TBFI Cohort 4

Currently in its fourth edition, The Textile and Fashion Federation (TaFF)’s The Bridge Fashion Incubator (TBFI) programme is continually on the hunt for the next movers and shakers of Singapore-based fashion, beauty and retail businesses.

Having recently closed its open call for Cohort 5 applications, the customised 16-week programme equips and enables aspiring brands by balancing educational talks and workshops with business consultations that are tailored to specific needs. It also addresses key areas such as brand strategies, product-market fit and effective business infrastructure, as well as expose brand founders to industry leaders, experts and potential investors—all aimed at enhancing market readiness.

With the changing nature of cohorts focused on sustainability, inclusivity, and building conscious consumerism, we chat with five incubatees of TBFI’s Cohort 4 to find out their story, motivations and aspirations.

Stephanie Choo, Co-founder of Eden + Elie

Eden + Elie Founders Stephanie Leon
Eden + Elie founders Leon Toh and Stephanie Choo.
Photo: Courtesy

Tell us how your brand came about and the issues you hope to address.

Eden + Elie began at a confluence of the love for design and for making a difference in the world. I come from the world of architecture and design, and my co-founder, Leon, comes from the world of impact finance. Through our individual travels and work experiences, we’ve both seen the huge need for solving the inequalities faced by many communities around the world and these experiences led us to work towards building an impact driven, design-led brand.

I think the growing awareness for conscious consumption is very much needed, and the choices we exercise in what we buy is an extension of that personal responsibility to be part of the solution to our shared environmental and social problems. However, the current popular ethos of “buy nothing” isn’t a sustainable way forward, because the exchange of goods and services is a necessary part of sustaining livelihoods. At Eden + Elie, we want to make consumption feel good again—and that is by creating products that are beautiful, purpose-filled and responsibly made.

Take us through your creative process. How does design, technology and sustainability come into play?

I was trained in architecture and my design process starts from imagining how structure and form come together. I don’t spend a lot of time drawing. Rather, I start with exploring how the jewellery takes shape through the interconnectedness of thread and beads woven together to make something three-dimensional. There is a lot of physical prototyping and experimenting, and I absolutely love working this way. There’s such an immediacy to designing through making, and there is nothing I love better than being surrounded with interesting materials and exploring different ways it can come together.

Sewing and stitching is, of course, an incredibly old craft and non-gemstone beads have been created since the times of the ancient Egyptians. For me, technology isn’t about the shiny new thing. Technology is about elegance—about doing something with ease. Creating with needle and thread is clean, energy-efficient, and has tremendous versatility. I don’t worry about whether something is old or new because those constructs don’t dictate what is useful, worthwhile or enduring.

I am however, very interested in material science and how advancement in that field has brought about new materials that not only have a lower environmental footprint, but also contribute to a circular economy. The adoption of these new materials is not merely a matter of economics, but also a matter of cultural adoption and perception. What excites me is that through design, we can create desirability.

How does inclusivity come through in different aspects of your brand/ business?

At the core of Eden + Elie are nine artisans, the majority of whom we have kept in sustained employment for close to four years. These nine individuals are persons with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Inclusivity for us isn’t about filling a quota or about hiring people with disabilities because we certainly don’t think of our artisans in that way. The way we like to explain it is that we all share a fundamental need as human beings to belong. Our artisans don’t speak a lot, and they may have certain traits that make interacting with them a little different from what we are used to.

How we belong together at Eden + Elie is that we make things together—our artisans who have Autism Spectrum Disorder, and other team members who don’t. Each one of us has handled needle and thread, and we have all made things together. Some of us do it daily, while others look after other parts of the business. We belong in this company because we have a hand in creating the jewellery that is at the heart of the brand. Belonging is what lies at the heart of inclusivity.

What motivated you to be a part of The Bridge Fashion Incubator and what do you hope to achieve from the programme?

