A fashion business icon in the making

The business of fashion is difficult enough but Dato Leong Sir Ley, Founder and Chairman of Sheng Tai International is determined to ensure that the Malaysian fashion industry makes a mark in the world stage, starting with Melaka as the fashion hub of Southeast Asia, in collaboration with FashionTV Paris, France.

Resplendent in a golden gown with a distinctive designer cut, Dato Leong Sir Ley is a paragon of elegance in a recent property awards ceremony in Kuala Lumpur. One of the awards she picked up on behalf of Sheng Tai International was the Most Visionary Property Developer trophy.
But being celebrated as a visionary developer is almost an understatement – Dato Leong as its founder and chairman is much more than that. Apart from successfully pioneering property tourism, which combines a tourism experience with opportunities to buy property, she’s also steered the company into pandemic-related projects, beginning with designing and building the RM1.5 billion Jasin Glove Hub from 2H 2021. This is on top of conceptualising a futuristic building that symbolizes Melaka’s historic and future significance – which is how the iconic RM6.5 bil The Sail came about.
But the one project that truly sets her apart from other developers is how she is changing the landscape in the fickle fashion world. Inspired by how Milan has for decades attracted the top talents in fashion designing and modeling, Leong has come up with a plan to put Melaka in the world map for the same reasons – but with a distinctly Southeast Asian flavour.
In essence, the plan is to attract all the top talents in Southeast Asia to Melaka which will be branded as a fashion hub. A tall order indeed and the idea understandably has its own share of detractors. But Leong remains unfazed – as always, she is meticulous, disciplined and perseverant in working towards her goal. This is on top of having the uncanny ability to inspire her team to do their best to achieve this seemingly impossible task as well as bringing partners together from around the world to share her vision.
Melaka is the perfect Asian complement to Milan, as a twin city in the East which exudes the same historical and cultural vibe that has inspired generations of fashion houses.
“We see Melaka as having many similarities with Milan, which has a historic building surrounded by international fashion houses in the historic core. In Melaka, we have the A’Famosa and the Stadthuys, among others, in the historic core, while the fashion houses can be built around them,” she enthuses.
To kickstart her dream, she’s decided to partner with FashionTV Paris, France, as the platform with which to drive the fashion hub in Melaka. Fashion TV Paris, France, is a fashion and lifestyle broadcasting television channel with a global audience.
Just like back in the old days 500 years ago, when European and Asian traders exchanged goods and imprinted their cultures in Melaka, this intermingling of Western and Eastern influences will create a cosmopolitan vibe that will further attract people to set up roots there.
Notably, the franchise deal entails the exchange of fashion designers and models between Europe and Southeast Asia – this exchange of creative talents will spur a flood of new ideas in the fashion world and put Melaka firmly on the fashion world map.
“We will rock the fashion world by starting many endeavours for the first time such as exchanging models between Malaysia and Europe; and setting up a FashionTV Academy to train models and other talents, in addition to showcasing the creations of local fashion designers,” Leong states.
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As Managing Director of FashionTV, Malaysia (originates from Paris, France), Dato Leong and her team have already prepared a roadmap to make this dream a reality. To ensure its success, she has roped in Bill Keith, one of Malaysia’s top fashion designers, to coordinate the operational side and deal with the fashion designers. For the training, she has enlisted the help of former Malaysian beauty queen, Betty Anne Brohier to head the fashion academy.

Entrepreneurial Angle

With the creative side taken care of, Leong and her team could focus more on the business and entrepreneurial aspects. Leong believes that “fashion can take on an entrepreneurial angle for the benefit of everyone.”
For a start, while waiting for Sheng Tai International’s flagship development The Sail to fully take shape, the company is building a 20,000 sq ft fashion gallery in Metra Square commercial development in Melaka, to house all the fashion collections and for holding fashion shows by both local and foreign designers. About 60 designers have signed on with more coming on board in the following months.
Noting that “fusing” the fashion world and the corporate world together has been successfully done previously as exemplified by Armani Hotel in Dubai, and Bulgari Hotel in Beijing, Leong envisions that the spinoffs from the ‘fusion’ of the two seemingly disparate worlds are massive.
“We will be creating job opportunities for models, hair stylists, makeup artists and all those involved in the fashion industry. Fashion designers will have the opportunity to showcase their collections on the international stage while models can have the opportunity to reach supermodel status by going through our upcoming FashionTV Academy Malaysia via our tie-up with FashionTV Paris, France.”
Apart from modelling, the academy will also offer courses in acting, singing, photography, makeup, public speaking and social etiquette, with some classes open to children and teenagers. “We want to open up the academy to everyone as I have noticed that Malaysia has many great talents but they are hindered by the lack of international exposure,” Leong shares, adding that the academy will give them the opportunity to have a shot on the international stage.
To add to the fashion vibe, Sheng Tai International in collaboration with FashionTV Paris, France, will also be setting up F Café, a unique F&B concept that blends haute couture with haute cuisine. Plans are underway to open 10 outlets within three years.
Leong has also successfully negotiated with FashionTV Paris, France to embrace the Muslim culture by allowing models to wear Muslim attire such as the hijab and tudung. This will add a refreshing diversity to the world-famous TV channel in addition to bringing in millions of new viewers from the Muslim world.
To her credit too, the astute dealmaker has managed to bring down the height requirement for Asian models, with the minimum height now set at 5ft 11in for male models and 5ft 7in for female models.
“Furthermore,” she adds, “the fashion hub can act as a catalyst to attract international brands, with fashion designers and models from around the world converging into Melaka, thus creating a dynamic ecosystem centred on international collaborations.”
Leong concludes that the branding of Melaka as a fashion hub not only helps them as a developer, it’s part of an ecosystem that blends fashion, education, wellness and many other fields, for the benefit of their investors.
Clearly, when the Melaka Fashion Hub takes shape, it would add another feather in the cap for Leong, who can be considered a fashion business icon in her own right.

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