Eileen Phoan and Fabian Tan engineer beauty with both hands
What began as a way to cover university costs has blossomed into a full-fledged enterprise.
Eileen Phoan and Fabian Tan founded Left & Right Artisan Handcraft when they were in the second year of their mechanical engineering degrees at Swinburne Sarawak. The pair first sold their handmade bracelets on campus before moving to bigger bazaars and markets around Kuching, the city where they grew up and pursued tertiary education.
After graduating 2014, they expanded their artisanal collection to include the design and production of custom pieces. Their entrepreneurial spirit and business model saw them representing Malaysia at the Entrepreneurs Organization’s Global Student Entrepreneur Awards in Washington DC, USA, in 2015. The event is a premier competition for high school, undergraduate and graduate students who own and run businesses.
Today, Left & Right caters to clients in Australia, Europe, New Zealand, the United States and Singapore as well as nurturing a growing market in their home country of Malaysia.
“They are more than just showpieces. Jewellery is often linked with materialism but we are returning to the roots of conveying meaning in every piece we create."
“For instance, our ready-to-wear pieces are inspired by our experience. We translate it into tangible works of art and we believe that our bespoke pieces help our clients express meaning, for example when celebrating a special occasion,” Eileen explains. “We consider ourselves a storyteller first and a craftsperson, second,” adds Fabian, saying that the company works closely with custom clients to convey the right message in the design.
The pair works mostly with silver and gold but when it comes to design, each has a unique style.
Fabian’s creations are minimalistic but still carries a certain amount of intricacy while Eileen’s are more extravagant with an array of details.
To offer their clients abroad an engaging experience, the company is working to set up brick and mortar sales channels in countries like Australia and the United States. “This will tie in well with our curated experience for clients,” says Fabian, who only began making the products at a later stage of the business. “In the beginning, Eileen made the products and I would sell them. But at one point the demand was so high that I had to learn crafting them,” he recalls. He has not stopped making them since.
“Fabian is a natural people-person. I am sometimes ‘in my own world’ thinking about design and business strategies quite a bit, how we could do more as a company, and on developing the potential of the people we work with.”
There are challenges in any business but the two graduates are confident that the four years they spent at Swinburne Sarawak studying for an engineering degree is paying off. “There is a connection between engineering and running a business. As an engineer, we are about solving problems. This line of thinking helped me to strategise our business approach in catering to our market’s demands,” says Eileen.
She attributes her growth as an individual to one of her lecturers, Dr Ha How Ung, who passed away last year. “Dr Ha played a major role in shaping my principles and character. He had often emphasised the importance of integrity and accountability. In sourcing for material, we uphold ethical practices by ensuring it is of high quality and safe on top of being aesthetically pleasing.”
Fabian found what he learned in engineering is also applicable to the business. “Since the first year of university, we learned to identify problems and find the solution. It’s the same for business - a constant game of troubleshooting, refinement and finding ways to push the brand to the next level.”