Not being native to the fashion industry, we felt that we wanted to “know what we didn’t know” and joining TBFI was part of discovering that. The restrictions and disruptions brought about by the pandemic also forced us to think very seriously about what was the best use of our time, and we came to realise that digging deeper into our values, looking into different aspects of the business so that we are challenged to evolve strategically instead of conducting business as usual was a really good thing, because there was no business as usual with the pandemic.

Good mentors help you to become the very best of who you are. And we hope that we will find that wisdom, guidance and patience in the connections we’ve made through TBFI. Ultimately, there is no shortcut to the work that must be done. So what we hope for is that these connections will last beyond these prescribed number of weeks and that we find supporters and friends on this journey to build our dreams.

Related article: Jewellery Designer Simone Ng Ensures That Every Gem She Creates Is One Of A Kind

Bea Sanz Corella, Co-founder of Kmana

Kmana Bea Kiko
Kmana founders Kiko and Bea.
Photo: Courtesy

Tell us how your brand came about and the issues you hope to address.

We are a Mediterranean family. My husband is a designer and I come from a sustainability background, having worked more than 25 years in international development. Eight years ago, after years of travelling we moved to Southeast Asia. The beauty and connectivity of life in Southeast Asia has been and remains the source of inspiration for Kmana. ‘Mau ke mana’ is Bali’s ubiquitous greeting, where we are based now. You hear it from friends, neighbours and strangers alike. Its literal meaning “Where are you going?” seems to secretly acknowledge that we are, just like everything else, constantly moving and in transition, even when we sit in stillness.

Kmana was born out of a desire to combine ethics and aesthetics, to serve the world’s wanderers, makers and shakers. Men and women who, regardless of their age, desire timeless and unisex fashion produced sustainably in small batches. It all started in 2019, when we began working with a Balinese-Javanese family of gifted leather artisans, hand-crafting oversized bags for our own travels. Soon afterwards, visiting friends and acquaintances began ordering their own personal bags and accessories. Without realising it, our bags started traveling to Brisbane, Melbourne, Hong Kong and Barcelona. Kmana and its first collection—a tribute to one of the last great explorers, Bruce Chatwin—formed organically soon after.

Take us through your creative process. How does design and technology come into play?

We work in close partnership with artisans and weavers. Our creative process is that of an organic, and sometimes even unscripted, co-creation to develop our collection of bags, accessories and products. They are by definition a hybrid of tradition and modern design, whilst produced to a high-end fashion standard of quality.

We develop mood boards for our collections, inspired by one particular traveller or maker, or by a particular craft technique we have come across. We then sit with the artisans and discuss our initial ideas, and see what techniques are available and can be applied (for example the weaving of bamboo applied to the leather). They make suggestions and improvements, and we develop the prototypes together. Some of them work, some don’t; we keep on improving them until we are satisfied.

Overall, we remain playful, curious and open minded, constantly searching for new ways of adopting and honouring the artisans’ know how (such as carving, painting, weaving, embordering), whilst infusing all the products with contemporary design. The possibilities are endless and it’s a very rewarding design process. Recently, we’ve also started exploring some collaborations with interior designers and architects, applying the design and techniques to furniture and homeware.

How do sustainability and inclusivity come through in different aspects of your brand/ business?

For us, sustainability is a journey, which starts with a commitment to integrity. The more we know, the more we do; being very honest about what we can and cannot achieve, as there are trade-offs to consider. We understand sustainability also as a multi-layered concept (people, planet, and even culture) and it is something we have embraced as a core value ever since we started back in 2019. We define ourselves as a purpose-driven creative studio and we put inclusiveness and equality at the core of our mission. Sustainability is part of who we are, not something we add to what we do. We also aim to promote local economic, social and cultural development and we also strive to keep our environmental impact to a minimum. We are part of the Slow Fashion and Fashion Revolution movements and believe in a fashion industry that values people, the environment, creativity and profit in equal measure.

These are our five pillars; how we understand and embrace sustainability at Kmana.

