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 moved operations to 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)
Q. Why A.Oei Studio?
A. Having worked as a designer for companies of different sizes (from an independent tailor to luxury womenswear brands), I realized how much I valued being a small, independent maker who is not only actively hands-on in all aspects of garment production but also learns the mechanics of running a business from scratch.
A.Oei Studio was envisioned as a creative platform that combines fashion, textiles, graphics, concepts and pattern-making, bridges commercial and artistic needs, and most of all, be relevant and accessible for the modern working woman.
Q. What challenges did you face when starting the company?
A. Working out a viable production line is a huge challenge for an emerging brand unable to commit to large quantities. I spent about a year researching and testing different suppliers and manufacturers, looking for partners that had little/no minimums, flexibility, strong knowledge and experience in women's fashion, quality, and ability to deliver on time.
Learning how to sell and promote the brand was also a challenge. As a designer who mainly worked behind the scenes, having to come up with quick sales pitches for something so personal, was new to me. Through fashion pop ups, I learnt how to interact with customers and gain direct feedback in a way that was real and honest.
Q. Why Seattle?
A. Originally from Singapore, I had visited Seattle a couple times and after talking to local designers and artists, I felt like there was enough support to start an independent clothing brand here with its quiet, off-the-fringe but bubbling creative hub that still maintains a strong sense of individuality.
At the same time, I felt like Seattle and the Pacific Northwest lacked fashion-forward womenswear brands that could target working women like myself who want to wear high-quality, exclusive designs without feeling the pinch. After finding a studio at the Inscape Arts and Cultural Building, things started to fall in place.
Q. Why did you decide to become a fashion designer?
A. Since young, I've always enjoyed drawing people and imagining what they would wear. 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 Utrecht (which was also my first time traveling and living abroad), I visited the Antwerp Fashion Academy, the famous base of Belgian designers like Martin Margiela and Dries Van Noten. When I first entered this new fashion environment - rows of sewing machines, dress forms, and students' works - the thought of becoming a designer suddenly became a lot more real and apparent.
I decided to enter the Amsterdam Fashion Institute and that was probably the best fashion education I could have asked for - the school pushed me creatively and technically in all aspects of garment design, construction and communication (learning how to use different presentation formats like illustrations, photoshoots and fashion shows). After graduation, I worked for different fashion brands and dived into ready-to-wear clothing from woven and knitwear, prints and embroidery, to pattern-making and sample sewing.
Fashion is a way to communicate stories and capture the zeitgeist of the times we live in. Fashion is tactile and three-dimensional; it is about form and movement and understanding how the body interacts with fabric. The range of things that one can do within fashion is fascinating and crosses many different creative fields.
Q. How do you start designing?
A. It starts with a concept, usually inspired by art, nature or technology. 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 and materials. Then the print. Sometimes they are hand-drawn/painted patterns that are then digitally rendered. Other times I manipulate photographs and work entirely on the computer.
The sketches. Usually drawn in between moments of draping on the mannequin. I edit the sketches until I have a "collection" of a few looks, envisioning how they would flow on the runway or on the garment rack. To me, a strong collection is one that is coherent and distinct in the choice of shapes, colors and textures. I then start drafting paper patterns and sewing the samples. I'm constantly working to refine and understand fit and finishing so it is important for me to keep the prototyping and fabrication process in the studio.
Since I've taken on more custom designs, my process is now more centered on the customer. I think more about her needs and personal style. It is a collaboration and dialogue between the customer and myself. Each piece is unique and brings about its own set of technical and creative challenges.
Q. What do you do when you hit a creative block?
A. I start organizing my studio and picking up scrap materials - piecing random fabrics together, pinning them to the mannequin or making some sort of collage from my archive of articles and photographs, and in the process, I start gaining ideas.
I would also visit museums, book stores, and boutiques where I would spend time researching the technical construction of clothing.
Another good way to clear my head is to pick up new mediums or subjects and spend a day or two just drawing. Not clothing, but everyday life. Sometimes the drawing turns into an idea for a print or sets the mood for a collection.
Q. How has your previous work experiences influenced your design style?
A. Since I studied in the Netherlands, I am obviously influenced by Dutch fashion which wavers between extreme soberness and conceptual art-fashion. Because of their rich textile history, there is a lot of emphasis on material innovation. As students, we were always encouraged to create our own fabrics through knitting, weaving, printing, melting fabrics together...
I worked as a pattern-making assistant for a Belgian fashion atelier that was all about tailoring and craftsmanship. Hidden details like deceptively clean and simple finishings, beautiful fabrics like silk and leather, and an obsession with precision (everything we made was down to the millimeter).
In Singapore, I designed for a brand that was much more fun, light-hearted and ornamental. Quirky prints, rich colors, and feminine shapes. It was with this company that I started really falling in love with the process of designing prints and understanding how different prints suited different fabrication and silhouettes.
I've interned for a New York fashion brand that was inspired by 90s minimalism and very much rooted in New York street style. Slim silk blazers, cropped tops, pencil skirts and track pants.
Coming from Asia where Japanese fashion has always been popular, I am also into draped, shapeless, androgynous styles and Kimono / origami style of pattern-making.
I've incorporated these different cultural influences into a.oei . I enjoy experimenting with subtle design details. Shifting seams, asymmetry, balancing draped and tailored forms, combining textures, etc... A blank, neutral palette with little pops of colors.
Q. What's next for A.Oei Studio?
A. As many of you have seen, I have gradually shifted from batch-production to "made-to-order" with customization options like color, material and size. This allows for a level of flexibility and personalization that cannot otherwise be achieved. In particular, many of us fall outside standardized sizes. Hence, by taking on this approach, I can improve the fit according to your specs which, in turn, prolong the usability of the garment.
In addition, I want to focus on the concept of circular design: re-purposing past season materials (fabric scraps, defect pieces, prototypes) into unique one-off designs or essential goods so that nothing goes to waste.
To learn more about my custom design services, click here.
(photos by Kailee Elizabeth Photography)