Paul Carling Rahit, the brain behind the Paul Carling label is a young Kuching-based fashion designer.
He curated the national costume for Malaysian representative Debra Jeanne Poh for the 6th Miss Grand International Pageant in Myanmar last October.
Inspired by the Rhinoceros hornbill, Sarawak’s emblem and a powerful symbol for its headhunter warriors, the 28-year-old designer called it ‘Tebengang the Great’.
Traditional embroidery methods were used to create its patterns from cowries’ shells, along with traditional beadwork adorned with brass bells.
After the photo of ‘Tebengang the Great’ was released online, some Indonesian fans were quick to claim the design was from Indonesian Kalimantan.
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KajoMag sat with Paul Carling to know his thoughts on the issue and what it’s like being a young fashion designer in Sarawak.
KajoMag: Why did you choose fashion design as a career?
Paul Carling: I was an IT student before. After some time, I realised IT was not my thing anymore. I tried to change my major few times but couldn’t. Once I managed to change my course to Design Technology majoring in Fashion, I decided to do my best.
I like making clothes and I used to make dance costumes when I was still in Unimas (University Malaysia Sarawak). From there, slowly and finally it became something I was very passionate about.
KajoMag: What is your favourite part about being a fashion designer?
Paul Carling: When I see a client feeling satisfied with the dress that I made, that is my favourite part of my job. I see my design as an art and art is freeing. When I design, the idea comes spontaneously.
KajoMag: What do you want women to feel when wearing your label?
Paul Carling: I want them to feel confident in them. Some of my clients come to me to customise their dresses because they could not find anything for them off-the-rack. For example, a full-figured lady usually finds it hard to look for a wedding dress in local bridal shops. Even if they could find one that fits them, it is usually an ugly-looking dress. So when they came in for a custom-made dress, it is a piece which is solely tailored for them. I love looking at their happy reactions when they wear these dresses.
KajoMag: Your national costume for Miss Grand Malaysia to the Miss Grand International pageant gathered a lot of backlash online from some Indonesian fans. What are your comments on that?
Paul Carling: As a fan of pageantry, this kind of issue is boring for me. It has been happening every year, maybe it’s a way for them to make themselves feel good or to highlight their own beauty queen. I noticed it is like some sort of trend to cyberbully other participants. As for their comments on the costume being from Dayak Kalimantan; we are from the same island and we do have the same culture. Those who said that are clearly not from Borneo. Nonetheless, the best part was that there were even commenters from Kalimantan defending the design.
KajoMag: Where do you see yourself in the next 10 years?
Paul Carling: I hope I can finish paying off my debt (laughing). First of all I want to be free of my study loan. I don’t feel like I need fame. For me, I don’t think you can be happy if you are famous but without money. The same thing goes for artistes like singers; although they are famous but if they do not have gigs, they cannot put food on the table.
I think the same thing can be applied to us fashion designers. You need to know how to maintain your business and have a good relationship with your customers. Your returning customers are always the best because they will introduce you to other clients and come back for more orders.
KajoMag: From a young designer perspective who is based in Sarawak, what do you think the local industry needs right now?
Paul Carling: We should celebrate more of our young designers. We do have famous Sarawakian fashion designers but they will not be here forever. My fellow young designers would agree that we are lacking in ways to promote our collection and we are always being compared to the famous ones like Von Jolly Couture and Datuk Tom Abang Saufi. But they are already at the top of their games. For us, the young designers, we need support and more opportunities. It is not like we are asking for funds or money; just more platforms to showcase our designs.
For myself, I’m grateful that I made the smart move to get involved with pageantry. That was how I got my name out there. However, to make a name for myself in the fashion industry – no, I’m not there yet. Without platforms to showcase our designs, most young designers in Sarawak would end up staying in their workshops at home working as just a tailor.