Q. Why A.Oei Studio?
A. A.Oei Studio was envisioned as an independent women's clothing line that develops design-driven collections using exclusive fabric prints, sustainable textiles of natural fibers like cotton and silk, and easy, modern silhouettes with subtle tailoring details. An independent creative platform that combines fashion, textiles, graphics, concepts and pattern-making, bridges commercial and artistic needs, and still be accessible and affordable.
Having worked as a designer for various fashion companies, 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.
Q. What was the process of starting your business like?
A. Originally from Singapore, I spent a good year researching the right location to start the brand. At the same time, I was testing different suppliers and manufacturers. Working out a viable production line is a huge challenge for an emerging brand unable to commit to large quantities. In between all that, I joined a few pop-ups to test out some samples. The feedback was positive and there seemed to be a market for my designs.
Once I had found the right fabric suppliers from Japan and small sewing companies in Singapore and Seattle dedicated to working with local designers and providing ethical manufacturing environments for their seamstresses, I knew it was time to launch A.Oei Studio.
Building strong working relationships with suppliers, factories, boutiques, and customers is probably one of the best perks of the job. Being involved in the production and sales process has increased my knowledge and helped me redefine the values and vision of the brand.
Q. Why Seattle?
A. I had visited the city a couple times and after talking to local designers and artists, I felt like there was enough support to start an independent clothing brand in Seattle, 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 in the mid-fashion market - a brand 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. When did you decide to become a fashion designer? Why fashion?
A. As cliched as it sounds, my fashion journey started when I was really young. I spent hours drawing and imagining "clothing" (my sister even created a collection of all my sketches). Growing up in Singapore where the creative arts were generally shunned, it never occurred to me that "fashion design" could be a real profession. It wasn't until I lived in Utrecht during a university study exchange program (I have a degree in English Literature) that I discovered the various opportunities and possibilities there were in the world.
I visited the Antwerp Fashion Academy, the famous base of Belgian designers like Martin Margiela and Ann Demeulemeester, where I saw rows of sewing machines, dress forms, and students experimenting with shapes and colors and textures, and the thought of becoming a designer suddenly became a lot more real and apparent to me.
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, almost over the edge actually (nearly failed my third year). After graduation, I worked for independent fashion labels, established luxury brands, and mass-market heritage brands, and dived into ready-to-wear clothing from woven and knitwear, to textile 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. The best collections are always insightful, relevant and contemporary. 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.
While I realize that I may be just another designer in an oversaturated market, designing clothing comes from an intuitive, and maybe emotional side of me, that I hope translates into interesting, well-made pieces that will be worn and appreciated beyond time.
Q. What advice do you have for someone looking to start their own brand?
A. Research and develop a strong business and marketing strategy. It is easy to get carried away by the creative and small nitty-gritty aspects (I know I have), but it is really important to have an overall vision and direction that you stick to. If you've never had any industry experiences before, I would advise working for an established company first because the kind of knowledge you can pick up will be immensely valuable when it comes to navigating the fashion world. But then again, it also depends on your target market and your brand vision.
Q. What's next for A.Oei Studio?
A. I hope to expand my distribution channels and increase brand exposure. I believe there is potential for A.Oei Studio to move into more international markets. My goal is to grow A.Oei Studio into a store / showroom / workshop where I can shift to more local in-house production, and offer customers a space to try on pieces and order custom bespoke designs.Follow my blog with Bloglovin
(photos by Kailee Elizabeth Photography)
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