How I live: Kerol Izwan

The founder of Malaysian publishing and lifestyle company Musotrees on why he quit the nine to five (and his career as a biologist) to build the thing that makes him happy.
Kerol Izwan hero

Kerol Izwan laughs when recounting how his family responded after he left behind a career in science. ‘They were like, “How will you earn money?!” But I couldn’t blame them,’ he says, ‘as they don’t understand how this generation works. Not working a nine to five seems mind-boggling. But now that they’re on Instagram, they know better about what I do.’

For the past five years, from his base on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur, Kerol has run a print magazine called Musotrees, growing it into a lifestyle brand and online shop with his own line of clothing and accessories. But before that, he was a biologist. ‘Perhaps it’s a cliché of Asian parents, but they wanted me to be a doctor,’ he says. ‘I’m not smart enough to be a doctor, so the closest second thing was probably biology.’ He ended up working in the industry for seven years.

Yet the itch to start something more creative and fulfilling came calling. ‘I started travelling when I was 21 and backpacked around the world,’ he says. ‘It occurred to me that you can’t restrict yourself to a cubicle.’ The worst feeling, he says, is coming back to the office after a big trip and getting into a boring routine, a slump. ‘It’s just so uninspiring and I couldn’t deal with it any more.’

Kerol turned his love of magazines, travelling and photography into Musotrees (a word he invented: ‘“Muso” is a person who loves music and “trees” is just... trees. They’re two things I love, so I just combined them and it clicked’). It was a bit of an uphill battle, as independent publishing isn’t common in Malaysia, he says. ‘The titles are very limited and the Malaysian market isn’t really a reading culture... but people are starting to understand that independent publishing is different from mainstream publications.’ To help pave the path, he launched Musotrees Library – an online magazine shop for fellow Malaysians to buy the global titles that inspire him.

These days, even if the pandemic has made running a print magazine more difficult and international trips are few and far between, Kerol says he’s doing what makes him happy. ‘I feel privileged and blessed to have been given the opportunity to burn the midnight oil,’ he says. ‘It’s good when you earn something out of your hobby. You try to push yourself to do all the things you love and make it work and eventually turn it into your new life.’

The daily routine

’I’m a morning person and an early riser. I love to wake up at like 6am. I’ll hang out and chill in bed a bit with good music, and then start going through my emails. I usually make my own breakfast; Greek yoghurt, granola and bananas is my favourite. I’ll have black coffee at around 7am, and then once my adrenaline and serotonin kick in, I’ll get back to my emails, start replying, and focus on Musotrees. I’m a hardcore note-taker, so usually if I had an idea the night before, I’ll extend that idea on paper and try to find whether it’s something fruitful or if it was just a dream that will never come true.’

’During the day, I’ll catch up with my team as we’re all working remotely. I’ll check in with designs that are laid out, proofreading, content creation. I’ll do that until 11 or 12. Then I’ll have lunch. After lunch, I usually have meetings, or I’m checking deliveries and seeing suppliers for raw materials. Now that I’ve launched our collection Musotrees Living, I often go to the factory and check production.’

’At 5pm or so, I’ll go to my parents in Kuala Lumpur and have dinner with them. I drive every day, but traffic can be really bad, especially during monsoon season. After dinner, at around 8.30pm, I’ll head back and relax, watch Netflix and read something light before sleeping. I’ll usually try to make little notes before I go to sleep so that I know what to expect the next day.’

Wear and carry

Kerol’s go-to brands are a mix of local gems and international favourites:

Ana Tomy. ‘I always have my notebook everywhere I go,’ Kerol says. The ones he often reaches for come from this customisable Malaysian stationery and planner brand, founded in 2016. 

Aesop. ‘I use it religiously for my skincare routine and I’ve got a good relationship with the Malaysian arm – I once got invited to Sydney to meet Aesop’s founder. It was a dream come true to talk about their brand ethos. Though it’s a skincare brand, Aesop is so much more in that it’s articulate about art and travel, and I want Musotrees to grow in a similar way – wear Musotrees, live Musotrees, think Musotrees. That kind of vibe.’ 

Sore Sore. An Indonesian brand that makes colourfully illustrated bags, masks and accessories. ‘I use their totes most of the time,’ Kerol says. 

This article was first published in Courier issue 38, December/January 2021. To purchase the issue or become a subscriber, head to our webshop.

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