From left: Goh Ling Ling, Lisa Von Tang, Elyn Wong

On one day every year—8 March, International Women’s Day—the world raises a toast to women of every race, ethnicity, religion and sexual orientation, celebrating their achievements, no matter how big or small, across the social, economic, cultural and political spheres. 

In that vein, we spotlight four female designers behind Singapore-based brands of local and international repute who dared to push the envelope in their professional and personal lives: Goh Ling Ling of luxury bag brand LINGWU, who broke the business mould in 2012 when she launched it as an online store; Lisa Von Tang of the eponymous label, who shattered tradition by naming herself after her brand; Sabrina Goh of her namesake label, who goes against the grain by creating designs based on concepts, not trends; and Elyn Wong of fashion label Stolen, who widened the perception of what constitutes fashion with what she calls “stolen alliances”—collaborations on creative projects that span art installations to dance performances. All these women are also instrumental in helping to elevate the Made in Singapore brand and place Singapore on the global fashion arena.

International Women’s Day also serves as a global reminder to continue striving for gender parity and women’s rights. As the four achievers pay tribute to their own local design heroines, and share their aspirations, their definitions of empowerment and more, we hope this sparks a call to action—to break down barriers, to call out gender inequality, to contribute to the conversation. We hope it’ll spur you to #ChooseToChallenge.

Related article: Beyond The Vines Aims To Put Singapore Designs On The World Map

GOH LING LING, FOUNDER OF LINGWU

Ling Wu
Photo: Ling Wu

No stranger to those familiar with the local designer bag scene, LINGWU is known for its understated pieces crafted in ethically sourced exotic skins and updated with contemporary elements such as tortoiseshell top handles. Founder Goh Ling Ling, a Central Saint Martins College of Art & Design graduate, subscribes to a design ethos of thoughtfulness and longevity—so you can be sure that each bag, made with utmost care, can see you through seasons and even generations. 

Who’s your one local female creative heroine?

Han Sai Por—one of Asia’s leading modern sculptors and a (1995) Cultural Medallion recipient. (The Medallion is conferred to those who have achieved artistic excellence in dance, theatre, literature, music, photography, film and art.) She has participated in numerous international exhibitions and projects around the world, and her works can be found in many international institutions, public spaces and private collections, from Asia to New Zealand, Australia, the UK and the US. She was my lecturer at LASALLE College of the Arts; very soft-spoken and loved by everyone. She channels her passion into a body of work that’s a significant commentary about the brutally changing landscape in Singapore—often with scant regard for flora, fauna, heritage or preservation.

Is there a particular piece/collection of hers that you especially like?

The Black Forest Series, an installation that touches on deforestation and the resulting decline in biodiversity. 

What are your thoughts on the local fashion scene? What changes would you like to see moving forward?

The fashion industry is in a difficult place right now. Covid-19 has led to mass retail closures, and the future of both smaller labels and big-time brands is looking shaky. Even before the current global crisis, the fashion industry was facing growing criticism for being one of the major polluting industries in the world. I’d like to see more designers implement sustainable practices into their work. We need to practise mindfulness and elevated consciousness in how we consume fashion and media. Slow down the seasons, promote conscious purchasing, shop more sustainably and ethically.

What does empowerment mean to you?

Empowerment is freedom, power and control over our own lives. Empowerment is when people are equal; when they are respected and confident advocates of themselves.

Do you think fashion can empower women?

I believe that fashion can lift people out of poverty, create thriving societies and fulfil aspirations. 

How does your brand support female empowerment?

We do so through our supply chain. We’ve worked with the same factory for years; it practises fair and equal pay for the men and women employed, and the working hours are reasonable. Through them, we improve the lives of the women who make our bags. 

March 8 is International Women’s Day—how are you/your brand celebrating it?

We’ll be launching a “Women in Design” series online on that exact date, which will spotlight five women from the design field—we want to share their journeys and achievements, and support these female designers who are woefully under-represented in museum collections, exhibitions and existing literature.

Related article: Shop Local: 10 Versatile Bags That Can Take You From Day To Night


LISA VON TANG, FOUNDER OF LISA VON TANG

Lisa Von Tang
Photo: Lisa Van Tang

A Singapore-based designer of Chinese-German descent, Lisa Von Tang birthed her namesake label in 2015 with unique East-meets-West sensibilities. From statement jackets to velvet and jacquard kimonos, its offerings strike the perfect balance of bold, sultry and traditional—an aesthetic that has found favour not just on our shores but also on the global stage, with names such as Mick Jagger, Mr. Mickey, Natalie Imbruglia and Eve on the brand’s dress list.

What many people might not know is that Lisa adopted “Von Tang” as her last name after she launched her label—she didn’t want to carry on using her ex-husband’s last name, nor did she want to change her surname back to her father’s, so she thought: Why not name herself after her label?

In light of social-distancing measures, the designer made virtual reality (VR) fashionable by launching the brand’s latest collection via Maison Chi Chi last December. Staged in a shophouse, the voyeuristic viewing experience set the tone for the collection: energetic, emotional and provocative. The team is currently planning to shoot another digitally immersive show for resort 2021 in the Maldives.

