Karina Foo may have designed her own line of fitness fashion apparel but she still hesitated when asked how long she has been an artist.
“I don’t really consider myself an artist,” she confessed. “Just someone who loves drawing and colour. Lots of colour! When I was a teenager, I would use special fabric ink to draw on my clothes and always toyed with the idea of designing my own colourful range of clothing one day.”
That idea was left to simmer on the back burner as Foo answered a second calling in journalism instead. Yet her art refused to play second fiddle and would often appear as little cartoons that accompanied her more serious articles. This co-existence continued until she migrated from Malaysia to Melbourne last year.
“I started designing and drawing again, and then it occurred to me that I could replicate my art on fitness wear. I’m a fitness buff and have been buying fitness apparel for years so this felt like a natural step.”
Within a few months, Lady Bold was born and in business. Each of the 15 pieces in the range is a canvas for Foo’s artwork and a nod to different facets of her life. The Royal Keris athletic tights, for instance, is a tribute to Malaysia where it was once used by royalty and warriors. The wordplay on the OWL-Ways Fit top, meanwhile, points to her journalism background and penchant for quirkiness.
Would she prefer the title of fashion designer to artist then? She demurred once again.
“No, I’m not a fashion designer either. I don’t think I’d ever become one because the industry is very competitive, and I’d like people to focus on my designs rather than on me.”
You’ve observed that the fashion industry is very competitive. So is fitness fashion, so how is Lady Bold standing apart from the rest?
There are many fitness apparel brands in the market but most of the designs are somewhat similar. I wanted to create a line that would stand out in its colour and unique focus on hand drawn artwork. If (American artist) Ed Hardy can hand draw designs on casual wear then why couldn’t I do the same for fitness apparel?
Then there are the functional qualities of Lady Bold’s pants. I discovered that my customers look for specific details like a zip pocket inside the waistband or a mid to high-rise waistband that supports the tummy. The other key factors are a streamline cut to give the illusion of slender legs, a four-way stretch for comfort, reinforced seams for durability, colours that won’t fade, and a moisture wicking and anti-bacterial fabric.
What kind of business groundwork did you lay beforehand?
I never really planned for this to be a full-fledged business. I started off wanting to create something I would buy with the hope that there would be others as quirky as me who would appreciate these designs.
Because I didn’t do any market survey, there was always a little fear that the designs would be too loud and no one would buy them. But I eventually stopped worrying as I was too busy designing, looking for a manufacturer and coming up with ideas!
Having said that though, I’ve been unintentionally trying and testing a wide range of fabrics and stitching methods for years. But it was only when I started Lady Bold that I began visiting big brand outlets and speaking to staff about materials and fabric. I read labels, studied the fabric and workmanship, and then did more research online. I saw that some brands stood out because of their quality and these were the brands I wanted to emulate.
Which part of the concept-to-product process was most challenging?
Looking for a manufacturer. It took four months, a lot longer than I expected. Most manufacturers require large orders and prefer simpler pre-made designs or templates. My designs are created from scratch so everything had to be printed from a blank canvas.
I finally found a boutique manufacturer that is a family owned and run business. Knowing that they upheld ethical work practices gave me peace of mind.
The other challenging part of production was selecting the exact colours from the manufacturer’s Pantone codes. It’s so much more than just “red”, “white” or “blue”. Each pattern has 40-50 different colours so it was a very tedious process.
Tell us about your creative process.
I don’t spend much time thinking about what I’m going to draw. I just let my creativity manifest onto paper. Then the real work kicks in and I spend about six months going through the technical details of each design.
How big a role does creativity play in entrepreneurship?
It plays a role in every single part of entrepreneurship! Aside from designing, I also have to be a creative writer and problem solver since I run the whole operations alone.
What was the best and worst advice you have received to date?
The best advice, which came from my parents, husband and close friends, was to keep believing in my product and to have patience. I’m a go-getter and don’t like waiting for things to happen.
The worst advice? One was to hire a team of professionals to build and run the business. I invested my savings into Lady Bold so it made better financial sense to learn to do what I could on my own first. Another was to create monotone or less vibrant designs because it’s “safer”. But that’s not Lady Bold. My brand is anything but safe, monotone or non-vibrant.