Built to last: A Malaysian custom bag maker’s pursuit of quality

Frustrated by the quality and functionality of bags in the market, Patrick Lim did what most would not dare consider — set up his custom bag label.
Greenroom136
25 July 2019

After weeks of scrolling through dozens of e-commerce sites, comparing features and prices, a shopper finally settles on an ideal bag that best meets his needs.

But his worst nightmare happens — the phrase “Out of Stock” pops up in bold, red font, as if to mock his indecisiveness and take him back to square one.

For many consumers like him, finding a multipurpose bag that can do it all often feels like a distant dream.

Enter Greenroom136, a Malaysian custom bag-maker established in 2011. The brainchild of 54-year-old founder Patrick Lim, Greenroom136 was a business idea borne out of his own frustration, albeit for a different reason.

His days as a former corporate marketing and sales professional saw him jet setting frequently around the world, but being always on the go eventually led to him uncovering a recurring problem — most of his bags could not withstand the rapid wear and tear.

Determined to create an urban messenger bag that matched his standards, Lim took the plunge and established Greenroom136 eight years ago.

From a small studio to global business

The decision by Lim, despite his lack of design knowledge, was not one that he took lightly.

Before the brand’s inception, Lim’s friend had piqued his interest in the world of bags. The potential of bag-making was so intriguing to him that he spent three years researching, learning about the principles of bag design and mastering how to use the humble sewing machine.

Every night, Lim spent hours in the studio honing his craft, right down to the choosing of materials, and the measurement and cutting of fabric.

Greenroom136 bag making

After countless failures with his early prototyping, Lim finally settled on a design that would go on to form the basis for Greenroom136’s very first laptop messenger bag.

Cheekily named JunkMonkey, his first prototype, made of durable military-grade fabric, got the business off to a flying start.

Lim’s vision for the brand was clear from the get-go: selling to an international audience.

At its infancy, the brand’s e-commerce business model meant that consumers beyond its domestic market could easily get their hands on Greenroom136’s customizable bags.

He was well aware that the average selling price, starting from RM800 (€171), may not fall within the affordability of the masses in his home country. From a business standpoint, targeting the massive potential and size of the export market was the more logical strategy to sustain, and even scale up the business.

The JunkMonkey by Greenroom136 was the brand’s first customizable bag.
The JunkMonkey by Greenroom136 was the brand’s first customizable bag.

Having achieved some success online, Greenroom136 soon ventured into brick-and-mortar retail, stocking its expanding range of bags in retail stores and its pop-up store in a Malaysian shopping mall.

Business was brisk, and the first six years yielded positive returns.

The next step

With a plethora of bag labels available in the market, Greenroom136 never set out to be a mass-market offering. Instead, its focus has always been creating top-notch, handmade products using local resources in Malaysia.

And that commitment has paid off, judging by the rave reviews on forums and YouTube videos.

However, as the word spread and a steadier volume of orders streamed in, the speed of fulfillment emerged as a roadblock for the business to grow further.

Greenroom136 runs rigorous stress tests regularly to measure the durability of their products.
Greenroom136 runs rigorous stress tests regularly to measure the durability of their products.

At least two hours a day used to be dedicated for a visit to the local post office. The process of packing, weighing, labeling, and mailing out daily orders was not only cumbersome and inefficient but also a huge waste of resources, Lim shared.

For a lean team like his, time spent on miscellaneous tasks other than working on the products could make or break the company.

Worse still, without tracking capabilities, the team was basically in the dark on whether or when the bags reach their customers, or what condition they are in.

“We were always plagued with logistical issues then. It was terribly expensive and stressful for us whenever a shipment went missing as we had to remake their custom order and reship it to customers at our own expense,” said Lim.

To stabilize and expand the business with a peace of mind, Lim acted quickly to overhaul the last-mile service offered to Greenroom136 customers.

Within a year of partnering with DHL Express Malaysia, the brand’s revenue from international orders enjoyed a renaissance of sorts.

“International customers may have been apprehensive about purchasing a high-value bag from a “small and far away” country, but since we started working with DHL, our overseas orders have doubled within a year from 40 to 80 percent of our total orders,” Lim added.

Under the counsel and guidance of the logistics company, Greenroom136 has made its foray into new markets beyond the region — a third of its clientele today hails from the U.S., a 19-hour flight away from Malaysia.

While the convenience and flexibility of on-demand delivery options have kept customers coming back, Greenroom136 has stuck to its roots of delivering customized bags of the highest quality.

Today, the brand still offers a lifetime warranty on its products and runs rigorous stress tests regularly to measure the durability of their products.

Whether it succeeds in the competitive brick-and-mortar space remains to be seen, but Greenroom136 looks strapped in for the long ride.

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