Who’s your one local female creative heroine?

Jewellery designer Alexandra Alberta Yeo of Singapore-based jewellery label Alexandra Alberta, which has a presence in London. Alex is so particular and committed to celebrating the feminine. There’s fresh beauty in her unique moulds and her gemstone colour combinations. She’s very personal in her work as well, and has come to sit with me at my shophouse at Kim Yam Road to create bespoke designs. She has both lightness and depth.

Is there a particular piece/collection of hers that you especially like?

I like her Naga collection. Serpent symbolism is the core of this collection, and I love how her designs show a timeless, elaborate and ancient yet contemporary presentation. I have the Arizona Ring from the collection and have also bought it in different colours for dear friends. Based on the design, and who would be attracted to it, I’m sure that the Naga collection is being worn by a tribe of goddesses, wherever they are.

What are your thoughts on the local fashion scene? What changes would you like to see moving forward?

I’m inspired by the entrepreneurial zest of young people in Singapore and also by the people who make up my team—they care about building something meaningful and being part of a tribe that is willing to take risks and expand globally. There is an optimism and open-mindedness in young Singaporean creatives, at least the ones I come into contact with.

Our market is small in the local fashion scene—especially if we’re talking about premium or luxury brands—so to grow, we must focus on international customers, which can result in a lack of comradeship at the root level. Take us, for example: We’re a small team with limited time and a focus on international markets, and that can feel quite insular. There’s also a lack of closeness between local press and designers—in part, I think, because we spend our advertising budgets overseas, on larger markets, instead of locally. Think back to how the luxury brands out of Europe were critically supported by the press in their early days; that nucleus to bring all tribes together is missing here. 

Things are changing for the better though. Besides global membership club Soho House and local private members’ club Straits Clan, both of which bring creatives together through events and activities held in Singapore, I have a few friends who are in the early stages of building a new creative membership club and a cross-industry (music, fashion, design, entrepreneurship) support platform. I believe the fashion industry will become more interconnected over time, as the industry as a whole grows larger. Hopefully, we’ll also see local press working together with local designers to really boost their profiles across the region, so their customer bases can grow; in turn, the designers can return the favour through advertising spend—it’s a win-win all around.

What does empowerment mean to you?

It’s simply realising your power to do whatever you want. You can have the right to vote, you can have equal opportunities, you can have a fancy car and 500 employees, but if you aren’t doing what you want to do in life, then you’re a prisoner of your own victimisation. Being empowered is about realising your options, recognising your desires and acting on them. 

Do you think fashion can empower women? 

We all know and have felt the power of the right jacket or the right outfit—that’s alchemy! I feel that it’s important to empower women through fashion because it’s their aura, their identity that we’re clothing. If I see a woman in very uncomfortable heels, who can’t sit comfortably in a tight dress yet is “pleasing to the male gaze”, I feel quite sorry for her. I’d wish to dress her in something that’s equally sexy, but gives her confidence— and also power—with every step she takes. 

How does your brand support female empowerment?

Lisa Von Tang is intrinsically intertwined with the ideals of female empowerment. Our messaging, designs, fashion show narratives and content all speak to empowered women. It’s about strength, leadership, growth and healing. Our clothing is also bold, unapologetic and never uncomfortable—my superwoman clients need to be able to feel great in our clothes. We’ve also supported UN Women multiple times in the past and as an all-female team, we build up one another and literally excel on a day-to-day basis.

I also believe that female empowerment is linked to how we take care of our planet—it’s “Mother Earth” after all. To me, sustainability means caring for the whole; it’s about circular growth and honouring our ecosystems—these are inherently “yin” (typically associated with the feminine energies in life) power beliefs. We’re nuts about sustainability and have worked with Nature Society in Singapore as well. If earth wins, women win, as does every minority. We operate on Ubuntu, which is derived from a Zulu phrase and essentially means “I am because you are.”

March 8 is International Women’s Day—how are you/your brand celebrating it?

Our team is weirdly talented at arranging flowers, and we all love nature, flowers and our garden at the back of the shophouse. So we’ll be making mini flower arrangements for the women we admire, and sending them out with quotes of encouragement and love—there are so many women who inspire us with their grit, inner steel and big hearts.

Related article: Get That Celebrity Look: Lisa From Blackpink, Irene Kim And Kate Middleton


SABRINA GOH, FOUNDER OF SABRINAGOH

Sabrina Goh
Photo: Sabrina Goh

LASALLE College of the Arts fashion alumni Sabrina Goh first launched ELOHIM by Sabrina Goh—which rebranded recently as SABRINAGOH—in 2009. Call it divine intervention if you will (Goh herself has credited her heavenly father for the launch and success of her brand): That same year, she was invited to showcase at the 2009 Audi Fashion Festival alongside established international names such as Vivienne Westwood and Marc Jacobs, catapulting her young brand onto the global stage. 

In 2015, the top-10 finalist at the Singapore Young Designer contest in 2006 and 2007 was selected to participate in the inaugural Fashion Futures programme, a talent development initiative co-organised by Singapore Fashion Week and the Council of Fashion Designers of America, where she honed her skills under the mentorship of top fashion designers Diane von Fürstenberg, Victoria Beckham and Thakoon Panichgul. The brand has since been on the up and up, with numerous high-profile collaborations—including three with Disney—that play off its geometric yet feminine silhouettes. 

