Arts & Culture

Monokerom: Minimalism Personified

Architects of fabric

Words by
Adrienne
Location
Malaysia

During last October’s Public Garden trade show at the Suntec City Convention Centre, curious shoppers swiped through pieces that hung from Monokerom’s neatly assembled racks. A bit of unfolding revealed some geometric creations that were concealed in calming neutral tones by the Malaysian fashion brand. 

A twofold partnership

Monokerom is the brainchild of creativity and entrepreneurship by the pair Imanie and Hafiz who are based in Kuala Lumpur. With a background in Fashion Marketing and Management, Imanie leads all things marketing, design, production, and graphics for the fashion brand. Practising engineer Hafiz takes charge of finances, logistics, and photography. Together they are partners in business and in life.

“Before the start of Monokerom, I was working as a stylist at a local e-commerce company. After a few years [at the company], I felt that I didn’t have enough creative freedom so I needed another outlet to express myself,” said Imanie who left to pursue a business of her own after Hafiz convinced her that they could begin their own clothing line together. 

Co-founder Imanie wears the AOKI ensemble

“I knew that I wanted to create something that went beyond just selling garments. I wanted our business to be driven by a larger purpose—to advocate mindful consumption.”

Imanie shares about the brand’s driving philosophy since 2015. She shared with Hafiz the dream for consumers to outgrow excessive purchasing habits and perceiving clothes as easily disposable.  

Minimalist makers

Monokerom places the value of mindful consumption at the core of its practices from start to finish. “Our design process typically begins with a mood board for inspiration. After sketching designs, we choose what ideas to materialise and produce.” During the fabric selection stage, the team makes a conscious effort to select natural fibres that are friendlier to the environment with longer lifespans. The garments are then produced locally. 

“We believe that our designs should be uncomplicated however intricately constructed,” shares Imanie. The brand achieves functionality without sacrificing style. She describes their clothes as “season-less” having been crafted to meld into existing wardrobes in hopes of reducing the wastage produced by the fashion industry’s prevalent seasons, which inevitably usher in new trends and clothing to sell. 

LOIS genderless separates embody stunning simplicity when worn as a monochrome set or even integrated with existing items of clothing

The overarching theme of practicality and minimalism is evident in Monokerom’s brand philosophy and design values. “This encourages us to focus on the essentials,” Imanie says. The brand wishes to impart a reflective approach to purchasing habits. 

“We’d like to think that we cater to everyone. By producing garments that are both versatile and unfettered by trends, we believe that people from all walks of life can find something from the brand that they can easily adapt into their wardrobe.”

Monokerom aims to produce clothing across genders and cultures. 

Multicultural breach

Having been well-received by Singaporeans and Bruneians has been a testament to Monokerom’s inclusive and universal appeal. “Living in multicultural Malaysia, there’s plenty to be inspired by,” Hafiz and Imanie observe. “When we design a new collection, we often take elements from the different cultures we grew up with and the cultures we continue to be exposed to every day.” 

Drawing from local traditions, a few of Monokerom’s designs can be categorised to fit into modest fashion. “We exclusively produce traditional wear for the Eid season, which can also be worn throughout the rest of the year,” Imanie says. 

“In Asia, we’re spoilt for choice when it comes to modest fashion and labels. Designers don’t necessarily have to focus solely on modest-wear. We just need to show customers how adaptable garments are to suit different lifestyles,” Imanie clarifies, encouraging everyone to get creative with styling instead of just reserving particular pieces for a certain period in the year. 

ALI is the brand’s modern and comfy take on the traditional Baju Melayu

Monokerom maintains the classic silhouettes of traditional garments like Baju Melayu, Kurung, and Kebaya. The brand then injects modern elements to these initially conventional silhouettes, appealing to contemporary audiences. Designed for flexibility to transcend seasons, Monokerom offers traditional sets that consist of top and bottom parts that can also be worn separately and styled in multiple ways.

“Although we don’t consciously design modest clothing, we do make it a point to market and style our garments modestly from time to time,” she explains as the brand appeals to the large Muslim population in Malaysia and in neighbouring countries. 

Art imitating life

Rooted in a passion for culture and the arts, Monokerom has been working with creatives and brands locally and regionally.

“Living and breathing in the surge and domination of social media, we now have easy access to creators and makers from around the world.”

Monokerom also creates lifestyle items in design exercises. A recent collaboration with Tragikomedi resulted in money packets intended for festivities. With a little twist, the money packet was an update to an age-old custom practice. On the other hand, the ELI Leather Tote was a result of an exclusive collaboration with Indonesian artisans in a village Imanie and Hafiz had visited. 

A collaboration with local artist Shari Jaffri of Tragekomedi to reimagine and personalise a money packet design

Always on the search for daily sources to draw creativity from, Imanie adds, “there have been instances where a silhouette of a garment was inspired by the architecture of a building as well as some colours found in nature. We also admire Japanese culture, their way of life, so you might notice that some of our designs have elements of that as well.” 

Joining a global shift

Apart from joining international bazaars and trade shows, Monokerom can be found in Ilaika Select Store, a local concept store in Selangor, Malaysia. Otherwise, the brand primarily operates digitally. “We believe that by focusing our business online, we’re able to fixate on improving our brand identity while building better connections to our customers.” Since putting up their website, Monokerom has worked on delivering improved and personalised shopping experiences.

Belonging to the generation of brands that were grown on social media, Imanie believes this digital arena has given an avenue to a newly thriving Malaysian fashion industry. Independent fashion designers and labels each have something unique to offer. “People are becoming more daring and creative as they use clothing to communicate their unique personalities and ideas, often mixing elements from East and West,” Imanie describes. 

Co-founder Hafiz sports the LOIS separates Outer and Pants in Almond

Hafiz recognises that the Malaysian fashion industry is heading towards more sustainable and ethical practices. “As the public becomes more aware of the environment, you can see that many brands have shifted towards this.” 

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Monokerom is located in Ilaika Select Store, Selangor, Malaysia. To shop online, visit https://www.monokerom.com/.

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