To most women, a handbag is more than just a bag. Rather than being a means to keeping one’s everyday items in place, the fashion item also completes an outfit and provides it with a worthy finishing touch.

While that may be true, Illiza Ho thinks that a handbag is so much more. The 35-year-old Taiwanese designer believes that handbags allow her to really be creative. Designing them is really an outlet for her to tell a story.

“My current collection is inspired by seashells. Nowadays people are so hung up with technology that they forget nature itself.

So I think it’s time to go back to what’s traditional in terms of beauty,” she states. Ho made her debut at the Kuala Lumpur Fashion Week in 2013. Since then, she has evolved and grown as a designer.

Her collections have witnessed a change that speaks of both her ability and creativity.

“When I first started, I was more focused on architecture and sculpture. I used those elements a lot in my designs back then. What’s the same is that my handbags are always functional. They can be held or opened in a lot of different ways.”

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Ho handmakes the first pieces of her bags, and handpicks the material from countries she travels to.

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Ho’s runway showcase at Malaysia Fashion Week 2016.

Ho worked for four years in Taiwan before she furthered her studies in London. An industrial design graduate, she has a vast experience in various disciplnes. These include footwear, timepieces and even wooden toys.

“Working with watches drove my passion for fashion accessories. That’s when I decided to enroll into the London College of Fashion to learn accessories design — bags in particular,” she relates.

On her design process, Ho says that she doesn’t really sketch. For her, it really begins with her envisioning a story for a particular design. Then, as she gets a feel of it, the handbag naturally comes to “life”.

“Because I use a different way to make handbags, I play around with a piece of paper or material to make a mock-up. It’s usually quite small, like a toy, then I make a large mock-up to compare sizes and how nice the shape is.”

As it is, Ho is lucky to be able to count renowned shoe designer Datuk Jimmy Choo as her mentor. While studying in London, her friend who was doing an internship with Choo introduced her to him.

She is learning a lot more from her teacher than just fashion and design, though. One of the major advice that he has given her is about living her life to the fullest. He also tells her that being a good person is more important than being a good designer.

“You need to enjoy whatever you do, it’s the best way to achieve your dream. If you don’t, you’ll give up in two or three years but if you enjoy it, you will still do it even if you face difficulties,” she enthuses.

Ho was named as The Most Promising Designer for 2014 at the Mercedes Benz Stylo Fashion Awards. She was also awarded the Datuk Jimmy Choo Protege Award during last year’s Malaysia Fashion Week.