Of Design And Culture

Once the youngest architect in Malaysia, Safura Razak tells us about her struggles and how Mowgli Store was established.

Of Design And Culture


Hello there. My name is Safura Razak, and this is my story.

I am a Professional Architect and the founder/owner of Mowgli Store. I am an Associate in my family's Architectural practice, and I am a one-man show for Mowgli Store after work and on weekends.

I hold a bachelors in Architectural Design, and Masters in Architecture (RMIT), both with distinction.

I received my LAM Part III when I was 28 and was the youngest in Malaysia at that time. I'm a person who believes in social design, from architecture to my own business.

I come from a creative family of 6 – my parents are architects, along with my brother. I have a sister doing business and another who did industrial design and is pursuing graphics/branding.

We were always allowed to express ourselves, be it through art, design, performance, public speaking or music. My parents always supported us in our random hobbies.

We were always allowed to express ourselves, be it through art, design, performance, public speaking or music.

Safuraa Razak

My father used to lecture and formed his own architectural firm more than 30 years ago. He was always at the top of his class from his school and has a flair for design. He always taught me design since I was born and encouraged us to travel for inspiration.

My mother worked with the government and focused on hospital planning. She has a love for home science – she sows tea cosies and bakes cookies, and also successfully sells them. She's the one who encouraged me most in my business.


My brother is more to the contractual and business side of architecture. He now lectures professional practice around Malaysia.

Finally, I am the designer. I love graphics, so I get really hands-on in all the design processes in our company from planning, to designing, to building 3D, and post-processing. I've been doing digital graphics since I was 10 – making amateur fan websites, from Go Play days to Geocities, Blogspot and so on. I started photography when I was 18 when I won a partial scholarship from RMIT for my performance in the foundation and spent that my money of SLR and equipment.

Since my parents are architects they took us travelling on road trips since I was 5 – starting from domestic to Europe to other continents – to learn history, culture and food. My interest in photo journalism also motivated me to travel more.

Being the youngest AR in Malaysia at one point in my life felt surreal. I feel like I've achieved my ultimate goal in my Architecture career.

Safuraa Razak

Overall, I have covered about 35 countries, which is still not much compared to other people, but enough to expand my cultural and design vocabulary.

Whenever I come home from Melbourne for my summer or winter breaks, my father and I would take father-daughter backpacking trips in Southeast Asia.

My world expanded, even more, when I lived in Austria and Germany for a year of exchange and made a lot of European and South American friends, so I went to visit them too.

Even before my SPM results, I flew to Melbourne (where my parents studied architecture and met) to RMIT Foundation in Design and Art. My initial plan was to study Digital Art, then continue in Cinematography. However based on my performance, I was naturally leaning towards Architecture and got in. Alhamdulillah I received good results. I guess when you are good at something, you love it even more.

Failure was never an answer for me, and once I've achieved it, I felt like I could move on to the next goal.

Safuraa Razak

My parents never forced me to do the course. Five years later I graduated with a degree and masters. Three years later I took my professional exam. I tried any electives and diversified the types of studios I took from advanced to social architecture. I was very competitive, so that kept me going.

Being in my profession made me sensitive about materials and workmanship, which reflected while I was visiting different places around the world when I developed my passion towards local handmade goods as well as the narrative behind each artwork. I was constantly searching for something new to add to my personal accessories and home decor collection, spending hours in local markets learning about the people and their crafts.

I wanted to share this love with my customers. So they get to appreciate the products they buy from its aesthetics to the material, down to the actual artisans behind these products. That’s when Mowgli Store was formed.

Being the youngest AR in Malaysia at one point in my life felt surreal. I feel like I've achieved my ultimate goal in my Architecture career. After that, I felt that I had a bigger responsibility and I could take on the world and play my part as an Architect.

So moral of the story is, between all the fun, always learn to be moderate and humble.

Safuraa Razak

Again, my parents have never pressured me to take the course, but once I did, they really emphasized on how important it is to be registered. Failure was never an answer for me, and once I've achieved it, I felt like I could move on to the next goal. To be young and a girl in this profession is definitely not easy, so to have the AR title, especially the experience and knowledge required for it, definitely helps.

I took weekend seminars every weekend for two years. I also went to study groups every fortnightly. I even created my Part 3 "bible" with hand written notes and diagrams for a better understanding of things. Everything was pure text in the syllabus, so by translating them into visuals really helped me have a graphic memory of things. Everyone had their own experiences and interpretation, so sometimes at discussions, you either clarify things or you're left extra confused. When you're the least experienced people, listen to you less. My tip is always question things, listen what people have to say, go home, and research on your own to double triple confirm. Do a lot of past year papers, understand and not memorize.