Its name may have changed, but its ethos has not: Under SABRINAGOH, Goh continues to dream up designs for the strong, modern and progressive woman who desires both practicality and distinctive expression in her style choices.

Who’s your one local female creative heroine?

K.Mi Huang, the designing force behind WOMB. She was one of the reasons I chose to major in fashion at LASALLE College of the Arts back in 2002 and she continues to inspire me today. I admire her for being very hands-on; I’ve seen her at events, sending stocks and even on the sales floor—she’s very humble and is constantly creative.

Is there a particular piece/collection of hers that you especially like?

I especially like her artistic approach and print manipulation in one of her works inspired by Jackson Pollock.

What are your thoughts on the local fashion scene? What changes would you like to see moving forward?

I’m looking forward to a post-Covid-19 world generally. Many brands have had to shut and pause; we experienced disruptions in the supply chain and other inconveniences as many of us depend on the raw resources overseas. I’m just looking forward to the things we used to do: Sourcing trips, participating in overseas trade shows, organising events, and having the freedom and safety to go anywhere we want to go. 

What does empowerment mean to you?

It means elevating yourself and others—be it through words or actions—for a happier, fruitful and productive life. 

How does your brand support female empowerment?

We owe our success to many of our female employees and to show our gratitude, we’ve invested in their professional development so they can achieve personal growth, confidence and greater effectiveness in both their professional and personal lives. We offer training opportunities, job rotations, and specific courses and training—for instance, on customer service, workflow digitisation, and employee coaching and mentoring. We’ve actively sought to build development into the culture of our teams. Empowering women is important to the health and social development of communities; when women are in a safe and fulfilled environment, they can reach their full potential. 

March 8 is International Women’s Day—how are you/your brand celebrating it?

We created a few videos featuring members of our team—from the pattern makers to frontline retail staff—to celebrate their extraordinary strength.


ELYN WONG, FOUNDER OF STOLEN

Elyn Wong
Photo: Elyn Wong

It takes guts to quit your job, pursue your hobby full-time and turn it into a booming business. Which is exactly what Stolen founder Elyn Wong did in 2007 when she left a nearly two-decade-long career in advertising to build her own fashion brand—despite not having any formal training in fashion design. An ode to feminine allure in all its strength and fragility, the home-grown label has since established itself as a major player in both the local and international fashion scenes with its minimalist aesthetic and sculptural, architecture-inspired designs with a signature exposed back. Wong is also redefining fashion by actively pursuing art projects—from dance performances to installation art and paper sculptures—that share the brand ethos and exhibiting in cities such as New York, Beijing, Milan and London, pushing to build the brand as a product of art and fashion

Who’s your one local female creative heroine?

Grace Tan of interdisciplinary practice Kwodrent. I’ve been quite obsessed with the way she develops her work. How systematic and precisely engineered everything is, yet always alive, gorgeous and organic—like a magical play of the right and left brain. And I love how low-key she is as a person. This silent force just consistently produces a solid body of work year after year, decade after decade.

Is there a particular piece/collection of hers that you especially like?

I love so many of her pieces, but In the Stillness is definitely a favourite. The final installation was gorgeous—simple yet so powerful. She transformed an inanimate classroom into “organic living soil”, where two million polypropylene loop pins blossom like a living garden. How romantic is that?

What are your thoughts on the local fashion scene? What changes would you like to see moving forward?

I think it’s quite sad that there haven’t been any serious new fashion labels in the local scene in recent years. I remember back in the day, there were at least three to five new, exciting fashion brands emerging every year. Everyone wanted to be a fashion designer. I wonder what’s happening now—is everyone keener on becoming a famous influencer rather than a cool fashion designer? It’s almost like that point in the past when it wasn’t cool to be in a band anymore and everyone just wanted to be a DJ.

I’m also concerned with the dying trade of garment production in Singapore. It pains me to think that 10 years from now, we might not have a fully made-in-Singapore garment. I hope there can be more new fashion designers emerging with unique voices and designs, and a more vibrant local manufacturing industry to support them.

What does empowerment mean to you?

It means freedom, the liberation to truly experience and experiment.

Do you think fashion can empower women? 

We are blessed in that gender inequality isn’t too extreme in Singapore, so I think fashion can be a very powerful asset when used correctly—the right choice of garment can change how people perceive you and more importantly, how you feel about and carry yourself. It’s a physical-emotional-psychological presence that can alter an environment, an emotion and even the energy in a room. A comfortable and confident woman is unstoppable.

How does your brand support female empowerment?

We’re blessed in that gender inequality isn’t too extreme in Singapore, so I—and my brand—stand for human equality rather than gender equality.

March 8 is International Women’s Day—how are you/your brand celebrating it?

I’ll be celebrating the global women’s day by being the best person I can be. And hopefully, my decisions and actions will inspire and make a difference to many others—or, at the very least, make another woman feel confident in a piece from Stolen.