24 Y/O law student starts a leather side biz that’s served clients like PwC & Prudential

I’m quite the stationery fanatic and idealise being that someone who journals every evening with a cup of tea and soft music. However, my last stint at this routine only went on for under a week. 

Unlike me though, Eunice Yeoh takes journaling more seriously. She has different sections in her daily planner for law school notes, journal entries, doodles etc. But to journal well, she needed the perfect notebook that was reusable and refillable with a minimalist design. 

While she was able to find some notebooks that fit her criteria back in 2018, they were often from Japanese brands that couldn’t fit her tight budget as a student entering her second year of law school. 

She soon decided to take matters into her own hands then and founded a leather products business, Align Collection, or simply Align.Co in 2019. Since then, the 24-year-old’s side business has scored clients like Prudential, PwC, and JobStreet for corporate gifting.

When you can’t afford it, make it

With an ambitious goal to create a journal that could last for decades, Eunice turned to animal leather as the main component of her journal’s exterior. It not only has an aesthetic appeal but is also reliable and durable.

“Besides, I love the smell of leather and how it feels in my hands,” Eunice added.

Without much cash to expend, Eunice first started selling pins that were sourced by a friend to raise funds for the necessary tools and materials. 

Eunice selling her products at a bazaar / Image Credit: Align.Co

With leather being a difficult material for beginners to sculpt, a few months of practice was required before Eunice could begin making her journal. Learning the skill on YouTube, she’d create many versions of her designs with improvements each time.

After about 3 months, Eunice finally had her customised DIY leather journal she had dreamt of. Proud of her work, she posted it on Instagram where friends of friends demanded it too. 

“So I started selling them and more people kept coming. I’d say it’s kinda like an accidental hobby-turned-business,” Eunice recalled.

A Malaysian-made leather notebook

Looking at the notebooks Align.Co offers, I found that they looked pretty similar to those by the TRAVELER’s Company. Both share the same regular and passport sizes, along with the elastic strap and band to hold pages inside.

Though both brands offer a refillable function, Align.Co has multiple options for the kinds of binding you’d want for your notebook to fit different customers’ preferences. It’s a functional design so users can switch up the inserts for a fresh page without tearing a page out from the book.

You can choose different binders and types of paper inserts / Image Credit: Align.Co

“If you’re anything like me, I have this itch to always tear out pieces of paper from my notebooks whenever something isn’t written perfectly,” Eunice elaborated.

Furthermore, Eunice explained that she was in fact inspired by the Japanese brand, but gave Align.Co’s version several tweaks. Most notably, a complementary name personalisation element, and a cheaper price point. 

Align.Co’s Regular Leather Journal (which looks the closest to TRAVELER’S) costs RM95, almost 2 times cheaper than TRAVELER’S at RM175. It presents Malaysians with an option to buy a similar product with more affordability while at the same time supporting local businesses.

Aren’t leather products unethical?

Activists may think that animal leather products are unethical and should be replaced with faux leather instead. Thus, I had to ask Eunice her perspective on this.

“Due to the amount of beef consumption, cowhides would likely be thrown away in landfills if they weren’t turned into usable leather,” she explained to Vulcan Post.

“Also [a lot of] faux leather are oil or plastic based, which isn’t as durable and does not degrade in landfills for a long time. Real leather would degrade in a much shorter timespan than the oil or plastic options once it is thrown away as well.”

Thus, it can be said that leather reduces waste in a few ways by (a) converting waste into usable material, (b) reducing the amount of oil and plastic based trash due to its durability, and (c) degrading faster when its usable life is over.

Nonetheless, there are always two sides to every argument. Eunice understands this, and to provide customers with more options, Align.Co is working on faux leather products that have yet to launch.

Learning the ropes of running a business

Business was not smooth sailing from the start. Coming from a legal background, Eunice had to pick up various business know-hows along the way such as material sourcing, product creation, photography, branding, website building, e-commerce shop listing, etc. 

“It’s still a work in progress and there’s still a lot of space for improvement. The main factor of where it is today would be attributed to pure grit and perseverance to see things through, making tons of mistakes and still trying again,” added Eunice.

The business has since expanded to offer various kinds of leather products / Image Credit: Align.Co

She shared that her biggest lesson was learning how to ask for help and guidance, and working with third parties to outsource certain tasks when it comes to bulk orders as she runs Align.Co single-handedly. While Align.Co began with leather notebooks, it’s since expanded its product range to also offer leather keychains, wallets, trays, cardholders, amongst others.

Sales-wise, Eunice addressed that it isn’t too consistent, but she receives a significant increase in orders during gifting seasons like Mother’s Day or Christmas. “The first-ever bulk order I did was in 2019, close to 20 units. Now in 2021, we’ve even done up to 600 units for a big corporation,” Eunice shared proudly. 

Currently, Eunice is pursuing her Certificate of Legal Practice to qualify as a lawyer in Malaysia and will continue to run Align.Co as a side business. 

I’d say it balances me up as it functions as my creativity outlet. It sometimes feels like an escape from daily stress. It’s definitely a good way of taking my mind off other commitments as it acts as a distraction/de-stressing tool.

Eunice Yeoh, founder of Align Collection.

  • You can learn more about Align Collection here.
  • You can read about other Malaysian startups here.

Also Read: 9 facts about personal loans in M’sia you should know to borrow responsibly in a pandemic

Featured Image Credit: Eunice Yeoh, founder of Align Collection

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