Local Fashion Vanguards: Bessie Ye of R-y-e On Self-Care and Adapting During A Pandemic

The designer behind the homegrown minimal womenswear label on how she has been coping since the pandemic, the future of fashion, and the self-care rituals she practices to stay balanced at home.
Reading time 9 minutes
Image: Courtesy

The fashion industry is in the midst of a crisis. On a global scale, fashion events have been halted, retail stores are witnessing closures, and many labels have to calibrate and find new ways to engage with consumers, whilst dealing with the uncertainty of a new reality post quarantine.

In the midst of it all, are the designers and people working tirelessly to adapt and cope with an ever changing situation. And smaller, homegrown labels have been placed in a more precarious situation, with significantly less resources compared to their larger counterparts. “Many of us have been facing a slowdown in demand and sales. Starting from our supply chain with delayed seasonal deliveries, to physical retail stores and launch events, we are not able to resume trading normally. It is indeed a strange time to have a store open but with hardly anyone around,” says Bessie Ye of homegrown label R-y-e.

Started in 2016 by Ye, the label consists of functional garments with a pared back sensibility, that is deeply rooted in comfort and a timeless appeal. 

Ye admits that the industry is going through a “distressing time,” having to adapt to this new reality. But her label is moving forward with the times, pivoting their business and is set to launch their new collection in the coming months. 

Ahead, we talk to the designer on coping during this pandemic, the future of fashion, the importance of self-care rituals, and what she's looking forward to the most once this all tides over. 

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Pieces from R-y-e's upcoming collection. Image: Courtesy

What does a day in our life look like for you now that we are under the Circuit Breaker?

As soon as I wake up, I brush my teeth and freshen up. Then I will go to my sacred corner, quietly sit down and meditate for 15 - 20 minutes, if time allows, otherwise a good 5-10 minutes is good enough to check in with my mood and state of mind. Also, I like to break into an early morning sweat session as it rewards me with a rush of endorphins that helps to boost my energy level for the rest of the day.

And finally comes my favourite part of the day, which is to make myself breakfast. I usually start by toasting my sourdough and then spreading on a generous amount of almond butter. I also can't start my day without a cup of coffee. I'll either make myself a long black or an iced white, depending on my mood.

And then the work begins, with a daily scrum meeting on zoom with the team, where we run through our objectives for the day. I will check in with the team on how they are feeling and coping, and then we will check on what we have completed and what we are planning to do today, and problem solve any roadblocks together.

What are some of the challenges you have faced with your business since the start of the pandemic? 

For the last four years, our business has been heavily reliant on physical retail where we are stocked in department and multi-label stores. But since the pandemic, many have shuttered and some even permanently closed - many things started spiralling since COVID-19 happened.

You've slowly built your name to get out there, and in such a short period of time, you lose everything.

Because of that, we’ve had to reassess the entire business model and pivot, and think of digital strategies, and be prepared to be completely reliant on it. Which is scary, because almost 80% of our business came from offline channels.

Shopping is therapy, you want to be able to walk around freely and be in the mood to shop, and you don’t want to be socially distancing, it’s just too much of a hassle and destroys the entire experience. So it’s truly very challenging. How will retail be like post quarantine? I would think it would not just be slow, it’d be pretty dead - until people can find that confidence to start going out again. 

What have you done to adapt your business to suit the current climate? 

We've been focusing on our e-commerce site more than ever and retooling marketing strategies to adapt to the challenges. Consumer sentiments have shifted, and we are all in some sort of a vulnerable state right now. It’s more important for us to communicate with our community. With most people working from home these days, our products have to be relevant to the current climate - which for most of us, is looking for comfort and ease but still wanting to look stylish and chic. 

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Pieces from R-y-e's upcoming collection. Image: Courtesy

What do you hope this pause will mean for the fashion industry and/or your brand once this break is over? 

Needless to say, the fashion industry is going through a very distressing time. One of the most common problems that brands are dealing with is excess inventory issues. During this lockdown, I think a lot of us are recalibrating and thinking of new ways to get through this crisis. And, really asking ourselves what it is that the market needs because consumer behaviour is going to shift moving forward and we need to be prepared for that. 

I am a huge believer in quality over quantity, and I think we're shifting into an era where quiet luxury and streamlined dressing is here to stay. I hope that the fashion industry will evolve to be less hype less trendy and embrace simplicity. 

Above all that, we have all been feeling a little bit of eco-anxiety and sustainability continues to be an ongoing conversation. We are gearing ourselves towards more sustainable practices and making a conscious effort to reduce waste, from being more mindful of the materials we work with, our design process, and even operations. For example, our delivery packages come in a paper envelope form. Instead of poly mailers, which are common amongst e-commerce companies, we use cornstarch, which will completely disintegrate. We also don’t over order excess inventory, which is a more conscious approach to running a business. 


 What are some key pieces you’d recommend from your collection that are ideal for lounging at home?

This is a season for loungewear and athleisure driven style, considering that many of us are working remotely in the comfort of our homes. Coming from our essential range - classic muscle tees, rib-knit vest tops and drawstring cupro pants are the go-to for an everyday easy get-up. We will be introducing iconic basics, pieces like boy fit t-shirts, tunic length scoop-neck tank tops and voluminous tent dresses in the coming months, so look out for us!

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What have you been doing to wind down to or treat yourself to lately since the circuit breaker?

I take self-care pretty seriously. One of the rituals I take pleasure in doing most is showering in the dark by candlelight. I light up a scented candle (I usually like a green, woody note), coupled with more tea lights around the bathroom. It is so wonderful to end off the day in a slow, calming, flickering way. It really decompresses all your problems and issues.And I like to treat myself to a nightcap before bed. Red wine or an old-fashioned is always a good idea!


Any books/films/TV series you’ve been catching up with lately?

I am a huge fan of food documentaries. I really enjoy watching "Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat" by Samin Nosrat. It is such a feel-good show to watch and has inspired me to cook better for myself. And I'd recommend reading  "Live Beautiful" by Athena Calderone. It is a book to truly submerge myself with beautiful interiors, objects and inspiration- what a visual feast!


What do you miss the most during this period of isolation?

Being able to travel freely. I do miss going on my sourcing trips and factory visits in China where I usually do once every 3 months. 


What is the first thing you will do once social distancing measures are loosened? 

Host a dinner for my friends at my place! And frankly, I think that is what my friends miss the most too. We are already planning it! Being isolated from your support system for so long, we all just crave for a communal experience that comes with great company, to eat and drink through the night.


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