Getting Up Close With Beyond The Vines

A love story written in the seams

Beyond The Vines Interview

Photo: Beyond The Vines

Starting off as a sole e-commerce venture in 2005, homegrown label Beyond The Vines has since branched out to make a bigger name for itself. Going in for the sartorial kill, the brand has made an entrance islandwide with four physical retail stores and has even garnered a presence across regional waters. Today, one can find Beyond The Vines in five different countries continuing its legacy of designing garments that the everyday, modern woman can wear in her quiet moments and feel a sense of empowerment.

The brainchild of power couple Daniel Chew (33) and Rebecca Ting (32), Beyond The Vines is the true embodiment of the lovers’ dream come to life. A brand that goes beyond clothing; merging together inspiration from their shared appreciation for travel and architecture and the constant desire to elevate looks which can meet the needs of any woman from all walks of life.

Here, we’ve managed to get the chance to sit down with the founders who share everything with us from personal anecdotes to who they’d style in a Beyond The Vines look.

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Could you share the story of how your brand, ‘Beyond The Vines’, was born? 

D: I think it was born out of frustration as we saw a gap in the market where good quality design had to be accessible to all and we couldn’t really find a brand or fashion brand that could meet the in-between. And she (Rebecca) proposed to me, “why not we go to Bangkok to purchase some garments and come back to sell?” I was like, “you’re wasting my time. You know, if you want to go ahead and do this, let’s do this properly.” Because in her case, coming from a family of creatives and artists, she has the eye for colour and the ability to draw inspiration from buildings and artefacts. And so I always felt she could do more than just go to get some clothes and bring them back to sell. Therefore we thought, you know what, we’re just going to do this and we’re going to do it in a way that expresses who we are.

And the name ‘Beyond The Vines’ actually came about because of the movie ‘The Place Beyond The Pines.’ We were just drinking wine and talking about pine, and so we just thought maybe we should go with ‘Beyond The Vines.’ Then we searched ‘vines’ and it actually has an informal meaning of clothing. So it comes down to what we have wanted to start the business with, and to really push a brand that is not just clothing alone. So beyond the clothing; like customer service, which is in line with why we have the design studio in our [Funan flagship] store. We pay attention to the brand name, the packaging, and even the design of the clothes. 

I think that these few points are why we started out. It wasn’t as clear in the beginning but as we moved along, it starts to reproduce who we are, and therefore we felt that as of today there is a bit of room for improvement. But I would say that we’ve achieved what we want to when we first started out in terms of the image we want to portray as a brand.

So what would you say were your sources of inspiration for the brand?

R: I think when we started we didn’t want to create a brand that just had local appeal because we travel a lot, and we’ve seen that there are a lot of brands that are multi-faceted. They’re not just a clothing label but are a lifestyle label. We didn’t want to be just one-dimensional and that’s how that idea sprung forth.

In terms of aesthetics, I think we are naturally very inspired by culture. We’re very inspired by architecture and design as a whole. And I think this aesthetic foundation is quite evident in the garments — in its asymmetric shapes and proportions. But at the same time, I think the functionality of the garments is how we appreciate design as well. Design needs to be functional, if not it’s no use to culture.

What has your experience been like growing your business from the ground up?

R: When we first started the brand, it was just the two of us behind Beyond The Vines as an e-commerce label. We started off at a family friend’s factory in Kaki Bukit, and we had this little corner at the back of their office. It was just the two of us, and at the time we didn’t really know what we were doing. Especially because we didn’t have a background in the industry, so we were really figuring things out as we went along. Then on the day we decided we were going to launch the business — and because it was an e-commerce business  — you have to press when the site goes live. It was really funny because after the site was built and everything was done, we thought that we really need to officialise this. So we went to get a red ribbon and tied it around the computer. We got one of our friends to take a picture of just the two of us, and then we got a pair of scissors to cut the little ribbon much like how you would do during the official opening of a store. And then we took a photo to remember that moment.

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Beyond The Vines Interview

Photo: Courtesy

We launched our first collection with over twenty styles. Since then we’ve really learnt and grown along the short four years. But it also feels quite long in that sense when you look at how the business has grown. We’ve moved on from e-commerce to brick-and-mortar, to more brick-and-mortars, and now we’re in a couple of countries.

