Gillian Hung: Making a Mark in the Fashion Industry
Writer: Cecilia Tan
Gillian Hung, president of Malaysian Official Designers’ Association combines her vast knowledge of fashion designing and merchandising with a solid understanding of the market to push Malaysian fashion to the forefront.
Twenty one years of experience in the Malaysian fashion industry made Gillian Hung a pioneer of this industry. “Mama G” as she’s affectionately known, is famous for her multi-tasking abilities in the highly challenging and competitive fashion industry. Talkative, generous and sincere in sharing her life experience, Gillian Hung believes that everyone has talents, and in order for the talents to flourish, a person must be passionate in his or her own field.
When Gillian Hung first joined Fashion Institute Technology, New York in 1983, she never thought fashion was fame or glamour. What she did know was that clothing in the olden days was all tailored — almost everyone made clothes and the fabric business was very lucrative. Thus, there was always an urge within her to make beautiful clothing for herself and people around her. As the first Malaysian winner of Young ASEAN Designers Contest in 1989, her achievement was recorded in The Malaysian Book of Records (2001). Today, she is the president of the Malaysian Official Designers’ Association, a Jill-of-many-trades and master of all when it comes to the fashion industry. She was also the former fashion and design director of Isetan and former CEO of Fashion Academy of Creative Technology.
Among the many fashion designers who were helpful to Gillian in her early years was Edmund Ser, who showed her the ropes in the fashion business and taught her a lot in her fashion journey. Until today, Gillian remains grateful to Edmund and declares she is what she is today because of Edmund Ser’s unselfish encouragement and guidance. Due to his influence, she is determined to impart all the positive values that Edmund Ser had taught her to young designers so they too can rise above mediocrity and become top designers with principles. As a fashion designer, retail consultant, fashion academic and corporate grooming consultant, Gillian hopes the younger generation too will always prepare to help and create a platform for up-and-coming movers of the fashion industry. To young fashion designers, she pours her heart out by advising, “Failure is success. The more failures you have, the more success you will discover in life. Do not give up easily in life”.
When asked her thoughts about Malaysian Batik, she said, “Batik is exclusively handmade and has a very niche market. Frankly speaking, how many people can afford to buy a real batik outfit? If the batik industry would like to take batik to the next level, making it readily wearable, the cost of making batik has to come down and the price has to be reasonably affordable to the public. In order to go international, the industry must understand international markets; majority of tourists will go for printed batik because the design is easier to mix and match and the price is also cheaper. The main attraction is always the price and the design. Batik artists must continue to be innovative and creative.
To Gillian, innovation comes from someone who is perceptive and constantly innovating. In order to lower the cost of batik, a designer could opt for mass production and by choosing this route, batik designs have to be reprinted and they lost their exclusiveness. At the end of the day, is printed batik still considered batik? How do we classify batik? Even Gillian who has been called Malaysia’s very own fashion guru, has difficulties in answering this question. As for the true direction of future batik growth, should it go international or remain closed within a culture?
As a former fashion design director of Isetan, Gillian Hung represented many brands locally and internationally on behalf of Isetan. The only time Isetan sells batik is during festive seasons like Hari Raya. Generally all department stores do not sell batik unless it is a special promotion, occasion or festival. Batik is sold throughout the year when they are specially ordered by customers through a designer who is able to design exclusively for them. Gillian feels that batik has to be classified as special craft because batik is handmade and caters for individual client differently. Batik, according to Gillian is “haute couture”. From the business perspective, if batik would be printed, there are a lot of businesses opportunities. When it comes to fashion, it is not supposed to be classified as art or passion because at the end of the day, fashion is still business. After all, it is up to the batik manufacturer to choose which direction they want to pursue. They can either take the direction to preserve hand drawn batik as craft and it is going to be always prestigious and luxurious or go for mass production in order to reach a bigger audience or market.
Gillian Hung personally believes that batik is very exclusive and it is a Malaysian heritage that has to be preserved. She is proud of being a Malaysian and being able to show Malaysian batik in a small way to her fellow friends in New York and London. Every now when she visits them, she would bring along Malaysian printed batik as gifts and most of the time, her friends will use these batiks creatively and hang on their walls or make pillow cases and dresses for summer.
“I believe batik is really a Malaysian treasure and ultimately we have to preserve this amazing art and craft using our own creativity and expertise” says Gillian. “It’s great to see batik artists who are passionately and affectionately engaged in preserving hand drawn Malaysia batik and making it known to the world,” added Gillian.