Urban bags, proudly made in Malaysia

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Patrick Lim feels strongly about giving equal opportunity to local workmanship and service providers while encouraging more Malaysians to make things locally.Patrick Lim feels strongly about giving equal opportunity to local workmanship and service providers while encouraging more Malaysians to make things locally.

Patrick Lim designed his first bag more than five years ago.

“A friend who was starting a bag business asked me to design one. At that time, I was travelling a lot for work, and my bag was my best friend. But it wasn’t ergonomic,” he said.

So, he designed a bag that would suit him. It was sent to be manufactured in China, and it arrived exactly to his specifications. And it was ugly.

“It wasn’t what I envisioned at all. So, I set out to figure out the problem and to make a prototype – with a thread and needle, and fabric,” he said.

He sewed it himself but again, he didn’t like the end product. On impulse, he decided to buy a sewing machine to keep making more bags and accessories like a hard drive wallet.

“I kept on researching, and it became an obsession. I always say I feel the most alive when I’m at a sewing machine!” he said.

It took many bags before he got bag design down to a T – and today, his Greenroom 136 canvas bags are functional, sturdy, and good to look at.

From messenger bags to laptop backpacks to wallets and accessories, the bags have come a long way. He now sells a wide range of city bags online as well as in Jaya One’s retail gallery.

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Proudly Made-in-Malaysia, the bags have become popular with Malaysians despite the initial reluctance to choose a local product. Lim said at first, no one wanted to buy these unknown bags made in Malaysia, on top of that.

They didn’t have the cachet of being imported.

But Lim persisted. He believed in his product, and also feels strongly about giving equal opportunity to local workmanship and service providers while encouraging more Malaysians to make things locally.

But he does not rule out manufacturing abroad in the future, if need warrants it and standards can be maintained.

“Right now, it’s hard to maintain control over the product if it’s manufactured abroad,” he said.

His bags are known for their sturdiness and good design which takes into account how Malaysians use their bags.

The messenger bags, for instance, have extra outside pockets, and a hidden flap on the inside to prevent rain water from seeping in. The beach bags separate dry and wet clothes, and have pockets to hold small items like keys and phones.

Lim used to sew the bags at night after his day job. But now, he has two staff to sew while he manages the rest of the business. The workshop is now operating at full capacity of 500 pieces a month.

The most popular item is the Junk Monkey, a messenger bag, and the pared-down version, Bootstrap. They are not cheap, the Junk Monkey costs RM500.

Sales were really slow at first but along the way, Lim learnt how to market them.

First, people wanted to see proof of the bags’ quality. Hence, he made YouTube videos to show just that. He filled a bag with bottles of water and hung it from a hook, and then climbed onto it. And it did not break.

He also realised people relate well to stories, and thus, he invited several users to share their personal stories, with the bag taking a peripheral role. The videos are uploaded on his website and facebook page.

And last, he found out that he needed to create a wide range of products to convince customers that he knew what he was doing. Besides, the smaller items sold a lot faster than big items.

So, why bags?

“I have always wanted to go into business but couldn’t figure out what to do,” he said. Bags were as good as any.

After three years, Greenroom 136 has found its own niche.

“I have to say that it became viable because of social media like Facebook and YouTube which let us promote the bags, as well as the current interest in artisan products,” he said.

As more and more people carry the Greenroom 136 bags with its distinctive gorilla logo, its Made-in-Malaysia tag has become a source of pride.

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