Sereni Linggi was born and grew up in Kuching, went to boarding school and university in the UK, but then decided to come back home to Malaysia to start her career in property development. Australian born Shen-tel Lee, whose mother is originally from Kuching, has travelled backwards and forwards between Australia and Kuching over the years to visit family and her then husband-to-be, Bobby Ting. After marrying her sweetheart a few years ago, Shen-tel made the big move to Kuching and started the Sereni & Shentel brand with Sereni in 2009. Shen-tel, who started as a graphic designer specialising in cosmetics packaging, still keeps her Australian clients and now runs Sereni & Shentel, Bowerhaus and Photobooth Events concurrently. Sereni also decided to keep her fulltime job as a Business Development Manager and Centre Manager for Kuching-based neighbourhood mall Green Heights Mall.
We very often get asked why our headband brand Sereni & Shentel is based in Kuching, Sarawak, on the remote island of Borneo. The truth is, we love Kuching and it is our home.
Since starting Sereni & Shentel in 2009, we have incorporated a holding company called The Playground Borneo to house the Sereni & Shentel brand and launched a photo booth rental company in early 2012 called Photobooth Events under the same holding company. We have certainly moved on from our days of sewing headbands for fun to wear to a Lady Gaga concert to a fully-fledged business housing over 20 employees in various departments to cater to our customers and stockists all over the world.
As some of you may already know, our story started in 2009 when we made DIY headbands for a Lady Gaga concert in Singapore. What followed was a story told time and time again. Yes, it all started with Lady Gaga, and then a magazine photo shoot where we made more headbands for Sereni to wear in a feature that appeared in a society magazine distributed throughout South East Asia. After that, more and more magazines wanted editorial pieces to publish. Next a breakfast television show host came calling to interview the two of us about our quirky headbands. Going live nationwide launched our careers as accidental headband designers. We could no longer cope with the demand by making every piece ourselves. So off we went and formed a legitimate business, hired staff and the rest is history!
Our formula is simple – Be seen or go home! That’s what we have applied to every design that we have produced and that is the secret to our brand’s success. We take pride in making every piece in Borneo, with every single headband painstakingly and meticulously sewn by hand. Our colourful workshop in Kuching is constantly abuzz with production, preparation for marketing campaigns, photo shoots, paper work (can’t be avoided!), packing for the courier and designing new pieces for our monthly collections and collaborations. We still maintain our online store (www.sereniandshentel.com), preferring to steer clear of a physical outlet and letting our stockists have the opportunity to deal with customers who prefer to purchase from an actual physical store instead of by online shopping.
In 2012, we introduced a limited edition ten piece clothing line for the Sereni & Shentel girl-on-the-go. Inspired by our constant travelling, we came up with pieces that can be packed away and be worn for almost any occasion while away on a city holiday or work trip. We also launched children’s and babies’ headbands, new yellow and gold packaging, a unique online application for customers to design their own custom Blair and Block party headbands on our website, a bridal collection of luxury headbands made from pearls and high grade crystals and a brand new revamped S&S website for easier navigation. Also in 2012, we surprised the world with our autobiographical children’s picture book illustrated by graphic artist Jessica Wong, creator of animated fashion character Plasterdoll. Launched in the middle of 2012, we enthralled little girls with our simple story of how we started as best friends turned accidental headband designers. The book has since been picked up by MPH and distributed to major bookstores all around Malaysia and is also available as an e-book on Amazon.com. As if we did not have enough to do, we launched a new business renting old-fashioned photo booths, the first of its kind in Malaysia. We had such a great response in Kuching for the booths that we have now launched booths for rent in Kuala Lumpur.
We have also seen an increase in our stockists in South East Asia for our headbands bringing the count to 30. Our little workshop has been kept super-busy with all our stockists’ orders, and we sometimes have to work seven days a week up until nightfall.
2012 also saw us involved in a range of different collaborations, from Miss Universe Malaysia, Sarawak Breast Cancer Support Group, Malaysian retail chain The Dude & Duchess, Malaysian bag maker Gin & Jacqie, baby brand Geboo to artist Dura Hana. We were fortunate to be selected by Miss Universe Malaysia for the second year running to create and produce their national gifts for all the other Miss Universe contestants as well as to create their charity auction piece. Thanks to the support of our loyal customers, our annual Breast Cancer awareness campaigns have been a tremendous help to the Sarawak Breast Cancer Support Group, with 40% of the proceeds from our specially designed pink headbands going to them. The Dude & Duchess had us create an exclusive headband for their brand that we named The Duchess to match their line of women’s clothing. Our Gin & Jacqie headband organizers have kept our courier man extremely busy by flying off our stockroom shelves. We simply loved collaborating with Geboo, a Malaysian based organic baby cloth diaper brand, by creating exclusive S&S baby and children’s headbands using Geboo fabric to match their diaper brand. And for our artist series this year, we selected to work with the wonderfully talented Dura Hana who created gorgeous prints that we made into limited edition Block Party headbands. It has indeed been an eventful year for collaborations!
We have to admit that our highlight for the year was finally getting our headbands on US hit television series Gossip Girl. When we started making our headbands we had often joked about how awesome it would be to get our brand on the show. Well, in 2012, our fantasy had finally become a reality by sheer karma. The year before, Sereni’s family friend, who is an actress based in New York, came to visit Kuching to help her brother produce and film a travel show. Before she left to return to the US, Sereni gave her a Sereni & Shentel headband and look book as a parting gift and thought nothing of it. Upon her return, the actress subsequently had an audition for Gossip Girl and was cast as a therapist on the show. She excitedly emailed Sereni and told her that she had brought her S&S headband and look book to the wardrobe department and they wanted MORE headbands for some of the cast to wear on Gossip Girl!