  • We make timeless bags and accessories which are made to last a lifetime. We believe in consuming less and better. Our bags are not fashionable; they aim to never go out of fashion.
  • We use natural materials (for example, vegetable tanned leather using vegetable pigments/ organic bamboo/ organic cotton; compostable packaging etc.). Our principle is that of “from the earth back to the earth” to honour and preserve the environment.
  • We have built and continue building a resilient and purpose-driven supply chain, working on equal partnerships with artisan workshops, women weaver cooperatives and local creatives. We are not a factory-based brand. We work with family-run workshops and cooperatives in Southeast Asia in a process of co-creation and also giving the artisans due visibility and acknowledgement. We respect their ways of working, their price systems, their timelines, and we don’t want to integrate them vertically. We work with them and also help them to enhance their systems. We pay special attention to women, particularly underprivileged women, working in partnership with a number of foundations and cooperatives.
  • We are committed to a zero-waste policy. The hides we use are by-products of the food industry in Indonesia; we turn waste into something beautiful and unique. We also use the totality of the hides, using remnant pieces that result from cutting our bigger bags to make leather products, and we keep our stock to a minimum. We are now exploring the setup of a collection point for old bags, to recycle and transform them into new products by weaving the leather, together with the women workshop of the Bali Life Foundation.
  • We are also deeply committed to traceability and transparency, and have partnered with Rootip to use blockchain technology to amplify the voices of the artisans we work with, tell their story and ensure transparency of our processes.

In December 2020 we submitted our application to become a B Corp corporation and are now waiting for the outcomes of the assessment. We have also started partnering with wonderful companies such as SusGain and Ecologi to support climate solutions and the transition towards more sustainable ways of buying and living. We have these further elaborated in the form of 10 commitments on our website, which we constantly update as we improve our systems and integrate new practices. All in all, we follow what our beloved Maya Angelou once wrote: ”Do your best until you know better, and when you know better, do better.”

What motivated you to be a part of The Bridge Fashion Incubator and what do you hope to achieve from the programme?

The year 2019 was when we launched Kmana and started to build awareness around the brand and our values. It was also the year we opened our flagship store in Bali and started selling on some platforms and stores such as Design Orchard, Stayi, and the Canvas by Querencia Studio. Then came COVID-19 in 2020 and we decided to put all our sales (including online sales) on hold. It was a year of resilience, for us and the artisans, and we shifted our production to make masks for the community. But we soon realised that we didn’t have the skills required. We needed support to consolidate our brand DNA, to develop a growth plan in order to consolidate our nascent presence in our markets and expand to new markets.

We discovered TBFI through Design Orchard and we decided to apply. It seemed to be designed for us, for where we were and what we wanted. I knew the programme was going to be useful but didn’t realise how enlightening and even sometimes “mind blowing” it would be for us. We are halfway through, and I cannot sufficiently stress how much I have learned and how much the brand has started to change. I’ve been challenged, pushed, inspired… I’ve learned so much. It’s an intense programme, which requires commitment and an open mind. The professionalism, commitment and knowledge of the mentors, speakers and the team is simply extraordinary. And the sense of community which has been established with the other brands—the other fashion entrepreneurs who are also walking this path—is deep and genuine.

I hope to consolidate our value proposition and DNA in order to bring more coherence and consistency into all our processes, from the designs to our sales and communication efforts. I hope to rediscover Kmana through a new lens, with fresh eyes.

Why did you decide to expand your business in Singapore?

Singapore has always represented an epitome of multiculturalism and vision; a place which embraces cutting-edge modernity whilst preserving and honouring its heritage and its values; a place which welcomes and celebrates diversity. On a corporate level, it is a true entrepreneurial hub—a place made by and for entrepreneurs, which has developed and implemented (and is constantly updating) a unique set of regulations, policies, programmes and initiatives to assist entrepreneurs in their journey. It is at the heart of Southeast Asia, a small and extremely diverse and dynamic country. I couldn’t think of a better place to launch our business.

Related article: Yumika Hoskin Champions Sustainability With Her Homegrown Label Peco Bag

Orion Dai, Head of Product at Revery.AI

Revery.AI Founders
Revery.AI founders Orion Dai and Min Jin Chong.
Photos: Courtesy

Tell us how your brand came about and the issues you hope to address.

