Bees are hard working creatures. So is Ma Nway Oo Lwin. That’s why she called her brand Happy bee.
We she doesn’t look after her two children, Ma Nway Oo Lwin design bags. “I grew up with my mother and grandmother’s quilting blankets,” she says. She learned from them and took on to apply patchworks on her children’s blankets and clothes too.
But she didn’t realise that her skills could turn up into a profession. Her 13-year-old suggested it.
Ma Nway Oo Lwin makes patchwork bags. She then started to customise pieces for friends, and mostly for fun. Ma Nang, a customer, got addiected and asked her always more, always better.
Then Ma Nway Oo Lwin’s mother-in-law suggested to use quality material for her bags. The business was born.
“That’s in her blood,”
In September 2015, she decided to open a Facebook page called Happy Bee to receive orders. Since then she receives between 6 to 15 orders every month on average.
She is now selling all accross Myanmar and has had client overseas in Australia, America, Japan Singapore and Malaysia.
But going professional was more complicated than she thought. Local fabrics tend to lose its colour and fade. She has been surfing the net. Reaching to providers in the US, going to fairs in Japan.
She found a very vibrant community of quilters in Japan, and a mentor. Each year she visits Ms Masako Wakayama, a patchwork teacher.
The more she learnt about patchwork the more she falls in love with it. She can spend days looking at design catalogues. Sometimes she even forget to eat as she is patchwork binding. The fabric designs are coming with food name (“jellying rolls” or “layer cakes”). That seems to suffice. “That’s in her blood,” says her husband.
“The designs are so cute and the colours so bright”. In the middle of her sewing machines, roles of fabric coming from all the corner of the earth and piles of magazines.
“I feel calm and peaceful when I am making this,” she says as she grabs one of the prototype she is about to launch.
“It’s more like meditation. If I feel sad, I spend my day with these and I happy”.
But she might be OD-ing. She now suffers from back pain. “It is not easy to cut fabric into tiny pieces. One has to be very careful,” she says.
She now has four employees working around the clock to take orders online and on the phone which does not stop ringing – on average she produces 1 to 3 pieces a week.
It takes her between three and seven days depending on the type of bag.
The price of a bag fluctuates depending on the size, but the entre price is K55,000. Much more than the local bags, but a fair price given the quality of the material and the time and effort put in each item.
Her motto is simple: “use good materials, make good products”. She also likes to keep her customers on her toes. She produces a new design every month.
But Ma Nway Oo Lwin’s biggest fear are copycats. Last year, she was the victim of an industrial spy at a workshop she had organised at Junction City.
“a woman came to my workshop and pretended to order a bag. She asked me everything about how I make the bags, which machine or products I use. She looked around, touched things,” she fumes. She later found out that the woman was also making handbags.
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery but there are limits. The happy bee might sting.