Tan Wan Yee, a 27-year-old fashion designer from Johor Bahru regrets that more and more Chinese youth do not understand their mother tongue or speak it. She graduated from Foon Yew High School, grew up in a Chinese-speaking family since childhood. Even her classmates and friends communicated in Chinese or Malay. In her hometown, very few students except those who attend private schools speak English, so "Chinese speak Mandarin" is the norm for her.
However, upon entering the Fashion Design and Pattern Making course at ESMOD KL The One Academy, she realised that some local Chinese disdain their mother tongue and culture. “Growing up I discovered that many youths of Chinese descent do not speak Mandarin, or even know how to write their own Chinese names, taking on a casual attitude to this”, said Tan.
Drawing inspiration from this, she then designed her collection with the hope of bringing out the beauty of Chinese culture through fashion design. Out of her love for the Chinese culture, she designed a collection of garments that contains Malaysian Chinese elements. Her talent and creativity led to her winning the Gold Award in the A' International Design Competition 2020 – a first for the country.
Her collection is titled ‘Broken Sovereign’ and consists of five pieces. “The collection is about my own story and I want people to know who I am”, said Tan. When asked to elaborate about her design, she explained that the black parts on the garment is bamboo, which is presented in the form of ink painting. The bamboo represents the Malaysian Hokkiens’ culture of celebrating the Jade Emperor’s birthday on the ninth day of Chinese New Year.
The white coat is designed to be shaped like a hand which looks like an action of bowing or greeting following ancient etiquette. It is to remind us not to forget the courtesy and humility taught by our ancestors and of our mother tongue. Another amazing piece in the collection is the red jacket which looks gorgeous as is, however upon closer inspection is seen to be hiding a hole design symbolising that under all that beauty, it actually hides a broken heart.
Tan expressed her delight at being announced as champion in the A’ International Design Competition. She relayed that her creative journey thus far had its own share of ups and downs with her partaking in many fashion design competitions but failing to emerge victorious. “Design is a matter of talent”, and she had to face harsh criticism from many who had begun to question her skills.
She had always been interested in drawing even from an early age. However, many discouraged her by saying that it is not a well-paid career choice. Nevertheless, her father supported her by advising that if one is passionate in what they do, they will surely be able to make a living. “With the encouragement of family and friends, I put in effort and maybe it was my perseverance that moved God’s heart”, she stated of her win.
The victory was bittersweet as the award ceremony which was originally scheduled to take place in June was cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Winners were to receive their certificate and trophy via post instead. Regardless, she determinedly said that she planned to participate in the same competition in 2022, hoping to win a prize and fly to Italy where the award ceremony will be held.
Apart from winning in this competition, the ‘Broken Sovereign’ collection has also been exhibited in fashion shows around the world. She has been invited to showcase her work at the 2016 Beijing International Young Designer Competition, Dubai ESMOD Exchange Fashion Show and the ESMOD KL Graduation Fashion Show.
In September last year, Wan Yee founded her own brand- The Woman of Yee (TWOY). She currently sells her designed pieces via her online store on Instagram. The clothes sold are all limited designs, not only unique in design, but also of first-class quality.
Her future plans include opening her own studio in Johor Bahru as her friends and family are there. Following that, she aims to return to Kuala Lumpur to open another branch. She hopes to incorporate other Malaysian elements in her future designs to promote the unique local culture.