Wykidd Song is arguably one of Singapore’s most noted fashion designers. He’s often credited for putting Singapore fashion on an international platform when he created Song + Kelly—an internationally renowned womenswear label, alongside British graphic designer Ann Kelly. At the height of its success in the 1990s, the label’s collections were sold in international luxury department stores such as Harrod’s and Selfridges in London, as well as Barney’s in New York. The label’s closure in 2007, following the dissolution of the creative duo’s partnership, saw him leaving Singapore to pursue other creative interests. But in September this year, the designer is back with his new womenswear label. Called AKINN, it will focus on creating structured yet comfortable pieces of clothings for the globetrotting career woman. In an interview with BAZAAR, the designer gets candid about his latest venture, his thoughts on responsible consumption and what his 20 years of experience in the industry has taught him.
Read on to find out what he had to say.
Please tell us more about your new fashion label, AKINN.
It’s a brand that is really about telling stories. It’s working with like-minded people, and it’s a platform that I wanted to set up to work with other creatives and artists. We are also talking to other people that I know from my network and career—it’s quite exciting. It’s almost like setting up my ideal environment to work in, and that’s what AKINN is about—humanising design. There’ll always a story behind the products and the collections.
What inspired you to create AKINN? Can you tell us about the moment you decided a new fashion label was what you wanted?
It’s more of creating an almost perfect environment to work in. It’s not necessarily about fashion, it’s also about products. We’re trying to slowly introduce different disciplines into AKINN as well. But the key driver is fashion. That was what I had in mind because when we did Song + Kelly, we did a lot of collaborations with artists and graphic designers, creatives from London and Singapore. It was a very interactive space that we created for Song + Kelly in the ‘90s. We wanted to start this up again and replicate the energy we had back then. That’s something that I yearn for because there’s nothing happening, in terms of an event or an occasion, in the creative industry that really makes you go “hmmm, that’s interesting!”. I was thinking that AKINN has to be more than just a fashion label, but with fashion being the more evident and visible aspect as the key driver.
AKINN is “more than 20 years in the making”. How have you incorporated the breadth and depth of your fashion acumen and experience into AKINN?
My network has been key. Knowing people that bring different skill sets to the story, people whom I admire, people whom I’d like to work with and people I’d like to have an excuse to talk to in terms of what they do and how to develop something—it’s been a long time coming. Also, having the experience in designing so many things, I’ve develop problem-solving skills. Not everything that we want to do is commercial, so some things are a bit whacky or abstract, and to be able to find a supplier or a source that will be able to achieve that kind of results, takes a bit of know-how. Again, it’s about network.
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What was the biggest challenge you faced when creating AKINN?
I’ve been away from the scene for a few years, so this is really starting from the ground up. The difficult part was getting off the starting blocks—talking to people, suppliers and people who can give us a good entry point into production. You don’t want to get killed by inventory. And also, I got talking to my good friend James Chua, who owns a digital marketing agency (GERMS) that does branding as well. We got talking and he became very interested in AKINN. He’s also in the sphere of being part of different start-ups, so everything just clicked and fell into place—I’m quite blessed in that way. It’s a lot of hard work and quite a bit of money, but it’s something that we believe in and we’re doing it.
How is this label different from what’s currently available on the womenswear market, and who is the AKINN woman?
Knowing who I’m designing for will give me the edge on what I can make differently from the current market. The person I’m designing for is more or less in the “lady boss” zone. She’s someone who’s got a lot of responsibilities as soon as she wakes up, from getting the kids ready for school to getting ready for work and preparing for meetings. But she’s also quite confident and free to say “I want to wear this” or “this makes me confident” or “this makes me comfortable” or “this makes me feminine”. I know the person—she’s based in Hong Kong, New York, Florence, Singapore and I know roughly what they want because I’ve been designing for so long. The AKINN woman want something that has structure and gravitas that will give her a presence. A lady like that walks into the room and stops the room for a second because she commands that presence. You look at her and you know that she’s knows the answers.
They’re not only in Singapore, they’re in Hong Kong and elsewhere. They are a bit more aware about what they wear and what they put on themselves because there’s a lot more emphasis put on how they look. So you build up all these information on your consumer.
Tell us more about “responsible consumption”: What do the words mean to you and how do you hope AKINN will encourage this?
In terms of responsible consumption, when we started Song + Kelly back in the ‘90s, we’ve always put out this sort of mantra or belief which is “buy smart, buy less”. It’s not about consumption, it’s about what you need and how it’s going to be with you. I still get people who were my customers back in the day who would just stop and say “I’ve still got your dress and when I wear it, I still get compliments”. These are the things that make you feel like it’s worth the pain, hardship and the effort that goes into making a brand. And that’s what a brand is—when it’s recognisable beyond the product.
With AKINN, it’s going to be more of the same. I’m a lot more conscious about the types of fabrics I use, where I get them from, the materials used for packaging and the message that we put out because we have a platform. So whether we’re talking to the customers about buying stuff or what kind of fabric we’re using, where it’s from, how to take care of it and how to make it last. Especially how you don’t need another white shirt because it’s going to be with you for so long. That’s what pushing responsible consumption is about—it’s about education as well. We’re still learning about what works and what doesn’t, in terms of sustainability. It’s not an easy path to be on and we don’t pretend to be eco-warriors because we’re not. We’re a commercial brand and a lot of times, we cannot afford to be 100-percent eco-friendly. But whatever we can do, we’ll do it.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
Don’t get into fashion. “Oh, you want to get into fashion? Go to London, Hong Kong or New York,” but then I’d end up as just a number. You’ll always end up in the same space again. I’m in Singapore, this is where I get things done and where I can get things done. But as much as I want to tell my younger self “ It’s an amazing industry just don’t do it in Singapore, do it elsewhere,” what are you going to do? You’re going to be an employee all the time. But that’s wonderful as well—I like being an employee, because you just design.
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Likewise, what advice would you give Singapore’s budding fashion designers?
If you like design, don’t think of starting a label. Go and work for someone. You won’t have much time designing because you’ll be running a business. Go and find a job. And if you can’t find one in Singapore, go somewhere else.
Lastly, what can we expect from AKINN in the future? Are there any upcoming collaborations that you can share with us?
You can be certain that there’s going to be very interesting stories that we’ll be presenting. There’s going to be wonderful and eclectic partnerships. We know a lot of architects, artists and personalities. Each one has a story to tell. The first one is about a woman who’ve inspired me for so long—and she still does. Another story will be looking at industries and which industries are still left in Singapore—that’s one of the stories that I want to tell as well. Then, it would be about working with personalities whom I’ve admired and loved for so long.
Responses have been edited for clarity.