A day later we received that golden email from Gossip Girl’s wardrobe department with their request. We excitedly couriered over some headbands and they were sent back to us in Kuching about one month later with no reply from Gossip Girl. So we thought…..oh well, maybe they didn’t end up using them. Fast forward a few months and we received a message from a fan who had spotted our headbands on the perfectly coiffed heads of some of the cast in a scene from an episode of the show. We promptly downloaded it and LO AND BEHOLD……our Bow Down, New Money and Mandy catching the light and staring back at us from the screen!!!! Our Borneo-made headbands had arrived on the Upper East Side! It was beyond exciting having our creations shown on television all across the world on THE television show that brought back the popularity of the humble headband! It was indeed an epic moment for any up-and-coming fashion designer. The fact that we come from the little city of Kuching, tucked away in the jungles of Borneo, made it all the more insane. Whoever it was who said that big things do not happen in small towns is obviously WRONG! Our brand is living proof that you do not have to move to a big city to realize your dreams. Work hard, be original, be yourself, be a good person and be generous in sharing your passion. We promise that good things will follow.
Very soon after our heart-attack inducing news, our platinum Mini Ice Ice baby was seen sparkling on television’s Desperate Housewives character Gabrielle Solis, played by the beautiful Eva Longoria. About two years before the show aired, Shen-tel’s mother Betty had lunch with an old friend who worked in the wardrobe department at Universal Studios in Hollywood. Betty had given some Sereni & Shentel headbands to her fashionable friend as gifts, as a thoughtful gesture for someone who loved fashion accessories. None of us ever dreamed that the headbands would be used on any of the shows produced at Universal, yet there it was, proudly made in Borneo and adorning a fabulously famous head shown across the globe! Our Sereni & Shentel brand had made its stamp on Hollywood and the small screen. Not bad at all for two Kuching girls turned accidental designers!
2012 has definitely kept us busy giving customers new Blair and Block Party headbands to look forward to every week with our popular Block and Blairspirations, as well as new collections every month. These monthly collections are supported by our colourful campaigns and we have had a blast planning and shooting them. Each month sees a new theme and newly reworked designs of our existing collection. For some months we introduce a totally new headband design for the collection. There is a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes of every campaign. We plan our monthly collections and their themes every six months and shoot two to three months in advance. It all starts with an idea that inspires us, a storyboard of the shoot, the design of the collection which usually consists of around 10 to 13 headbands, a mood board of hair and makeup, wardrobe selection from our ever-expanding wardrobe department, choosing a suitable model from an agency in KL, set building, location bookings, flight arrangements and more! We have now established a dream team that we regularly work with for our campaigns every month and we really do love working with them. Shahrum from MAC Cosmetics flies down from KL to work his magic on the models, Jacqueline from Essensuals Hair Salon expertly transforms the models from hairstyle to hairstyle, photographer Wilson and his assistant from Hollywood Bridal take amazing shots and Priscilla and Ady from our office change the models in and out of wardrobe and assist in styling the shoots.
Our campaigns are usually shot in one day. Shoot day is always a hectic day! Wardrobe, makeup and hair changes for a whole new collection are all done at warp speed as there is always a lot to get through. Some days we even shoot up to three campaigns! We are all always tired at the end of the day but the results are always worth the effort.
For this year’s look book, we had the same team working with us on our shoot around Kuching city, with the exception of the photographer. We called on the lovely and talented Michele Yong who flew in from Paris to shoot our third look book. This was our third time working with Michele on our annual look book and we simply did not want to do it without her. It was especially challenging this time round as both of us were in the early stages of pregnancy during the shoot. Sereni had to contend with bad nausea and Shen-tel had just come out of her four month bout of morning sickness and had to deal with hiding her pregnant belly for the shoot! How did we cope? Freshly sliced oranges, isotonic drinks and lots of liquids!
We shot all our scenes for this feature in one day and continued the next day with the rest of the shoots for the children’s feature and model headshots for the catalogue segment. Working full time as first-time pregnant mothers has been a real challenge for us both physically and mentally. However at the same time, it has spurred us on to do as much as we can for our fans and loyal customers before taking some time off to have our babies. Do not worry, we will continue to keep up the work and create wonderful things for all of you! We have so much respect for all working mothers out there and applaud you!
We are both grateful to be living in Kuching where it is easy to manage both work and family. We love working in Kuching as there is little to distract the creative process. If anything the surroundings inspire much creativity. So what do we do in our spare time when we aren’t working? Truth is, we are always working! We constantly find inspiration that we inject into our daily work. Our work and spare time have become a blur as we really do live and love what we both do. Fans who follow us on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook very often have a peek into what makes our brains tick and we love sharing that with the world. We love posting about our favourite places to eat, hang out at and shop here in Kuching. We are very often found at our usual laksa stall at a local coffee shop, having an occasional treat out to dinner at The Junk or Jambu restaurant, bingeing on seafood at See Good or Lim Hock Ann in Buntal, chilling out at Cove 55 or Village House in Santubong, scouring the shops in Kenyalang, having a coffee at The Ranee in Main Bazaar, having lunches and organising events at The Four Points by Sheraton, and raiding De Jackie Inspirations for balloons. Apart from these places, we are usually at the office or at home with our loved ones. We are creatures of habit and love being with family the most.
We love Kuching and would never move our headquarters out of here. What’s not to love about Cat City? It is cool, it is our home, it is where Sereni & Shentel all started.