My travelling experiences have helped me widen my lenses a lot more; Looking at beautiful scenery, experiencing new cultures, being out of my comfort zone, looking at buildings an local houses, understanding local behaviours, taking pictures, learning new words, eating. Every trip changed or shaped me one way or another.


Five years in Melbourne Australia taught me to be independent.

Six months Innsbruck Austria taught me to appreciate nature and being more carefree and enjoying the outdoors.

Six months in Berlin really opened my eyes about history, urbanism and diversity in culture.

I also spent two months in South America. My Bali trip gave me a wake-up call. It taught me not to take things for granted with all the challenges I faced.

So moral of the story is, between all the fun, always learn to be moderate and humble.

Safuraa Razak

My last few days in Chile, I took a solo trip to the south. It was the end of my trip, and I was confident being on my own. I decided to take a boat tour by myself. I had my guard down absorbing the moment, little did I realize I was on a boat with an offender. So moral of the story is, between all the fun, always learn to be moderate and humble.

The trip that changed me the most was my Umrah last year. I had gone a few times as a child, but this time I understood everything more. Sometimes after going through all the challenges or "fun" in life is easy to forget about Him. This trip helped me brush up on my spiritual being and my role as a Muslim. No doubt I'm not perfect, but we all start somewhere!

Travelling really made me who I am today. It has cured me of a lot of heartaches, and it has given me life. As ironic as it sounds, I feel lost when I have no plans, or I have not in awhile gone to a foreign place.

Everything has its challenges, but if it’s starting to make you hate yourself, walk away, but make sure you are walking towards something better!

Safuraa Razak

Mowgli Store was established when I had just finished doing my Part III exam, and I wanted to celebrate. I went to South America for six weeks; I spent long hours with some company as well as by myself going to markets, learning about their crafts and a little bit of street Spanish to get by. I was already obsessed with hand made textiles, rugs and baskets, etc. I was a sucker for one of a kind things. After I came back, I immediately flew to Bali (which I've gone various times before) for a four day trip. But this particular trip was different.

I passed my Part III oral exam, but I had just found out I failed my papers. I had to repeat in 4 months time, which sucked because I was a hermit for a whole year. I sacrificed so many hobbies and weekends.

My stay in Bali was extended to 9 days because I was stuck there because of a volcano eruption. (I experienced an earthquake, landslide, broken bus, even harassment in S.A. right before that)

But in the midst of all that, I got to experience even more of Bali that I ever did before. I spent more time with my local friends who were doing crafts in Bali as well as continued my search for handmade treasures. So after both being YOLO with everything I went through and feeling inspired by all the culture I experienced in those two months, I decided to start my alter ego. Mowgli Store: A collector of things and stories.


At that time I wanted a Belly Basket, which was famous in Europe. I couldn’t find anything on sale in Malaysia, so I decided to contact a supplier from a country nearby and then began making my first product, the Baloo Bakul. 100 pcs, 20 each colour and size and sold them via Blogspot. I wanted to stay as anonymous as possible at first, only told close friends but remained mysterious on social media to experience how its like to build a brand from scratch and refrain from any form of prejudice or preconceived ideas on the brand.

I gave it a chance, looked at things in a different light and I am much happier now.

Safuraa Razak

Throughout the years I gained more attention, the supplier and I became good friends, and we decided to custom and design our own bags. I have now sold about 1500-2000 baskets in 2 years. This really polished me to be better at business and speaking to clients, in my Architectural practice. I can afford to do this in my own time since I work on my own. I do the accounts, inventory, sales, website, photography, graphics. I keep it fun but profitable.

However, no success story is free from obstacles. In architecture, studying for Part III, I heard so many people repeating for years, even as long as 16 times. It really scared me because I had sacrificed so much. But I just looked forward to it, gained support from my loved ones and gave it all I had.

In Mowgli Store when the basket and wicker trend boomed, I was quite demotivated. I did not understand why so many people would want to dive into something so niche and not try to improvise or be even so slightly innovative. But I had to learn to be one step ahead, maybe diversify.

Everyone deserves a shot at happiness and success. I do believe when you are unhappy; the outcome will never be good in career or relationships. But! Don't give up too easily! Give it a last try, look at things in a different perspective. Maybe the problem is internal and can be fixed. When I graduated I had many other dreams, I did feel trapped in my career. You get a different type of pressure when you're in a family business, and you sure as hell cannot walk away. I gave it a chance, looked at things in a different light, and I am much happier now.

If you have tried, you have weighed all the options, have been considerate and believed in something else, just go for it. If you rely on your regular salary, start as a small hobby or home business. I know some women like myself who have a side business, we put it on hold whenever our full-time job demands more. Otherwise, go for it and never look back!

Everything has its challenges, but if it’s starting to make you hate yourself, walk away, but make sure you are walking towards something better!

aaput