March 27, 2023

Leather Reimagined: Modular Masterpieces for Kuala Lumpur Fashion Week

Art meets sustainability in unique bag design project
for fashion brand Nelissa Hilman

FabCafe Global Editorial Team

Kuala Lumpur

In 2012, Nelissa Hilman founded her eponymous footwear brand in Malaysia. Since then, she has crafted stylish and comfortable collections of shoes, clothing, and accessories, placing a strong emphasis on ethical material lifecycles and supporting the local Malay makers and small businesses. Through her commitment to responsible production and community empowerment, Nelissa Hilman has established herself as a leading voice in the national and international fashion industry.

Fashion designer Nelissa Hilman prepares for the Kuala Lumpur Fashion Week Runway.

In her quest for sustainable materials and creative partners, Nelissa came across FabCafe Kuala Lumpur, which has become a hotspot for biomaterial prototyping and circular design in the Selangor area. After taking part in the Biomaterial Exploration Workshop, Nelissa invited FabCafe directors Ignatius Andi Permadi and Gwyneth Jong to conduct a customized biomaterial session for her team, and then proposed a collaboration for Kuala Lumpur Fashion Week 2022.

Biomaterial Exploration Workshop Event Report

An explorative workshop looking into creating and growing bio-based materials using ingredients derived from living (or once-living organisms). Participants used corn flour, agar agar and kitchen waste such as orange peels and coffee grounds to explore, experiment and create different variations of biomaterials.

The FabCafe Kuala Lumpur team was asked to design and create a set of 10 original bags for Nelissa Hilman’s showcase at the Kuala Lumpur Fashion Week 2022.

The objective of the collaboration was to only use leather leftovers derived from the brand’s shoe-making process. This presented a challenge as it required working with limited, small leather scraps that were often irregular in shape and color, as opposed to the larger leather pieces commonly used in traditional bag-making.

FabCafe Kuala Lumpur tackled the challenge through a modular design approach. After carefully researching sustainable fashion trends and examining Nelissa Hilman’s distinctive style, the team came up with different modular shape designs for the small leather scraps. The laser cutter at FabCafe was used to make quick paper prototypes, and each design was tested for strength, durability, comfort, and aesthetics.

Modular Design is a concept in which a system is broken down into smaller parts called modules. These modules can be created, modified, replaced, or exchanged independently, allowing for customization and flexibility in design. Modularity allows for individual components to be modified or exchanged, providing the ability to adjust and adapt the system as needed.

The final designs presented a series of interlocking patterns that shaped a cohesive and visually appealing whole, demonstrating their ability to turn a material surplus into a valuable and sustainable resource.

Prototyping and testing was undertaken at FabCafe Kuala Lumpur. The chosen design excels in comfort, durability, and elegance.

The second bag model designed by FabCafe Kuala Lumpur cleverly combines two simple pieces for a wide range of shapes and adaptations. It is also easy to disassemble for reuse.

The modular bags designed by FabCafe Kuala Lumpur are not only fashionable but also highly adaptable to each user’s needs. Pieces can be taken or added to adjust size and shape, and scraps in varied textures and colors can be combined for playful variation of patterns. Modular design prolongs the product lifespan, as any damaged piece can be easily replaced without throwing away the whole item. Finally, it facilitates waste processing once the product lifecycle is over, as each piece can be separated and reused or recycled accordingly.

The unique modular design allowed for a wide variety of sizes and color combinations for the runway of the Kuala Lumpur Fashion Week.

The advanced digital fabrication tools available at FabCafe, including laser cutters, UV printers, and 3D printers, facilitate a streamlined and efficient prototyping process. This enables the FabCafe team to collaborate closely with clients and experiment with a range of design iterations in a practical and cost-effective manner. The ability to create low-fidelity prototypes using materials such as paper also promotes sustainability by reducing waste during the project’s planning phase.

Different designs were rapidly prototyped and tested before selecting the final shape.

What can we do for you?

How can FabCafe help you? Contact us if you are interested in…

  • Developing new product designs based on circularity and sustainability..
  • Exploring new uses for waste materials together with FabCafe artists and designers.
  • Developing and testing biomaterials.
  • Request collaborations or support for art and design shows of all kinds.

Project Outline

  • Project client: Nelissa Hilman
  • Project time: July – September 2022
  • Members: FabCafe Kuala Lumpur. Project directors: Ignatius Andi Permadi and Gwyneth Jong. Assistants: Mustafa Kamil and Maisarah Lubis.



  • FabCafe Global Editorial Team

    This articles is edited by FabCafe Global.

    Please feel free to share your thoughts and opinions on this article with us.
    Contact us

    This articles is edited by FabCafe Global.

    Please feel free to share your thoughts and opinions on this article with us.
    Contact us

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