Meet Aaron Lai, the man with the touch of restoration to all your leather goods. Founder of luxury restoration service, Leather Code, gives us an insight on how he quit his full time job to pursue an idea that became a service that we didn’t even know we needed!
1. Hi Aaron! So, you’re the founder of Leather Code, a boutique that restores and cleans luxury items. What actually got you into the business of “Restoring Luxuries”?
I think the primary beginning of a business, is problem-solving, and I’ve always wanted to start a business of my own. The idea of running this business hit me when one of my friends who own a pre-loved handbag boutique always had trouble looking for people who provide such service. Hence, it gave me the idea to step into the leather- restoring industry.
2. We can only imagine that it must be pretty new to you considering you were not exactly from the restoring industry. What did you do to accumulate the knowledge to start up Leather Code?
After quitting my job to start Leather Code, I wasted no time and went straight to 6 months of acquiring the art of restoring- understanding the materials and different treatments and care each material needed. From basic cleaning, recoloring, to restoration, these new found knowledge reassured me that this is something that I really wanted to do.
3. In your years of restoring, what condition of a bag or belt, would you consider to be beyond repair?
It honestly varies depending on the structure of the bag, the area, and size of the damage on the leather goods. The fact is that, real animal leather is very hard to damage
Leather is a material that is pretty long lasting with proper care, unlike PU Leather, which is man-made synthetic leather. And usually when an item made out of PU leather is damage, it is beyond repair as it only has one layer of PU coating surface.
4. What makes Leather Code different from the rest of the service maintenance of luxury items businesses in Malaysia?
Quite a few to name. First and foremost, we work by consultation basis, no such thing as fixed price according to brand and size. It may sound tedious to do one-to-one consultation prior commencement of work but trust me, it helps a lot in reducing unnecessary problems like miscommunication and most importantly, customers know exactly what we are going to do with their bags and what they should expect at the end of the day.
Secondly, the raw materials that we used for all restoration work. No chemical product used at any point, hence it explains why we are confident that there will be no stiffness or texture compromised after restoration.
5. What made you decide to take the entrepreneurial leap of expanding Leather Code to Kuala Lumpur instead of other parts of Malaysia (i.e Penang)?
We’ve been in this industry for 6 years and we currently have one outlet in Johor Bahru. It’s high time we move on and bring the business to the next level. There is so much potential in Kuala Lumpur! We have been constantly receiving emails and calls from customers from other states who’ve wanted to send their bags for services, and most of them are from Kuala Lumpur. So, why not?
6. Restoring luxuries seems like a tedious thing to do as it requires precision and patience. Has it ever been a challenge for you? (In terms of items that take longer to restore)
Yes, especially when I just started the business. From cleaning, colour restoration to repair, it takes so much skills and experience to get it right. I remembered the first day of business when a lady customer walked in with a limited-edition Chanel tote that came in a specific material and colour. It took me nearly 8 weeks to complete the restoration work.
7. What are the 3 common mistakes that unseasoned leather item owners make on their handbags/shoes [items]?
DIY cleaning with information they found online, leather is extremely temperamental so the treatment it needs isn’t something like cotton or polyester.
Improper storage as the condition of the leather can change based on the humidity and temperature of the environment.
And unconditional polish, a lot of people are under the preconceived notion that when a bag’s quality is tainted, all it takes to fix it is a quick polish. Unconditional polish actually ruins the colour and the texture of the leather. Hence, we do a consulting service for every bag someone sends us, we want our customers to know about what’s being done to better their leather goods.
8. What are your secret formulas that enabled you to have the combination of both artistic passion and entrepreneurial skills, and make a living out of it?
I used to spend too much time thinking before I put my thoughts into actions. I find myself always one step behind on whatever I’m doing, and I knew it’s time for a change. It was my wife who reminded me to always keep the entrepreneur spirit in me, to be adventurous, to be bold in decision making. There’s no secret formula but to just keep doing, until you make it.
9. It is known that the retail-restoring service can be rather capital-intensive for both the business and consumers. What’s your take on whether people with different financial status should be able to afford this service? Or do you believe that this kind service that Leather Code provides can and should be catered for everyone?
I must say that though our services might not be the cheapest out there, but they are at the price range where most of the consumers can afford, at least from middle/upper-middle class, and above.
10. Are there any interesting things coming up in the pipeline for yourself and Leather Code for the next 6 months to come? If yes, what can we expect?
Personally, after all that I’ve experience as an entrepreneur, I would like to use my story as a source of inspiration especially to those who do not have the courage to explore and pursue their own passions just because they are not very familiar to the field that they want to venture in to. Meaning to say, I am looking to do more of a mentorship for those who are open to learn a thing or two about being an entrepreneur in Malaysia.
As for Leather Code, we will be introducing door-step service and to launch our own handbag cleaning product in third quarter. I am looking forward to the process and for what’s to come for Leather Code.