Online fashion shopping has been experiencing exponential growth amid COVID-19 and the closure of physical stores. However, the online fashion shopping experience is missing an integral part of the user experience—the dressing room, where people can try on clothes. In brick and mortar stores, it’s common for shoppers to carry a bag of garments into the dressing room, mix and match, and see how they fit on themselves. This not only helps shoppers decide on the right items, but it is also what makes shopping engaging (we love that ‘adrenaline rush’ when we find something that looks good on us).

Take us through your creative process. How does design and technology come into play?

Revery has created the first affordable and scalable virtual dressing room with high fidelity rendering. We offer our services at an affordable price point for most small and medium-sized brands, processing hundreds of thousands of garments for virtual try-on each day. Our rendering engine is powered by the latest AI technology, which can create the folding, shading and draping effects of garments that resemble real photoshoots. The rendering also happens instantly.

How do sustainability and inclusivity come through in different aspects of your brand/ business?

When it comes to sustainability, our product reduces return rates by 12 to 15 percent from people who are usually indecisive about style and colour, and would order multiple copies to compare and return. Using the dressing room, this process can happen online, because shoppers can instantly visualise different outfits and stylings. There is potential to reduce return rates on a global scale by helping consumers make better purchasing decisions.

We have a large database of models in a variety of skin tones, ethnic groups and personalities. Using our dressing room, shoppers can choose a model that is representative of themselves to get a better sense of how an outfit would look on them. We are also working on supporting diverse body shapes.

What motivated you to be a part of The Bridge Fashion Incubator and what do you hope to achieve from the programme?

We are deeply involved and invested in developing the virtual try-on technology but have less exposure to fashion due to our tech-heavy background. Being a part of TBFI would help us gain exposure to and understand the fashion space, as well as recruit early adopters. Many current batch and past alumni we’ve spoken to have expressed interest in using our product.

TBFI also has dedicated and experienced mentors with vast knowledge and connections in the field of fashion. This has helped us understand our target audience better and in turn, shape our product to meet their needs. Although other incubators have been considered, TBFI stands out by having a dedicated panel of experts to coach us in the areas of e-commerce, sales and personal branding in order to thrive in the fashion industry.

The Revery team hopes to gain a deeper understanding of the business and administrative process behind the fashion industry, and how we can offer digital services to augment this process by reducing redundancies and making it more sustainable. We also hope to utilise the knowledge gathered to forge a collaborative relationship with the leaders of the global fashion industry such as Farfetch and Zara, and locally, Love Bonito and Zalora (we recently launched our live virtual dressing room on all Zalora web platforms). More importantly, we want to find a community within the local fashion startup scene.

Related article: Lasalle’s Fashion Graduates And Lecturers On Future-Proofing Fashion

Irene Chong, Founder of Sage and Ylang

Tell us how your brand came about and the issues you hope to address.

I’m a former registered nurse turned professional skincare formulator and founder of Sage and Ylang. It all started when my daughters became teenagers. With break-outs and acne suddenly becoming a real threat, I began searching for safer skincare products that my girls could use. Frustrated with the lack of clean and green skincare alternatives in the market, I began formulating my own skincare products and decided to launch my very own skincare brand—one that incorporates sustainable and clean alternatives ingredients from Europe, the US, and Australia. After completing cosmetic science courses in 2016, Sage and Ylang was launched in 2018.

All our products are formulated from scratch in a Singapore-based manufacturing laboratory, using cutting-edge, science-backed skincare to target different skin conditions. In November 2019, my company began collaborating with the Agency for Science, Technology and Research’s (A*STAR) Institute of Materials Research and Engineering (IMRE). We wanted to innovate a skincare range that provides a solution to sensitive skin.

Take us through your creative process. How does design, technology and sustainability come into play?

