T hey say that success doesn’t come for free – it’s 90% hard work and 10% effort. Xavier Mah is the perfect example of someone who has achieved his dreams through sheer grit and pure determination. He juggles many personas – PR consultant, trained makeup artist and hairstylist, fashion advisor, and now, co-founder of bespoke footwear brand, XALF (together with upcoming shoe designer Alfred Hor).
It has been three long years since our last meeting, while we were pursuing other dreams in other places. When he shows up for our interview, I notice that the baby-faced young man sporting his signature vest and ever-present fedora has been replaced with a more polished version (though still baby-faced), clad in a monochrome shirt and well-fitting jeans. He’s all grown-up, and appears way more comfortable in his own skin now.
Getting to where he is now wasn’t easy, shares Xavier. In 1993, he lost both his father and his grandmother to illnesses, leaving his mother to single-handedly bring up 4 young children. “My mother was heartbroken when my dad died. My siblings and I learned to take care of ourselves in order to lessen her burden. We even cleaned our neighbour’s house to earn some extra money. Throughout the years, my mom has never uttered a single complaint, and often taught us to be independent and humble,” he says.
Emmagem takes a peek into this enterprising young man’s life, in his own words:
On his current project, XALF Design
“I’ve always loved fashion. When I was travelling in New York, I had the opportunity to attend a fashion show during New York Fashion Week. I noticed that most of the people there focus more on their shoes, and not so much on their clothes. It hit me – people would rather spend more on comfortable, stylish shoes that they can wear over and over again, instead of an elaborate dress that can only be worn once.
When I came back to Malaysia, I was on a mission. I wanted to launch my own shoe label, and I wanted it bad. I got to know Alfred via social media (can you believe it?), and decided that he was the one I wanted to work with. He’s an incredibly talented shoe designer. Together we make a great team – I focus on publicity and branding, while he translates our ideas into reality. Sometimes we disagree on things (I like to give my input in the designs, too, haha!), but there’s a sense of mutual respect.”
On his role models
“When I was studying, my role model was Hong Ju Khee (NTV7 news presenter and host). Her impeccable command of English, Mandarin and Bahasa Malaysia was what made me look up to her so much. I finally realized my dream of meeting her in person when she came for a university event we organized.”
“Daisaku Ikeda (president of Soka Gakkai International) is also someone I admire. He started out with humble beginnings, but look where he is now! I often read his books to motivate myself.”
“Lastly, my mother is my rock and my best friend. She’s supported my throughout my career, and allowed me to chase my dreams, even when other people laughed at me.”
On challenges faced in starting up his own business
“Of course, when you’re new in the industry, people treat you like a child. Either that, or they want to squeeze you for what you’re worth. I’ve learned how to handle difficult people – you have to do it in such a way that there’s no room for doubt. As an entrepreneur, you’ve got to convince people about your abilities. Don’t be afraid to sell your talents. There’s also the complicated task of financial security, finding money to expand the company isn’t easy. And also, finding a good team to work with is a constant challenge I struggle with.”
On the real Xavier Mah behind the PR persona
“Despite being in the PR and entertainment industry, I’m not a big fan of partying. I prefer hanging out at quaint little cafes, drinking tea or coffee, enjoying a slice of cake. I suppose I like the simpler things in life. I listen to music, and read books to improve myself. I don’t believe in putting on airs, and when I do something, I don’t rush myself. That’s how you get great results.”
Advice for aspiring entrepreneurs and PR consultants
- Be result-oriented. Let your work speak for itself, and people will start to know and appreciate your talent.
- Networking and soft skills are important. Constantly equip yourself with more knowledge and skills to become a better all-rounder.
- Always keep in touch with people you meet. An e-mail or phone call to maintain contact can help you in ways you can never imagine.
- Be proactive. Cold-calling is an important yet often-overlooked aspect of PR. Finding business means you have to grin and bear it.
Quotes from the man himself
“When the ship doesn’t come to you, YOU swim to the ship, no matter what it takes!”
“Rejection is a door that leads to new opportunities.”
“Follow your dreams, make it a reality, but also make sure that it’s sustainable.”
“Love doing what you do. It’s your life, and don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise.”
“Dream big in order to achieve more. Constantly push yourself.”
(Photos: all courtesy of Xavier Mah)