As the saying goes, some of the best things in life happen by accident. Dovile Kazokeviciute’s idea of starting a modest swimsuit line came about when she saw a group of Muslim women by the swimming pool at her condo, not wearing proper swimsuits. Instead, they opted for tights and t-shirts to hide.
“I was like, ‘Why aren’t they wearing stylish swimwear?’ After some research, I found that there weren’t many options in the beginning. In 2017 there was almost nobody selling modest swimsuits that looked good, not even the big brands,” says Kazokeviciute, a regular at the pool.
She came to Malaysia in 2014 for a contract job as a model and fell in love with the country. “I’m from Lithuania and had never heard of Malaysia before. But when I got here, I really liked it. I thought it was a very friendly place. People could speak English and communication was not a problem.”
After a while, she realized that Malaysia wasn’t as big as other countries when it came to models. “I lived in China and Italy for a while and didn’t feel like modeling was ‘it’ in Malaysia. But I really liked this country.”
She was weighing her decision to pursue a modeling career, while the Swimming Pool episode had her chatting with Muslim friends about starting a humble swimwear line. “They thought it was a great idea. It took me a year to develop. I only had two designs at first because I wasn’t sure if it would work,” she says.
Matsalleh Design’s swimsuit collections are vibrant in patterns and colors and the brand aims to balance modesty with fun and fashion. Kazokeviciute not only spends a lot of time on social media for inspiration, but also looks at nature in the form of leaves and flowers to help her choose the right color combination for the patterns.
Every part of the suit is meticulously engineered to solve humble swimwear issues. The swimsuit is long enough to provide extra coverage for the lower part of the body and comes with fasteners to prevent the top from riding up in the water.
While Kazokeviciute was happy with their first two designs, production was another hurdle. She looked for suppliers to work with, but couldn’t find local manufacturers that met her needs for high-quality materials for her swimsuits.
Working on a tight budget, the risk of hiring suppliers who couldn’t keep up wasn’t a luxury she could afford. Therefore, she has outsourced the materials from manufacturers in China. “They’re super efficient and have the latest technology, which guarantees good quality for my products.” Each collection is produced in bulk because it’s more cost-effective.
She’s been running the business for three years, and just early last year Kazokeviciute hired someone to help her. Previously it was a one-woman show; with her everything from developing designs and collaborating with suppliers to building an online store and promoting the brand on social media. “I did everything on my own because this business was my baby and I didn’t want to let anyone in on it until it was really stable.”
Although Kazokeviciute tries to run an eco-friendly business, she understands that this is difficult in the fashion industry. “Whatever you do, the fashion industry cannot be sustainable.” So how does Matsalleh Design minimize its impact on the environment? “For me, the sustainability of this business is using really high quality materials so the suits can be worn over and over again for years,” she says.
Nylon and spandex fabrics are the most durable, which fits Kazokeviciute’s mission to make their products durable. While there’s not much she can do when it comes to choosing sustainable fabrics for the swimsuits, she does help protect the environment with an initiative called Changing the World One Tree at a Time, in which the brand allocates a percentage of total sales to it, as soon as possible as many planting trees as much as possible.
Matsalleh Design is currently working entirely online and therefore tries to ensure sizing through excellent customer service. “We help customers choose the size that suits them best. We also have a size exchange policy, so if you give it a try [the suit] at home and it doesn’t fit, you can exchange it for another one within two weeks.”
Matsalleh Design recently added sporting goods to its range, such as a sports hijab. “After the pandemic, people started to care more about their health. I think sportswear is going to be the next big thing,” says Kazokeviciute.
For anyone wondering about the brand name, Matsalleh Design started out as a joke among friends years before Kazokeviciute thought of starting this business. “When I came here, I didn’t understand much of the Malay language. But I always heard people call someone Mat Salleh. So I googled the meaning. My friends said if I ever had a clothing line I should call it Matsalleh Design. When I started my swimsuit business, I knew exactly what I wanted to call it.”
With Matsalleh Design, Kazokeviciute wants women to express themselves more by wearing something chic and stylish instead of boring dark and monotonous swimsuits. “Colorful clothes put you in a really good mood, especially when you’re on vacation at the beach.”
This article first appeared in The Edge Malaysia on January 10, 2022.