Marilyn Ang creates opportunities for craft designers in Malaysia

Marilyn Ang, Graphic Design graduate from Swinburne Sarawak

Graphic Design graduate Marilyn Ang, combined her entrepreneurial skills with her passion for art and design to make a difference to craft designers in her home town of Kuching, Malaysia.

Realising that a platform to support and grow local talents was badly needed, the Swinburne Sarawak graduate took on the challenge to start The Small Town Art Market in September 2016.

An avenue for designers to network and showcase their products, the craft design bazaar is held twice a year. It quickly became a hit, and in July 2017 more than 30 talented designers and abstract artists took up booths at the market to exhibit leather goods, jewellery, fashion and accessories, homewares and even artistic book binding.

"It gives me a great sense of achievement to have gained more than just a business. I've also created a community for my fellow artists, and added vibrancy and life to the city with art."

Growing up in a laid-back city of only 700,000 people, she always had a fascination for art and design, but found the local art scene mediocre at best.

“The art scene in Kuching is still at an infant stage. The challenges include basic things like getting art materials. Another hurdle is mindset - the passion for art goes only as far as a hobby. These problems inspired me to create new art experiences for Kuching."

Graduating in 2012, Marilyn worked as a graphic designer for a local magazine, but quickly realised she wasn’t made for the nine-to-five life. She then co-founded Flint and Steel Borneo, a company specialising in arts and crafts.

To nurture interest for art among children, the company holds the “Little Entrepreneurs’ Workshop and Junior Art Market”. Children between six and twelve learn new art skills and cultivate an interest in creating products in an artistic and fun way.

“The highlight is that our young workshop participants have a ‘real world experience’ by selling their handmade art products at the Junior Art Market. It’s a platform to hone their creative thinking and social skills, and gain confidence and experience in money matters.”

The art market has further helped to expand the local art scene.

“It gives me a great sense of achievement to have gained more than just a business. I’ve also created a community for my fellow art family, and added vibrancy and life to the city with art.”

“I definitely want to see it grow bigger in the next year and help our customers establish their brands. And of course, to bring it to other parts of Sarawak.

Marilyn credits her studies at Swinburne with giving her the foundation she needed.

“My undergraduate degree gave me exposure in managing people and working as a team, which is really vital in organising the art market”.

Starting her own company was the first step in pursuing her love for art and design.

“The business gives me the flexibility in the choice of projects, art direction and in managing my time. On days I don’t feel inspired at work, there is always something else I can do to be productive. There are also no rules and limit to what I can do or create. The fulfilment is in realising my dreams one at a time.”

But it’s not all butterflies and unicorns, she cautions.

“Nothing worth having comes without sacrifice. It’s a ride full of long working hours, late nights in front of the computer and new responsibilities. It really is about never-ending-first-times and taking risks. We cope with all this by finding the courage to face them and being willing to learn from them.”

"The Flint and Steel Borneo of today is completely different from what we had in mind when we first began. I would say it’s even better. I believe in making the best of what is in front you, and to constantly be on the look-out for opportunities. Let life surprise you."