As Sage and Ylang developed formulations for a new microbiome-friendly skincare range, IMRE researchers carried out bacteria viability studies and used machine learning to help Sage and Ylang optimise the performance of its formulations. We collaborated with MyMicrobiome in Germany for microbiome-friendly certifications of a number of Sage and Ylang’s products; and with Sequential Skin, which developed the world’s first domestic skin test kits that deeply analyse the skin genetics and skin microbiome. As a result of our collaboration, we created the first-of-its-kind customisable and certified microbiome-friendly skincare in the world. Our product development capabilities in skincare are backed by scientific studies.

How do sustainability and inclusivity come through in different aspects of your brand/ business?

Embracing the “less is more” concept, we advocate only three products that provide a staple for a basic but comprehensive skincare regimen. This means less packaging and less wastage. We focus on sustainability at the early stages of design conception, and use 100 percent naturally derived, biodegradable ingredients that do not negatively impact the environment. We do not use petrol-chemically derived ingredients and are committed to sourcing ingredients with green chemistry. We also do away with excessive packaging to avoid wasteful practices. Finally, we make it a point to give back to the community via NGOs whose causes resonate with us.

What motivated you to be a part of The Bridge Fashion Incubator and what do you hope to achieve from the programme?

My main role in the company is in product R&D, so I was looking to be mentored in other aspects of the business, as well as seek opportunities to network and collaborate. I believe I’ll be given opportunities to develop essential skills that will support my entrepreneurial journey.

Related article: Xenia Wong On Starting Sigi Skin At 23 And Her Take On The Green Beauty Hype

Claudia Poh, Founder of Werable

Werable Founder Claudia Poh
Werable Founder Claudia Poh.
Photo: Ethan Lai

Tell us how your brand came about and the issues you hope to address.

As life continues to intensify, dressing can be uncomfortable and a great feat in itself. Choosing what to wear is a challenge for everyone. Wearing what you choose is a challenge for some. When I moved back to Singapore in late 2019, I wasn’t satisfied with starting an eponymous label in my name. Names have power and it’s an opportunity to tell a story much more meaningful than my own.

‘Wearable’ and ‘we are able’—Werable is wordplay that unifies our two central ideas, where our clothes are designed for their wearability, as well as their ability to give people a sense of agency and empowerment. Werable is an apparel brand that creates effortless easy-to-wear styles, thoughtfully designed for life. Our customers are fashion-conscious individuals who value comfort, style and ease.

Take us through your creative process. How does design, technology and sustainability come into play?

It always begins with an honest conversation. We design out of necessity, providing solutions to fashion conscious individuals who value ease and style. At the initial stages I utilised CLO3D, a 3D modelling software that allows me to assemble quick ideas without experiencing material wastage. I pattern draft and sew everything at a co-working makers studio, Cocoon Space. It takes me about four to five prototypes as I try to strike a balance between the desired silhouette and the required function. I then pass the pieces to my clients to try out for two weeks and make changes accordingly.

How do sustainability and inclusivity come through in different aspects of your brand / business?

Inclusivity speaks boldly about celebrating every lived experience and adoption by the community as a whole. Adaptive fashion is largely known for only addressing the functional aspects of fashion. As we innovate easier ways of dressing, we challenge ourselves to create chic and unique styles too as a means of reshaping systemic biases.

We believe in working towards sustainable practices as we scale. Our samples are made of Tencel, 100 percent cotton, 100 percent viscose with the exception of our ribbed knits which have 10 percent of polyurethane, necessary for added stretch.

What motivated you to be a part of The Bridge Fashion Incubator and what do you hope to achieve from the programme?

Design is such a huge part of my life. The greatest challenge thus far has been to grow beyond the role of a designer. To bridge this gap, it called for a shift in mindset and an expansion of my skill sets. Business, marketing and brand strategies play massive roles in creating sustainable solutions—solutions that can scale for impact. The bi-weekly pitches are great opportunities for me to vett Werable’s messaging. My objective is to establish a clear brand positioning by the end of the programme.

Related article: Sustainable Loungewear Label NOST Celebrates Heritage Crafts Through Innovation