D: Frankly, it hasn’t hit home yet. I feel that we haven’t felt the impact [of our success], and none of the girls have ever said we would know where our destination or arrival point is. I think that it’s a constant growth, and I see us as a platform that also constantly inspires women, especially those who are working with us. I happen to be the only guy working in the company while the rest of them are women, so to me, having a female workforce is something that is extraordinary. I think that there are so many women who contribute to society — and collectively they achieve much more than they think. From managing the staff, inventory, and cash flow — and even managing our own expectations — there were plenty of learning opportunities for us. You can only learn so much from books; the rest we experienced as we went along, so that would probably be my story to share.

With the expansion of the physical stores and regional expansions, can you share some of the challenges you may have faced and how you’ve overcome them?

D: On the business front, it’s a lot of documents. Like, reading a lot of documents that may be foreign to us. The ability to speak English is advantageous, but it can still be difficult when we don’t understand what the other party is trying to say. The land that was so foreign to us when we started out was Thailand, followed by Indonesia. It was challenging as we didn’t know whether it would work out or how things would be. But we decided to just go with it and learn as we go. I believe these are some of the business challenges that we’ve faced, including the supply chain and logistics, which were all part of the equation too.

R: On the design side, it would be to understand the culture or social issues of our overseas partners and how it would affect the design process. For example in Thailand, they don’t really like to buy clothing in a burnt orange colour because it is similar to the uniform that monks wear. In Indonesia, which is a Muslim country, they steer clear of camisole dresses or sleeveless outfits due to religion. It’s unlike Singapore, where we like to wear camisoles or sleeveless clothing because of our weather. So those were some of the challenges we have faced with our international partners.

I also think that since the business did not grow from zero to where it is, there was somewhat of a pace. A lot of that required us to adapt and change. In the last four years, it has stretched us but it has also pushed us a lot in the way we think, as we are a very small and malleable team. We are always open to change, as the business is always growing. We’re always meeting new challenges every day, and we’re putting out fires every day. So I think to be optimistic and adaptable is always important, especially the ability to adapt. With every business and industry, it’ll always be different, but the ability to adapt in the face of different challenges is so important.

What does your day-to-day look like?

D: Our lives are quite intertwined. We wake up and prepare both our boys. We shower them and our helper will help get their breakfast on the table. We’ll send the elder boy to school before my mum comes to help take care of the other kid. Then we’ll go to the office, and on different days we’ll have different objectives. On Monday we’ll be rounding the team up, on Tuesday we’ll have a management meeting, Wednesday will be a review and execution meeting, and so on. Rebecca is in charge of the design collection and I look at the boring stuff, all the numbers no one wants to see and that’s a high-stress trigger there for me. So that’s mostly my day-to-day. And then we return back home and it’s our second shift — we start our parenting duty and it never ends. That’s pretty much it, we go to work together and return home together.

R: For us, I think that we try to do as much as possible though obviously with any business it is very consuming. But frankly, we strongly recognise that our marriage comes first. Without that marriage, there is no business. We recognise that and so we try to leave work on time, and we don’t do over-time. We make sure we get home to the boys every time, and we make sure we have dinners at home. Even for ourselves — no matter how busy work is — we make sure every Tuesday night is for us. We take time out to have dinner on our own and leave the boys with grandma. 

I think that for us, we believe very strongly in cultivating what is internal before what is external is shown. This could mean putting out efforts into the responsibilities we have first as young parents raising a family before our business can flourish. Even for the business, we believe very strongly that the staff and the girls have to happy where they work; that it’s a good culture before they can actually produce good work. I think this also reflects in our own lives together. Day-to-day-wise, the work doesn’t really end but fundamentally, it’s important to have these values. Family’s always the priority followed by the business.

What have you found most fulfilling throughout your whole business journey so far?

D: Personally from my point-of-view, it would be the lives in which we could make a difference. For instance, if you have a chance to talk to our head designer, she at one point in time thought she couldn’t amount to much in life. She wanted to give up design to go into something that was more of a social norm in Singapore, like banking. I’m not saying that’s not good, but it wasn’t cut out for her. She felt that there was no company in Singapore which could help express her desire to draw, design or create clothes. She really wanted to give up. But then she met us, and we thought she had a great working attitude and our friendship developed.

I told her to decide what she wanted, and we would open the door for her. And right now, she’s clothing women in Asia across all different walks of life. That to me is one of the unspoken things about running a business, where you’re making a difference in someone’s life.

In fact, I feel that we wear many caps when it comes to our staff. Sometimes we could be providing marriage counselling, or we could be helping them manage their expectations or helping them figure out their purpose in life. We have a lot of staff that have come into our lives, so if we could make a little difference to theirs, that is what continually inspires me.

