A New Breed of Local Designers Worth Knowing

by Allysha Nila
Few are shaking up Singapore’s fashion climate — but a new breed of local, underground designers has taken the matter into their own hands. We give you the lowdown on these elusive names and the stories behind what they do

The collections of Myanmar-born designer Wai Wai are created entirely by herself at her home in Singapore, making her one of few designers who directly work on the garment at every step of the creation process — her pieces are only available for pre-order as a consequence. Wai has accustomed herself to such intensity. She trained with London avant-garde designer, Faustine Steinmetz, while studying Fashion Textiles (specialising in printmaking) at London College of Fashion. “Steinmetz started out in a very small studio and she was willing to teach me. It involved doing a lot of time-consuming tasks: setting up weaving machines alone can take up three hours, deconstructing yarn had to be done by picking apart individual strands. A garment took almost a month to create.” 

Through experiences, Wai’s work has developed complexity. The collection Patches of Memory, for example, showcases how structure, colour and texture come together to create a sense of déjà vu, which she felt strongly during her first trip to Prague. “I’m interested in the play of materials and, as a result, illusions — as in when you look closer at something, it’s not what you think it is.” Instead of traditionally drawing her prints, she directly scanned flattened trash (corrugated cardboard, scrap metal, paper) before abstracting them into what we see on the fabric. Because of this dedication to process, Wai says she prefers to be recognised as a textile designer and not a fashion designer – “because there’s so many of them out there”. 

You can count on her to deliver something fresh, given her technical prowess. “With printmaking, you can be very experimental. Although there are recipes to create certain pigments, you can invent your own ways of doing it, too.”


That it’s a menswear label has not stopped the women from shopping Alchemist. The duo behind the brand, Nick Sim and Amirul Nazree, are not fashion-trained (Sim just earned his diploma in aeronautical engineering, and Nazree is an architect working at French design firm WY-TO), but both of them buy pieces from experimental brands like Undercover, Carol Christian Poell, Helmut Lang and Kiko Kostadinov. 

This doesn’t carry over into Alchemist’s designs, though. “All these avant-garde designers are opening up possibilities,” Sim explains. “We learn from their clothes and ideas but we don’t necessarily take direct inspiration, because they aren’t very functional in design.” 

"We want clothes we can relate to – not just in terms of ideals or style, but that suits our bodies and lives,” – Nick Sim, Alchemist

The duo created only five garments for Alchemist’s debut collection, Anatomy, comprising a jacket, two pairs of pants and two shirts. The collection was presented and released in April at a private party held at a studio in Ubi Avenue, attended by friends and friends of friends. At the moment, the duo only takes direct orders through email. Despite the impression of secrecy, they want their clothes to be able to be worn by anyone. “Ultimately, neither we nor our customers want to pay so much money for clothes that’s not difficult to make, or to buy just because of its brand. We want clothes we can relate to – not just in terms of ideals or style, but that suits our bodies and lives,” says Sim. 

This makes sense of their collection theme, ergonomics, which studies the relation of body and movement. It’s increasingly neglected by designers as they revere style over substance. The five garments are all practical everyday pieces and highly detailed. Pants were implanted with large, deep pockets. Many have also taken notice of the jacket’s thick piping, cuff slits, interlocked seams, and internal straps that allow the jacket to be carried like a backpack when not worn. “Someone said we were crazy to go that far since it requires a lot of effort and time,” says Nazree, “but we want that level of detail and precision.”


“We started our collective with outcasts – people who don’t even feel accepted in their own group of friends,” says Taufyq Iskandar, Creative Director of the group. From a creative entity of four in 2015, Youths in Balaclava is now a growing collective of 16 that finds strength in numbers. 

Labelling them “indie” would not be understating it. Their grunge-shot casualwear designs and the YIB members’ personal styling could pretty much be considered to remain on the fringe, but the brand is centred on a mission: “We want to advocate change in the youth of our country. We can’t entirely change the scene, but we can start a ripple effect. This is that platform,” says Taufyq. 

Collection themes reference serious subjects pertinent to Singapore: the Hock Lee bus riots of 1955, institutional racism in today’s government, the impact of drugs on youth, to name a few.

Its Honey Memory collection last May (the name refers to the use of heroin use by prominent grunge musicians) was produced in four weeks, and launched with a fashion show staged at a run-down building in Ubi, with fringe activities including a low-fi rooftop gig inspired by an iconic performance of Nirvana on MTV’s Unplugged series. “We had to borrow seats from the coffee shop downstairs,” Taufyq recalls. “Guests had to climb up a ladder – not stairs – to get to the venue. Can you imagine all the atas people doing that?”

YIB’s latest collection Stigma cues something lighter and close to heart, as the main idea involves recreating band merchandise. Taufyq cites discovering grunge music as a child and cites his days as a teen thrift shopping and reselling his finds as inspirations. 

While designers like Marc Jacobs, Vivienne Westwood and Hedi Slimane brought grunge to mainstream luxury, which in turn filtered over to fast fashion, YIB calls out on the blatant profitisation of culture (which is now a hashtag, by the way, #culturevulture). “It’s frustrating that people are dressing up just for the sake of looking cool,” argues Kasyfi Hakeem, a creative member. “There are certain things you can adopt from subcultures, but you should know what it is you’re dealing with when you make it your own.” 


This accessories brand is no newcomer but it’s managed to remain low-profile. Omitir has been around since 2012; it’s sold every piece from its first two collections; its clientele ranges from fashion enthusiasts to chefs and lawyers; it sources its materials from Indonesia to Italy; and it’s stocked in Singapore, Bangkok and Japan.

Although designers Bryan Teo and Darren Loke have never been taught the craft of leather-making under an apprenticeship, they’ve taken plenty of time and initiative to acquire their know-how. “We are both really hands on with making things and experimenting. Honestly, we started with sampling clothes first,” says Teo. “We wasted a lot of calico, leather and thread; searching on Google and taking apart products.”

In an age of PayPal and Paywave, it’s easy to purchase goods on a whim. But Omitir’s range of products, which also includes belts, wallets as well as bags, are testament that good things require time to create.

“It is really important for our customers to understand how each bag was made, washed and treated to achieve a certain outcome,” says Teo. For example, washes are done over a few days after the completion of a product, as opposed to treating materials before they are stitched together.

“We believe that bags are objects and should not be cared for too much. Our bags are priced and oiled as such because we want the customer to not have to worry about one thing after another — like when it gets caught in the rain,” explains Loke.

This article first appeared in the August 2017 issue of L'Officiel Singapore (out now on newsstands and Magzter).

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