How Lisette Scheers Of Nala Design Crafts Stories From Local Symbols
A Dutch woman in Asia
“I have a strong affinity for culture, arts, and everything in between, but the big part of my work stems from my growing up here,” explained the bright-eyed lady of Dutch heritage. Born in Singapore and having lived in Malaysia, Lisette’s formative years were an amalgamation of colours, symbolism and antiques.
Both Nala stores offer opposite experiences – Every other weekend, the Kampung House throws themed, communal events, while the pop-up in Bangsar Village creates shopping experiences reflecting the season. For the festive season, the pop-up has undergone a ‘Pattern Cracker’ Christmas transformation, complete with graffiti of Christmas characters on the wall and splashes of red.
How her background and upbringing fed your creative outlet.
“From my mother’s family in Holland there are two textile designers, while my father’s side are all antique dealers. My interest in designing prints started 8 years ago. It was a quiet time between Christmas and Chinese New Year, and with nothing to do, I thought of designing something. Deutsche Bank commissioned it for their angpows, which launched Nala.”
Where she honed your design skills.
“I studied illustration and graphic design at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp. The pattern making is new to me and I’ve only been doing it the past 10 years. What makes it special and unique is they are all hand drawn.”
Her biggest creative inspirations.
Everything you can think of: Flowers in the garden, a beautiful skirt, tribal tattoos I saw on a recent trip to Kuching, even men’s print. It’s the handmade stuff that inspires me. Even on my travels, I was blown away by a pottery exhibition of 5 different dynasties in Japan and pink plates I bought from Paris. We’ve progressed from angpow packets, to fabric the clothing, cushion covers and handbags. Even furniture too!”
How Nala Design is involved with creative aspects of her business.
“They are all integrated under the brand, as an F&B concept set up in Nala style, weekend markets, workshops, advertising and branding. The difference is the retail and service industry. With Nala, you have a creative outlet, which you don’t have with advertising (L.Inc), and that juggling act suits me. Dr.Inc was a total accident. My friend and coffee consultant Jeremy Chin helped look after my shop while I went on a sabbatical, and he brought a coffee machine with him. Within a month we were rated #1 coffee spot in TimeOut. So we started serving food and it became a hit among café enthusiasts. Dr.Inc is in the midst of a revamp, so my focus is on Nala, which is doing unexpectedly well. Right now, the themed weekend markets at Kampung House are doing amazingly well.”
The evolution of Nala Design in retail.
“I’ve always looked at everything with big plans, but the biggest difference I learned was what everyone in retail should know, that you won’t exist without a physical space. Since opening the Bangsar Village store in June 17, everything has changed for me. It’s about creating a perception of your brand, picking a good location and turning it into a stunning space.
I was also new to the retail scene, so I learned on the job, made mistakes, and realized how lucky I am to have my background in advertising, which gave me financial stability. Because of my background and knowing how to market myself and sell, I knew what to do to control the market through styling and promotion.”
A typical day in her life, as a one-woman boss.
“It try to begin with yoga but that works once a week. Then breakfast, I check on emails and WhatsApps. I compile my to-do list the night before. I usually have back-to-back meetings but will brief my creative team, head off to meetings, then check in on the team. I take turns with my retail team to close the shop. My design work for Nala and clients start after 7pm or 8pm. It’s a 7-day week.”
Connecting identity to Nala Design.
“It’s the colour, the patterns, intricacies, that make them me. Everything is handdrawn and I’m very involved in the artisanal factor of everything, I’ve got an eye for detail. There should be something exciting or a little surprise at every corner. Take for example our angpow or cards, if you flip them open there’s a surprise somewhere. Designs back and front, inside and out are very different. You won’t see repeat illustrations. A lot of work goes into doing these indivual designs, and that’s why I was forced to move production to India, where they love beauty and hence don’t mind making smaller quantities.”
Her design process, from start to end.
“Anything like plates, crockery, paintings, books that catch my eye. I’m always looking for something that’s from the past era. In principal, it’s the intricacy we’ve lost. People don’t have time to sit for hours and draw these patterns anymore.”
Her favourite fabrics.
“Weavings. I have an absolute passion for batik. I love old batiks and the kebaya, which some of my fabrics are inspired by. My next collection is inspired by embroidery.”
The message behind her creations.
“That everything is possible. You can do whatever you want, and as long as you do it well. It has to be beautiful but must also have a message. Someone asked me what I stand for once, he said, ‘You make women feel like they can do it all, that it’s possible to make something beautiful in Malaysia and be Malaysian.’”