Malaysia’s first digital-only fashion, arts and culture mag willing to take baby steps
Never say never when it comes to partners or investors, but prefers to go at it alone
THE city of Kuala Lumpur may not have quite made it to the London-New York-Paris circuit of fashion hubs, nor even the ones closer to home such as Singapore and Hong Kong, but the scene here is certainly picking up in a multitude of ways.
Fashion shopping is always a major activity, and local newsstand racks are overflowing with glossy titles,
Lately, the fashion world has also been making its impact felt within technology circles. We’ve seen the rise of fashion e-commerce startups such as FashionValet and Off The Rack, while general e-commerce websites such as Zalora, Lazada and even domestic player Easy.my have launched fashion marketplaces for local and regional designers.
This confluence of the fashion and technology worlds also saw the inaugural Runway 2.0 event taking off in Malaysia in July, bringing the fashion, beauty and retail industries together with technology companies.
One self-funded content startup hopes to fill in another missing piece in the fashion ecosystem: The media.
Kuala Lumpur-based The List is an online magazine that features news and topics covering fashion, beauty, arts and culture – not to be confused with The List in Singapore, an online directory of events including, funnily enough, fashion events.
The online mag launched in mid-June, saying that it targets fashion-conscious 18- to 45-year-olds, ranging from industry insiders to consumers who are technologically-savvy readers with a strong interest in digital and social media.
The three cofounders are editor-in-chief Amy Yasmine, chief executive officer Nicholas Mak, and chief operating officer Natasha Loo.
Amy (pic), a graduate of the London College of Fashion, spent eight years in that city, starting her career by assisting in runway shows, fashion public relations agencies, and reporting on various international ‘fashion weeks’ before landing the role as European editor of The Front Row from Kazakhstan.
“It’s a collaborative effort,” she says. “Nicholas (Mak) and I first mooted the idea about three years ago, but it was only when I returned from London last November that we got serious about doing it.”
Mak may be familiar to some Malaysian readers, having been voted Cleo magazine’s ‘Most Eligible Bachelor’ in 2013, and is also a full-time fashion photographer who has spent time “both behind and in front of the lens,” he chuckles.
The two have known each other since high school, and have kept in touch since. From the time they finally decided to do it, it took them five to six months to finally launch The List, they tell Digital News Asia (DNA) at a recent interview in Kuala Lumpur.
They realise that they have the deep-pocketed glossy magazines to compete against, but Mak is confident that the digital play gives The List some advantages.
“Content is more instant – you don’t have to wait two or three months before seeing a runway show being featured,” he says.
“You will be able to zoom in on pictures, and it doesn’t have to be pictorial only – you can have video and other types of content not possible in a print magazine,” he adds.
There are fashion blogs, but The List wants to bring that kind of immediacy to fashion journalism.
“We also really want to reach out to those designers being drowned out by the big boys, and this includes Asian designers,” says Amy.
The business of fashion
Currently, the company is looking at online advertising as its main source of revenue. The plan is to launch an app by the middle of next year.
“We’re okay with taking baby steps,” says Mak. “We need to establish ourselves and build up the brand here.”
“Our ultimate goal would be to have The List for each country we go into – The List India, The List Thailand or The List Indonesia,” he adds.
When asked if The List would go it alone in these countries or would work with local partners, Mak says, “While we’re open to working with partners for certain aspects of the operations, we want to make sure we own it.
“But right now we want to stay focused on our short-term goal, which is getting advertisers in, because a lot depends on that,” he adds.
The two haven’t identified which countries The List should go into first. “I have a few ideas, but to be honest, it’s pretty much in the air,” says Amy.
“The thing is, the fashion market changes very quickly. It’s quite volatile and effervescent, and you have to keep your eyes and ears out for what’s happening around the world.
“So, for example, I can say now that Singapore should be next, but that might very change within two years,” she adds.
Challenges, looking ahead
As a self-funded startup, The List faced challenges others in the ecosystem would be able to relate to.
“Money! Money was quite scary at first,” says Mak (pic). “The first quote we got from a developer nearly stopped us in our tracks. Then we started getting other quotations and alternatives, and we managed to work it out.
“Then the next headache was working out the whole development of the website,” he adds.
Few website developers in Malaysia have experience with content websites, being more used to designing corporate websites.
“There was also the whole complexity of building a content website as opposed to a corporate website,” says Amy.
“Many of the developers had not been exposed to this before, where design and layout are important too, with many different sections, both editorial and pictorial,” she adds.
“The second challenge was that being a startup, based in Malaysia, and trying to get out there into the international fashion scene – approaching designers based in Europe and America, trying to get ourselves heard and seen,” says Amy.
“And getting content from international big players as well – all this was a pretty big set of challenges.
“Fashion designers would of course rather be working with big, established glossy magazines, but surprisingly enough, they saw the potential in us, even in the fact that we were from Malaysia,” she adds.
[Amended to clarify correct fashion editor]
That last bit was helped by the fact that Robb Young – fashion editor for the Business of Fashion – went on a tour of the South-East Asian region late last year.
“He wrote an amazing piece on how the fashion scene in Malaysia has blossomed, so that helped too,” says Amy.
Asked about the company’s targets and whether it would be looking for funding, Mak was coy, pointing out that what it is doing now is very much a niche market.
“For Malaysians, it’s very fresh. For the fashion industry in Malaysia, it’s not something they’re used to seeing coming out from KL. So how are we going to project our pageviews? It’s not like there is a similar site we can compare ourselves against.
“We’re averaging about 500 to 1,000 daily pageviews, with about 50% from Malaysia and the rest spread out across countries like the United States, France and others,” he adds.
Mak says there are no plans to get outside investors. “We even decided not to seek any government grants or funds, even when we were approached by one, because we really want to do this on our own,” he adds.
What about funding when The List goes overseas and needs to scale?
“We’ll see how it goes,” says Amy. “We don’t want to say anything right now because it will depend on how we build out and establish ourselves. We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.”
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