My name is Angeline. I am the designer and founder of A.Oei Studio. I launched A.Oei Studio in Seattle and Singapore in 2017 and, in 2021, I relocated to Washington D.C.. While the brand has undergone some changes over the years, comfort, quality and originality remain core design ethos.
(Interview feature for Seattle Style Stories, presented by Future Lynn)
My fascination with fashion started at an early age when I found myself constantly drawing people and what they wore. I believe this interest has to do with the fact that clothing is intimately worn around the body like a “second skin”. I enjoy studying form, movement, color, how the body interacts with cloth, how design can shape and reflect a person’s identity, and how materials interact with different physical environments. Because of the soft and malleable nature of fabric, the process of making a garment is often filled with surprises. A fabric may shift unpredictably under the weight of a needle. It may drape differently from what you draw on paper. It may even shrink or expand under heat. This tactile and three-dimensional quality of clothing keeps the design process unique and ever-changing.
Growing up in Singapore at a time when the creative arts were generally ignored, it never occurred to me that fashion design could be a real profession. After high school, I studied English Literature at the National University of Singapore. During an exchange program in the Netherlands - which was also my first time traveling and living abroad - I visited the Antwerp Fashion Academy, the famous base of avant-garde visionaries like Martin Margiela and Dries Van Noten. When I first experienced this environment of sewing machines, dress forms and clothing creations by fashion students - the thought of becoming a designer suddenly became a lot more real and apparent.
I decided to enter the Amsterdam Fashion Institute in the Netherlands, a country known for its rich textile history, and a sober, conceptual approach towards design. At school, I learnt all aspects of fashion from garment design, textile design (knitting, printing, and other forms of application), pattern-drafting, sewing and communication (via illustrations or runway shows). After graduation, I worked as a designer for fashion companies of different sizes: an independent luxury atelier in Antwerp where I developed tailoring skills, a minimalist-streetwear brand in New York City, and a contemporary ready-to-wear womenswear brand in Singapore where I was the head Print Designer and where I started falling in love with the process of creating fabric prints.
The Story Behind A.Oei Studio
While I learnt a lot as a designer for other companies, I was not satisfied with simply designing behind a computer screen, disconnected from the production-retail processes. I felt that it was necessary to work with my hands again, explore sustainable production methods, new interpretations of fashion.
I chose to start A.Oei Studio in Seattle because I connected with the independent DIY culture of the city and its support for small, local businesses. On the periphery of bigger fashion cities like Los Angeles or New York, I was drawn to Seattle's quiet but bubbling creative energy. At the same time, I felt like Seattle and the Pacific Northwest lacked fashion-forward womenswear brands that could target women like myself who want to wear designs that are unique, high-quality, and accessible. After finding a studio at the Inscape Arts and Cultural Building, things started to fall in place.
In the early days of A.Oei Studio, I spent close to a year researching and testing different suppliers and manufacturers who could offer high quality fabrics, high quality stitching, and flexible minimums. Working out a viable production system is a huge challenge for an independent designer unable to commit to large quantities.
Learning how to sell clothing was an even greater challenge. As someone who has mostly worked behind the scenes, having to come up with quick sales pitch for something personal was new to me. Thanks to the experience of participating in pop-ups where I have to physically interact with many people, I have since learnt how to communicate and sell my work in a more genuine manner.
The main areas of concern I want to address in today's fashion industry are: the accelerated rate of new trends that lead to the over-production and over-consumption of clothing, the use of non-renewable fibers that release harmful particles into the environment, labor conditions, and a general devaluing of clothing as a disposable object rather than an artisanal craft to be used for a long period of time.
Over time, I’ve gradually developed a bespoke made-to-order fashion model that seeks to minimize waste, extend the life-cycle of clothing, and encourage a more conscious purchasing behavior on the part of the consumer.
