Colour Me Digital
Evanna Ramly 
Looi is excited by new opportunities in fashion, thanks to technology

When Melinda Looi first heard that Epson Malaysia would be among the main sponsors of Kuala Lumpur Fashion Week (KLFW) 2017, she jumped at the chance for an exciting collaboration. “The partnership was very sudden but somehow we managed to prepare everything in two months,” she reveals. “It was a great opportunity for me to have fun and be even more adventurous than usual.”

The award-winning designer used Epson’s SureColor F-series digital textile dye sublimation printer, designed to produce high-quality colour artwork to be transferred onto textiles. Its advanced technology allowed Looi and her design team to experiment with a wide range of prints and materials including satin, chiffon and even PVC, all without the exorbitant costs and lengthy time of frame-making required for conventional textile printing.

At KLFW 2017, Looi showcased the innovative collection, dubbed The Interiors, which draws inspiration from the decorative elements and components of interior space. On the runway was her fashionable take on the curation of space with an eclectic mix of textures, patterns and colours. Think vibrant prints of carpets, paintings and candles in embellished silhouettes that are easy to wear, yet still retain that edginess so synonymous with her eponymous label.

“Technology adds an incredible advantage to apply innovation in the fashion industry,” she muses. “A number of different technologies are currently being experimented with, such as e-textiles with circuits built into it. I love how technology can bring all these amazing things to the design field.”

Looi’s label has long demonstrated remarkable tech savvy, thus digital printing was a natural next step. “It’s good in the sense that digital printing helps designers to create and widen their horizons. We can be more adventurous with our designs and play with a lot of unique elements.”

“In past collections I have even used my children’s paintings for prints but this is something different altogether. Digital printing brightens up the whole collection with fun prints, which I love and always play with,” she explains. “It’s nice to have prints and colours; I think life would be so boring otherwise.”

The secret lies in Epson’s proprietary technology known as Micro Piezo and PrecisionCore TFP head technology. Micro Piezo printheads, unlike thermal inkjet systems, eject droplets of ink via mechanical pressure and do not use heat, making it compatible with a far wider variety of inks and mediums. By precisely controlling the volume of ink contained in each droplet of ink, the printers generate virtually no wasted ink while ensuring sharp, rich and grain-free images.

Hence, Looi’s personal touches come to life by way of true-to-life hues. “I’m most impressed with the quality of prints by Epson’s digital textile dye sublimation printers, which is very clear, beautiful and durable on the wide range of textiles and surfaces we tried it on.”

She has previously incorporated high-end technology in her creation’s such as 3D printing – she launched Asia’s first 3D-printed fashion collection back in 2013 – but digital printing is something she feels can actually be used more frequently.

Painterly hues and kaleidoscopic carpets at the KLFW 2017 runway show

What Epson offers, she believes, is the advantage of personalisation. “You can actually customise your own piece or one-offs for customers, which is good for designers who are creating their couture range and bespoke pieces. It’s a freedom that you don’t normally get in big productions.”

According to Looi, her brand has always had prints but these had to be ordered in bulk. “Now we do not have to print thousands of metres of fabric, only what is needed and when it is needed. In fact, we can do any amount we like, anytime, and that’s very convenient. We can continue to be different from others with exclusive, personalised designs,” she enthuses, adding that the technology’s significantly shorter turnaround time also helps to address the rising demands of the “see now, buy now” trend.

While it is advisable to use only synthetic materials like polyester for digital printing due to its lasting quality, Looi does not view this as a limitation but more a creative challenge. After all, natural fabrics such as cotton and linen are not without their design limitations either. “It opens up doors in many ways, encouraging people to be brave as there is actually a lot more you can do. With this, I hope to also inspire others to do more.”

It comes as no surprise seeing as how she has always designed for self-assured women. “The Melinda Looi woman has always been about confidence. Women these days are more daring, more willing to get out there and prove herself. I believe they are much stronger, independent and want to be different.”

Danny Lee, general manager, sales and marketing of Epson Malaysia, found Looi to be the ideal collaborator. “Working with Melinda Looi, who is known for her signature avant-garde style and her penchant for marrying prints into design, was perfect to showcase the versatility and capabilities of Epson’s digital textile printers and the opportunities it brings to the fashion industry. As a leader in digital textile printing we want to support the creative industry in Malaysia to easily materialise any possible idea into a reality, and potentially, a business opportunity, too.”

What he especially admires about Looi is how she strives to exceed expectations, a value he observes to be in common with Epson. “We exercise creativity and take on challenges in order to delight our customers with the products and services we provide. And I think you could see that clearly in The Interiors collection showcased at KLFW 2017.”

Lee believes such collaborations will help the company reach out to various target audiences and explore the many possibilities directly or indirectly related to its printing solutions. “Creative collaborations open up new markets for us and allow our customers to be inspired by new business ideas and possibilities,” he adds. “It just goes to show how versatile and capable Epson’s digital textile printing solutions are in helping the creative industry unleash their artistic impulses without much hindrance.”

Given the nation’s wealth of creative talent, Lee predicts similar projects in future. “With everything that we have done so far, from Nini Marini to Zang Toi and now, Melinda Looi, I believe that Epson is in the right place to empower these creative geniuses. The sky is definitely the limit for us, so expect more to come.”

This article first appeared in Focus Malaysia Issue 248.