INNAI Group finds a fresh space to bloom | NST

INNAI Group finds a fresh space to bloom | NST

MAY 10, 2019. Kuala Lumpur

The founder of the Innai Group tells Syida Lizta Amirul Ihsan about embracing change, appreciating time and why she likes to keep her company small.

EVEN at 35 weeks pregnant, Izrin Ismail, who helms local label Innai, cuts a striking figure in a pleated emerald green satin silk dress, cinched Empire-style.

“It’s the only one I can fit into,” she beams, her breathing rapid due to advanced pregnancy.

Intricate | Have you ever wondered what it takes to make a dress?

What started as her mother’s contemporary batik brand has evolved into Izrin Ismail's vision of a bespoke womenswear label, known for their bridal wear and special occasion dresses.

Today, Innai Red 
is synonymous with feminine silhouettes and intricately-beaded gowns that she and her team work to produce from their workspace in Plaza Damas. We got to take a look at what goes on behind the scenes at Innai Red, and it was very fascinating to watch Izrin’s well organised team working at optimum speed. The beauty of Spring formed the initial inspiration of INNAI RED’s Hari Raya collection for 2020. The collection ushers spring mood with a fresh crop of invigorating mood lifting laces with modern silhouette. 

Above the Innai Red showroom in Plaza Damas, sit the designers who kickstart the entire process. Izrin’s design team, Eddie and Alvina are seated in a cosy corner office where they sketch and dream up designs under Izrin’s creative direction. Once that’s finalised and the fabrics are ready, the creative process is handed over to the workshop where the cutter handcuts the rolls, prepping them to be sewed and stitched by Innai Red’s team of seamstresses.


Late last year, Innai Red’s designers left the brand abruptly, leaving a void in the design team. It was a challenging time for Izrin but one that she embraced with calmness and confidence.

“In retrospect, I see it as a chance for the brand to have a new life, to have clothes seen from different perspectives and to open new doors in designs. It’s not easy to find new designers, but business, like life, is a learning curve.

“You live and learn and move along and trust God. Everything happens for a reason and who knows what new doors an event might open,” she says.

Two new and young designers have since joined her design team and the new Hari Raya collection is their maiden effort with Innai Red.

“I am happy with the work and judging from the orders, my customers are happy too. I don’t design, but I guide them and provide the basis of the looks for the collection,” she says.

For its Hari Raya collection, Innai Red offers semi-bespoke pieces. The off-the-rack sizes are available in stores, but for customers who want their clothes customised, they can do so.

“We make 10 to 12 pieces for each design in different colours, so no two pieces are alike. If you buy one dress in mustard yellow, no one’s going to have the same dress in the same hue.”

Innai Red launched its Hari Raya orders on April 12 — each one tagged from RM3,000 to RM4,500 — and although Izrin says she had her reservations given the soft retail market, she is happy with the number of orders.

“Alhamdulillah, we have already made our quota of what we can produce.

Anything else is extra,” she says.

For this collection, Izrin delved into the beautiful world of Malay dressing of the different states and gave these looks a luxurious makeover.

The kebaya, kebarung, kurung labuh and kurung Kedah are updated with the brand’s DNA — modern with clean lines, feminine folds and scalloped-hems.

The shorter skirt hems of kebaya and kebarung is a clear favourite for those wanting to flaunt their statement footwear. Modernity of the designs is not only apparent through cut and fabric but also the carefully curated embellishment for each piece.

The traditional kerongsang is replaced with rhinestone beadwork sewn to form a brooch-like shape for a fresh aesthetic.


Izrin also works with batik artists for Innai and she tells me that she is afraid that we will soon lose our batik legacy. The craftsmen are old and not many of them teach younger people about their trade.

“We still produce batik blouses even if the demand has dropped a lot. Batik has become a very expensive industry. Raw materials such as silk and dyes are expensive and there are very few skilled artists left,” she says.

“Some companies have to resort to doing printing on fabrics, not hand drawing because the cost is just too high.” She says the batik culture in Indonesia impresses her. “They know how to keep their batik legacy alive,” she says.

The Innai Group employs 20 Malaysian staff, from master cutter to tailors, all of whom work with her closely. Izrin does not have plans to expand both brands to be bigger than they already are.

“I appreciate my life and I appreciate time. I would like to have time to spend with my friends and family and not just work, so this is good for me and good for my staff.

“I believe you cannot deliver your best if you are not at your best,” she says. The arrival of her second child — her son is 6 this year — will make time an even more precious commodity.

“I’m excited and scared at the same time,” she says.

Written by: Shida Lizta Amirul Ihsan (NST) 
Images by: Yipieyaya Studio