As a self-contained atelier, I design silhouettes, create my own fabric, source for materials, draft paper patterns, and sew the apparel to completion. Each bespoke garment is born out of a creative collaboration between the wearer and the maker. I initiate the design concept; she provides feedback and ideas about her personal style. This process ensures a high-quality design with a precise fit and, as such, enhances the usability and value of the garment.
My Creative Process
Having lived, studied and worked in different places, I am influenced by elements of different cultures. Coming from Asia, I appreciate the draped, androgynous and origami-style of Japanese pattern-making. At the same time, I love the way a traditional cheongsam silhouette and its high mandarin collar elongates the female body. Dutch fashion is generally about clean, precise lines and subtle, practical dressing. So is Seattle fashion -- functionality and versatility are extremely important (must have something to do with the rainy climate). A.Oei Studio is thus a product of these diverse experiences, which I believe many women can relate to.
My design process usually starts from a concept inspired by art and nature. Whenever I come across an interesting article or image, I save it so that I have a huge archive of inspiration. From the concept, I come up with ideas for colors, shapes, and a fabric print.
Sometimes a print, like the Corals Print and the Glide Print, is hand-drawn and then digitally rendered. Sometimes, like the Landscape Print and Mountains Print, it is a collage of photographs that are entirely manipulated on the computer. Because a print is such a visually strong motif that tells stories, it forms the core of every collection. The colors of the print inform the colors of the other designs. The texture of the printed fabric determines the other types of fabrics used.
Altogether, it is a fluid process where I am constantly thinking about how different fabrics and designs work together to reflect a coherent vision.
I primarily use natural and biodegradable fibers like cotton, silk and Tencel-lyocell (a regenerated wood-pulp fiber), sourced from Japan. I choose these fabrics because of their durability and comfort against the skin, and because they have a reduced material impact on the environment. I tend to avoid fabrics that are manufactured to fit seasonal trends. Instead, I have a small collection of “timeless” solid-colored twills and A.Oei signature printed cottons and silks. These are tried-and-tested fabrics that I have used repeatedly over the years, across a wide range of designs.
The silhouette. Usually sketched during the conceptualizing and prototyping stages. Sometimes an idea occurs while I am cutting fabric, during a consultation with a client, or even during random moments like a coffee break.
Once a design has been determined, I proceed to draft the paper patterns, which will later be used as a template for the cutting of the fabric. The paper patterns also contain sewing instructions for the seam finishing, closures etc.
Pattern-drafting is, in fact, my favorite part of the entire garment creation process. It is the bridge between the idea and the product. During this stage, I start to see the proportions, shapes, and all the missing details come to life.
The cutting and sewing of the garment is usually the most straightforward stage as most of the design details would have already been worked out. What I do enjoy about this process is that I get to physically interact with the fabric - figuring out the right sewing procedures (a very important step!), stitching details, the ironing and steaming of seams. I often drape and sew at the time to check how the panels form around the body. Methodically piecing the panels until they form a complete garment.
How I Deal with Creative Blocks
I start by organizing my studio. A clean physical space clears my head. In the midst of doing so, I often find forgotten scrap materials and I would start making some sort of collage or combination with those materials and in the process, start gaining ideas.
I would also do other creative things that are unrelated to fashion. Finding new music, books, recipes, visiting museums. Drawing is also a way for me to clear my head. I may actually waste a lot of time doing these random things, but I'd like to apply this quote to the creative process.
Laurence Sterne writes in Tristram Shandy:
“Digressions, incontestably, are the sunshine, the life, the soul of reading!"
As much as I am passionate about fashion design, I hope the designs fit well and serve a purpose for the wearer. I hope to further develop my bespoke work and offer a sustainable alternative for the creation and consumption of clothing. Some current research include the re-purposing of fabric remnants into one-of-a-kind designs and the up-cycling of used clothing like wedding gowns. I also hope to further engage with the community through talks and workshops. And I am currently on the hunt for a hybrid studio-shop space that can fully express the vision of A.Oei Studio!
(photos by Kailee Elizabeth Photography)