Khairizan Yaacob covers a wide range of topics in our interview today – letting go of his love of designer labels, how materialism doesn’t make him happy, how he started his own brand and what life in Malaysia is really like.
Khai and I have been really good friends for over 10 years. We met in our late teens and bonded over a shared love of reading and writing. He used to write a lot when he was younger, but he’s not writing as much anymore.
“I wish I wrote more. I think I am going to start writing again, because for the past couple of years, I’ve been distracted by a new life. Over the past years, I was really enchanted with designer labels and I forgot about my initial passions of reading and writing. Now that I’m over it, it will be a good time to get back to myself.”
Khai is one of my most stylish friends, ever. Every time I see him, he’s always perfectly dressed. I’ve never seen him had an off day. And yes, every time I saw him, he was always dressed in designer labels. When he said he was over his love of designer labels, I wanted to know why. To me, it was really strange that he had suddenly lost his love of designer labels.
“I realized at one point that it will never be enough. Also, it only gives you a very hollow sense of happiness. Yes, you feel happy owning something designer, but that happiness is very hollow. It’s very superficial.”
What does make him happy then?
“The small things in life which I had neglected, or rather, chosen to neglect. Like spending quality time with my family, reconnecting with my old friends and writing again.”
While Khai is over his love of designer labels, it doesn’t mean his love for fashion and style has dried out. Far from it! In fact, he’s started his very own clothing line, called KBY. KBY is collaboration between Khai and his partner Dean. They’ve started with 10 designs, and are going to be launching really soon, so look out for it!
“What we want people to feel when they purchase our clothing line is that they’re for fun. They’re trendy, but at the same time, they’re sensible. Meaning, our clothes can be worn for leisure, working out or just lounging at home. We have to admit this idea came out from the whole athleisure trend that’s starting now.”
Where does Khai get his style inspiration from?
“My inspiration comes from everywhere. Everyone inspires me. Normal people that you see on the street inspire me. For me, you have to look at yourself and know what works for you. Not everything you see might work on you. That includes colors. Some colors look great on people, but will look terrible on you. You cannot buta-buta (blindly) follow.”
If there were one style tip that Khai could give to Malaysian guys, what would it be?
“Wear shoes! Not flip-flops. This is a simple rule to live by. I learned this from my mom. I grew up with parents who always told us to dress up every time we went out, and to wear shoes. Not sandals, not flip flops, but shoes. So I grew up with that. You also never know who you are going to bump into the moment you walk out of the house. You only have one time to make a good first impression. What if you bump into your worst enemy, and you are looking horrible? You’ll be kicking yourself!”
As Khai is Malaysian and has lived in Malaysia all his life, I ask him about what he thinks of the situation today. Morale seems a little bit low nowadays. What does he think can make it better?
“Right now, people are too segregated.”
“It’s interesting that you brought this up, because we grew up in Taiping, where the main population was Chinese. It still is. I grew up in a neighborhood where there were only 5 Malay neighbors, and the rest were Chinese and Indians. But I never had a racist moment growing up. I never felt like I was prejudiced against, or being looked differently by other races. But sadly, the generation today seems to have to endure that on a daily basis. I think it’s because people are instigating it openly, but they aren’t reprimanded for their actions. Over time, people accepted it as a norm. They can make a remark about another person’s race or religion and get away with it. People are more outspoken to the extent that they are not sensitive to other races.”
Sean Lim also made a very similar remark in that Malaysia previously used to be more tolerant than it is today. How does Khai think we can foster more tolerance?
“Understanding. Right now, people are too segregated. They choose to be with the same kind. By this, I don’t mean just the same religion or race, but within the same ideology. They mix with people who have the same thoughts, and the same way of thinking. They’re not mixing with others, and sadly, we are not encouraging it. We encourage it through TV ads and Pendidikan Moral (Moral Studies), but those things aren’t effective.”
His partner Dean adds in.
“Sometimes media plays a role in creating racial disharmony. I’m seven years older than you guys, but even in my time, my best friends were all Chinese. Today, there are many NGOs who help with a lot of humanitarian stuff. They help everyone, regardless of race. They are very open; they come from different backgrounds and different races. It’s just that sometimes politicians want to discredit other races and create disharmony. But in real life, we don’t really see a lot of skin color or religion. We work together. In my neighborhood, you see mosques and temples. I don’t see any big problem. Sometimes, the media makes havoc out of it.”
Khai nods in agreement.
“People also feel like they have the right to talk freely about other people, to condemn on the basis of free speech, like they are entitled to their own opinions.”
“People get confused. They confuse being proud of your own kind with proclaiming you are superior to other people. People often get confused with those thin lines. Be proud of yourself, but do not say you are superior to others, just because you’re feeling proud. People also feel like they have the right to talk freely about other people, to condemn races on the basis of free speech, like they are entitled to their own opinions. This is wrong. You are entitled to your own opinion as long as you are not offending or hurting other people.”
“At the end of the day, it’s about respect. We humans need to respect each other. Put aside skin color and religion. R-E-S-P-E-C-T! Any religion teaches that. Which religion is going to say you don’t have to respect other religions?” Dean asks.
That’s really true. I strongly feel that in a society like Malaysia that has so many races and religion, there is a huge need to have basic respect for one another. It can be hard, sometimes, especially when you feel like you’re not getting the respect you deserve.
The good thing is, there’s always hope. Khai drops one last little gem when I ask him what one of the best things that’s ever happened to him.
“To wake up every day, having been given a second chance to do everything again. To fix the mistakes you’ve made the day before. Sometimes you feel like, oh man, I’ve screwed up today. Today was such a lousy day. But the best thing is, you get to do it all over again tomorrow.”
If you want to see more of Khai, follow him here!
Picture credits to Eugene Yiap.