand, which allows it to market itself and reach its target market.
So far, it’s a strategy that works, and it has built up enough followers (14,000 on Instagram) to experiment and expand its product line in a way that remains aligned with its branding.
- You can read more about NO DESIGNER HERE here.
- You can read more about other Malaysian startups we’ve covered here..
Image Credit Featured: Amirah Azhari, Founder of NO DESIGNER HERE