R: I agree with that. I think that is something we probably get the most fulfilment out of. Actually, the turn-over rate of our staff is very, very low. Most of them have been with us since day one, and they have been around and have grown together with the brand. So when we first started as an e-commerce, and when we did our first hire and all that, they were already there. Some of them started as part-timers as we could not afford full-time then. But when the business started to grow, we then took them on full-time and they also adapted and grew with us. We’ve seen them go through different seasons, from being single to being attached, to getting married and even having kids. It’s pretty incredible, and we feel that’s something we take joy in. Apart from that, the business is always exciting and dynamic. But what stays is really the team and it’s why we do what we’re doing.

Beyond The Vines Interview

Photo: Courtesy

Who would you say is the Beyond The Vines customer?

R: When we created the brand, our intention was not to clothe one customer but to have Beyond The Vines be the seamless addition to a woman’s wardrobe. We don’t need to be the stand-out dress. We don’t feel like our brand is the piece that shouts “I’m going to that important event, I put on my important dress. I feel empowered.” We’re not that brand. We’re the brand that clothes you day-to-day. We’re your Monday to Fridays.

We clothe the quiet and confident woman. She is someone who’s very sure that there’s stability and an anchor within her. It doesn’t need to be super out there. I feel that we largely clothe the women who are most at ease in their quiet moments versus moments where they choose to shine.

So if you could have the opportunity to dress anyone who has this ‘quiet confidence’ in a Beyond The Vines outfit, who would it be and why?

R: Well, she’s already a customer, Dawn NgPersonally, I think that she represents the type of woman we try to clothe. She has her own thing going on, and does not try to compete with what her husband’s doing. She’s very assured at what she does as an artist, yet she’s a mum. She’s also very feminine when it comes to her role as a wife. I think that she — like all of us — may not be put together all the time, but I feel that when she wears the clothes, her persona and character exudes more and the clothes are really just supporting the lifestyle she leads. I think that, in essence, is the Beyond The Vines person. 

With the newCrew Collection: Unified Utility’ that’s your first-ever unisex line, could you share a little more on what makes this collection special?

R: With the Crew Collection, it’s our effort annually to self-disrupt. I think that when you do design so much, or rather, anything so often, it tends to lose its original appeal. And with design, we do churn out styles every month. But every year with the ‘Crew Collection’ we feel like that’s the time for the team to get together, and put together something that they feel really carries the DNA of the team and challenge ourselves. So this year we did the unisex collection.

When we were deciding at the beginning of the year on what kind of capsule collection we were planning, we decided to try and do a unisex collection because it isn’t specifically menswear or womenswear. When you create a unisex capsule, it needs to be able to be worn by both men and women, and they don’t have to feel like the article of clothing is either masculine or feminine, but rather, carries that balance.

I think that by doing this collection, it was really to challenge and push that balance we had off, which was why we decided to do this. Whether or not we’ll decide to continue doing a unisex line or to venture into a menswear line, we’re not certain yet at this point.

D: Well, it’s fresh and we’re targeting a new group of customers. Or rather a new gender of customers altogether, especially since we didn’t start with menswear. And that in itself is a challenge, getting the word out and letting men know that we can dress them.

Where do you see ‘Beyond The Vines’ in the next five years?

D: I think for the near future I see a huge potential in the ASEAN market, namely with our neighbouring countries, and what I want to continue to instil in our girls is to push out designs that can clothe the ASEAN woman. I’ve set my sights very clearly on the ASEAN market, including Singapore. I believe we can clothe both a Cambodian woman and an Indonesian woman, who are in the same stage of life.

R: I definitely agree with him on how we can feel that the weight of the ASEAN market is growing, as it strengthens the brand’s potential to grow in this region in the next five years. I also feel that Singapore is a great place to start. It is such a good environment as regionally there’s so much confidence in Singapore brands and it’s such a strong base here. 

D: With such rich culture, heritage and ethnic wear among these ASEAN countries, I also think that it will be an interesting challenge for the brand to penetrate into these markets.

If you could leave us with some parting words for young, aspiring individuals who hope to start up their own fashion labels or businesses, what would you tell them?

D: There’s one core value that we set out to our team. We have seven core values that we share with our team but the one that correlates best with this question would be, ‘Be ready for change, it will surprise you.’ It means being adaptable and resilient, but also at the same time just constantly having a clear purpose in what you’re doing. This is because passion can only last you as long as you feel passionate about something but with a clearer purpose, it could bring you to where you want to go. And so I think that this is the clear difference between passion and purpose.

R: For me, I feel like that to live a creative life you have to first lose the fear of being wrong. I think that when we let go and become less aware of what we’re doing wrong, then we can be really free to do what we might be doing right. 

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