A fashion designer from KL said, “It is not just cooks and workers, who lose out to foreign workers. The clothing and fashion industry is also struggling. Will ministers look into our plight?”
He said that at one time, local models, designers and modelling agencies promoted Malaysian models, Malaysian craft, design and fabrics. Nowadays, the trade is flooded with cheap foreign imports.
According to the models and those in the local design and clothing industry, the previous Umno-Baru/BN administration did nothing to promote Malaysian creativity and enterprise. Worse still, the strong political connections of a few of the companies, helped to decimate the local fashion industry.
(NB: Here is a write-up confirming the fears of the fashion designer. In 2014, the journalist, Naressa Khan asked “Where are our Malaysian models?” and she complained about the lack of local talent in helping to present these shows and the increasing use of Caucasian models.)
Can the Human Resources Minister help?
On 22 June, the Human Resources Minister, M Kulasegaran, announced that all restaurant cooks had to be Malaysian, and gave restaurants a grace period of six months, until 31 December 2018, to enable this transition to take place. Some sections of the public reacted with fury.
A group of local designers and models, were unfazed by the outrage. They claimed that Kula had restored their hope for a revival of the local fashion and design industry. Will he and his peers, including the Immigration Department, help to regulate the Fashion and Clothing industry?
Foreign models flooding the market at the expense of local models
Various industry sources said that at one time, beautiful Malaysian girls were prominently featured, until one agency kick-started the whole problem by bringing in foreign models.
One model said, “The problem exists to this day, and unless the government steps in, the fashion industry will enter a terminal decline.”
One designer who has spent thirty years clothing Malaysian celebrities said, “Cooks are not the only ones who have lost their jobs to foreigners. Only those in my trade know the severity of this problem.
“Models, seamstresses, make-up artists, manicurists, videographers and location scouts are all affected. We promote local design and fashion, but the import of cheap foreign labour is killing local creative talent and depriving us of an honest living.”
He alleged that many modeling agencies bring in foreign models who undercut the local men and women. He said, “The mostly, European, models charge only RM350 per show, whereas local girls of the same grade could command around RM700 per show.
“Local Class “A” models could charge upwards of RM1,500 per show, but many have quit modelling because of the cheap European imports.”
A prominent local fashion critic said, “How can foreign models survive on RM350 per shoot? Are they moonlighting as prostitutes, or are they being kept by powerful people in office? What is going on here? Will someone do a proper investigation?”
We alerted the government a few years ago, but they did not listen
One KL designer said, “A few years ago, the heads of various model groups highlighted the foreign models issues. Despite the publicity generated in the local papers, the rogue agencies continued bringing in cheap foreign models, whilst the government did nothing.
“We tried to impress on the government that they should implement a 70/30 ratio of local/foreign models, in runway shows. That request fell on deaf ears.”
Foreign models are working without proper working visas
The head of another model agency said, “The “Made In Malaysia” regulation for shoots, was removed by the government a few years ago. No reason was given.”
Her colleague said, “All foreign models should have proper working visas and pay our taxes, if they want to work in Malaysia. Local models who work overseas, pay for their work visas and taxes in the host countries.
“There is a risk that the foreign models who work in Malaysia without the necessary visas, may not get paid, and they cannot complain to the authorities, as they are working in Malaysia illegally. They find out when it is too late, that they have been cheated.
“Jabatan Immigration should conducts raids on these agencies.”
Encourage local companies to hire local talent and support the economy
Many of the heads of the agencies have stopped training local models. One said, “There’s no market, or career, for the local models. All the jobs have been taken away from them. There are so many young, aspiring and beautiful models in our country, but there are few jobs for them.
“The local companies must also be encouraged to appreciate and use our beautiful Malaysian models. Instead, they use foreign models in all their advertising campaigns, shows & launches.
“These companies are not helping to support the local economy. The government should implement the local-to-foreign-models quota and ensure that all companies apply for the appropriate working visas for all jobs (runway shows or print/film).
“The country is losing revenue because these companies are not paying for the work visas and the models take their money out of the country.
“Worse still is that local agencies cannot find anyone whom they can train, because the influx of cheap foreign models discourages local talent from applying.”
Authorities need to crackdown on shady agencies and those with strong political connections
Six months ago, another local designer criticised the practise of one or two firms, which monopolise the making of the Armed Forces uniforms. He said, “There should be open, transparent tenders, and the work should not be awarded to one company, even if it has strong political ties. There are allegations that the uniforms are made abroad, where labour is cheap. We are depriving local tailors of jobs.
“There needs to be a serious shakedown of the clothing trade. Some factories, which are managed and staffed by illegal immigrants, have also sprung-up around Kuala Lumpur. The factories probably don’t have the necessary permits to manufacture. Where is the enforcement?”
Some people in the industry feel that an urgent review is needed to re-inject local talent into the industry. They said that the authorities should crackdown on shady agencies, and especially the local agencies which had strong political connections with the previous Umno-Baru administration.
Will the minister, and his peers, listen to their concerns and help revive Malaysian fashion, design and make full use of our local creativity?
(NB. 1. This article was compiled after talking to various local people who are involved in the Malaysian fashion and design industry.)
2. Photos are from the stock archives unless otherwise stated.)