The weekend after my interview with Lisette Scheers, her friends are whisking her off to their home for well-deserved R&R before she jets off to Paris to oversee her new Nala Designs shop. Two blissful days of no work, no clients, no employees, no emails. As the founder of three businesses – creative agency L.Inc, stationery and accessories brand Nala Designs, and Dr.Inc café – Scheers, who is also a single mother, does not get to take many breaks.
“Where does the energy comes from? I don't know. It's pure survival. Of course, making beautiful things always make me happy,” said Scheers.
Anyone who has ever stepped into one of The BIG Group’s establishments in Kuala Lumpur would be familiar with Scheers's work. Scheers oversaw the creative direction of the group, from the interior design of the various outlets of this F&B empire right down to the hand-drawn menus and murals on the walls. The pitch-perfect interiors, sumptuous decor and cohesive collaterals became standard-bearers for intelligent and beautiful design in the industry.
Packaging a good idea with beautiful designs is classic Scheers. But when it comes to branding, she said, a good story is essential.
“Every brand needs a story, a reason to exist. For all my branding, I go in very personal and try to find a hook. It is very important for me to like my client and know them very well so I can build on their story that fits them and has personality. That's what I'm good at, building stories,” said Scheers.
Dutch national Lisette Scheers was born in Singapore but spent part of her formative years in Kuala Lumpur, and has many fond memories of the city. “When I grew up here, I remember all the beautiful houses, the mini buses, the food, the mixed cultures. I'm still nostalgic for those days,” she mused a little wistfully.
She lived in the Netherlands where she worked for McCann-Erickson and Ogilvy & Mather before returning to Malaysia in 2004 with her own family. She started working at the Raffles Design Institute, where she had set up the design department. Word soon got around of her advertising background and she was inundated with demands, causing her to stop teaching and focus on advertising full-time with La Scheers Co. Within a year, the company grew to 25 people, handling clients such as The BIG Group who are attracted to her straight-talking attitude, innovative branding ideas and impeccable designs.
In 2013, La Scheers Co. was rebranded as L.Inc, short for Lisette Incorporated. “I wanted a new brand and I wanted it simplified while incorporating different branches such as a magazine and a school,” she explained. Among their projects are the rebranding and interior design for the chain of Delicious restaurants, a premium tea brand and a skin laser company.
If advertising and branding weren't enough, the hyper-creative Scheers started Nala Designs during a lull in jobs in 2008. Nala, a Swahili word for successful, is also the name of her daughter. Starting from a stationery line, the brand now includes clothes and home accessories that draw on Malaysia's rich cultural heritage as its design inspiration. Here you'll find totes, pillows, sketch books and scarves in graphic Peranakan patterns and stylised designs of Malaysian icons. Dubbed the Queen of Patterns, Scheers creates the most delightful prints that are given individual names like Love Lattice and My Kuih or the Highway. Exuberant and nostalgic without the kitsch, Nala Designs is now available in Japan and Hong Kong, with a spanking new shop in Paris.
“I always wanted to give something back to Malaysia. Even though I'm not Malaysian, I still feel very strongly about the past, how beautiful KL used to be. The core of what I am trying to do is to try to keep that alive,” said Scheers.
Design-wise, Scheers still creates by hand, whether it is drawing or doing silk screens. “It's not difficult to find inspiration but finding a new twist to something that has already been done is not easy. I decompose what I find and put it back together again but I have to push myself every time to find new patterns and new designs,” she said.
As an innovator, it isn't long before copycats spring up, imitating her style. “I try to find a new approach. It is a challenge to make it look so difficult that it is difficult to copy,” sighed Scheers.
Three years ago, she ventured into the F&B business with Dr.Inc, situated below her shop in a quieter part of the trendy Bangsar neighbourhood. Tucked in a shophouse, the café and restaurant – decked out in Nala products – features inventive meals and lively pop-up markets.
“The café came about accidentally. I wanted to take a break and had someone come in to take care of the shop. The person happened to own a coffee machine. I had no intention of opening a café or a full-fledged restaurant but it's full on busy for lunch and dinner.”
You could say that Scheers has the Midas touch; whatever venture she embarks on turns to gold, helped by her uncompromising belief in good design and ferocious capacity for work. The journey hasn't always been easy for this one-woman show, and Scheers sometimes feels the strain. Whenever she does, she rejuvenates herself by diving into her enormous bag of ideas and takes satisfaction in a perfectly made tea towel or kuih design. “I'm very lucky my creative juices always work; that's the thing that doesn't leave me, that is my creative ideas.”