March 20, 2014

Don't just dream it, Do it.



I'm very honored to be invited to give a design speech for Design Business Chamber Singapore at National Design Council during Singapore's 1st Design Week. Honestly, even when nearing the date, I couldn't believe I was one of their speakers, alongside with notable individuals from Design Director of P&G to Managing Director of Robinsons Singapore. I was extremely intimidated and very excited at the same time. Although it was only a workshop, it was enough to keep my nerves on the edge. To be honest, I don't consider myself as successful, I'm turning 24 this year and I still have so much to learn. I was asked to share my experiences and interesting projects I've done throughout school & career with industry partners and students. It was almost an 20 minutes speech where I covered topics from my move from Lasalle College of the Arts to Raffles Design Singapore to how I started Elska. I've summarized my presentation slides and speech in this post otherwise it's really lengthy (although it's still very wordy omg, please bear with me!)





I completed my diploma in fashion design at Lasalle College of the Arts and pursued degree in fashion design at Raffles Design Institute Singapore. I've heard so much about Raffles and I wanted to try out different learning experiences. It was one of my best life decisions to make the move. I talked about taking chances and never be afraid to pursue a range of interests. I've been drawing since a young age, I was fortunate to grow up in an environment where there are no boundaries in everything I do. My parents and grandparents were in the creative industry so my brother & I are always taught to explore and experiment. I remember heading down to the old campus of Lasalle to ask about courses when I was 13 years old and I remember being very upset knowing I have to finish my secondary school before I could enroll into an art school. But I didn't want to wait so long so I began experimenting with photoshop and designing web layouts for companies while my peers were focused on their studies, from that moment, I knew I was not cut out for conventional jobs.


I could not decide on my creative direction if I should be an artist, illustrator or designer. So I kept experimenting with new projects and pushing boundaries in everything I do. These are some works I've done in the past which include photography, web design and graphic design, most of them were done before entering Lasalle.
At one point of my 1st year at Lasalle, I became very fascinated with Bridal design. I designed and hand-sewn a bridal gown amidst my busy schedule of juggling school assignments, photo editing and web design jobs. 

The creative process of drafting, draping and sewing this gown was very fulfilling and the sense of achievement was beyond so I knew I had to get into a fashion course. After 3 years at Lasalle, I moved to Raffles where I've experienced so much I've never had before, I joined competitions and won in some. One of the interesting projects was Triumph Inspiration Award. (top, right) I have a great love for crafting corsets. Working on the details was pure madness, it took me very long and a lot of effort to complete this piece. This design was also showcased at Audi Fashion Week 2011. I always try to enjoy the creative process as it teaches me so much more than the final result.

This is my degree collection, it was my first time working on menswear and I'm really glad that my professor, Joe encouraged me to try it out in this collection. My inspiration was derived from human anatomy. The main concept revolves around the relationship of muscles and spinal columns. The techniques I used included cording, knitting, leather manipulation and surface treatment. 

I also designed and hand-made detachable leather & chain accessories and headgear. This hand armor seen on the male model on the left photo was crafted with help with my dad. 
Some of the school assignments I did. I won second for T-Couture competition (top left on right photo) where I had to deconstruct and reconstruct 3 t-shirts, I cut them into strips, braided them into ropes and the outfit was fastened by 9 leather belts. This design was also exhibited at The Cathay. 

Haute Couture house project was my favorite assignment in school. Everyone chose their favorite couture house (Margiela, Elie Saab, Balmain, Givenchy, Valentino, Dior, etc) and I chose Alexander McQueen in the end as there weren't many choices left. At first, I was very intimidated as he's a legend and I was afraid I could not meet the expectations, which explains why nobody wanted to choose him. But I decided to give it a try, I managed to keep the silhouette avant garde while I focused on the intricate detailing. I spent a great deal of time to hand-sew the feathers and embroidery. I was so focused on this design that I did not sleep for 56 hours straight and only survived on cups and cups of coffee and bread, till now I have no idea how I did that. Thinking back, it was really insane but I am still very proud of this design and project up to today. 


Here is my fabric manipulation project where I experimented with bleach, silicon, wax, petrol and other mediums, basically anything and everything I could find in kitchens and hardware stores. I also did different types of surface manipulation such as pleats, ruffles, 3D patterns and fabric folds to create interesting textures.

I 'concocted' a special type of paint using wax, silicon and petrol which can be used on any textiles when I was in my first year at Lasalle. It gives the textile a waxy/shiny leathery look, you can see this effect on the corset dress above (left photo on left image) in my diploma collection. The original fabric was actually woven denim in blue. I also coated the finishing with a surface of transparent fabric spray so that it is gentle for our skin.


I gave my professor one copy of my degree portfolio as he liked it so much, there are 3d pop up pages mini lookbooks, translucent pages and whatnot which made up 126 pages, the effects are not very obvious in digital format though so I selected the non 3D pages to showcase in my online portfolio.

If you would like to view my design/photography portfolio online, please click here >> 

A quote on the last page of my portfolio that kept me going during my school life:
'Freedom is knowing who you want to become' - Kwannam

Moving on to career, Graduating from Raffles, I did my internship at DKNY Jeans, I left halfway as I was headhunted by International Brand Partners to design shoes for Energie and Miss Sixty. As much as I wanted to be a fashion designer, shoe design fascinates me as well so I decided to go for it. My responsibilities also included graphic design, product development, display designs where I was in charge of all POP marketing materials and also runway coordination. I also discussed product development with other designers around the world through skype. After some time when I felt I was ready, I decided to start an online business with a label of self designed shoes and highly curated items. At that point, my childhood best friend, Jes was studying fashion communications at Raffles so I asked her if she will be interested to join me. She didn't take very long to decide to come onboard with me. We took almost a year to prepare before we finally launched. Designing of website/shoe collections/packaging/etc took some time, plus I'm a perfectionist when it boils down to details. 

Selling shoes online is a challenge. Who would buy shoes online? When we decided on shoes, all our friends were advising us to stick to clothing since fashion design is still my expertise. But clothing is already very saturated in the online industry, we might as well take a bold chance at shoes. Selling shoes is very different from clothes and I know we will face so much difficulties in the future. The minimum quantity for producing shoes is considered a lot compared to clothing so we needed a big warehouse to house all the stocks. Coming back to selling shoes online, the concern of fit & size is overwhelming so I came up with this strategy: Sizes at your door. Customers can opt for the delivery of 3 sizes of the same shoe design to their house for them to try. In this case, customers can choose their perfect size, it is hassle free and customers can purchase their shoes with ease. This service is the 1st in Singapore and is very popular with our customers. We also have customized shoe size guides where consumers can measure their feet against the guide to gauge their shoe sizes. Customers can request for the shoe size guides to be sent to their houses with no charges apply. 

Another issue I am very concerned is branding. Starting an online store automatically allows people to stereotype it as a blogshop. However, we do look up to the successful online stores who are doing very well now and they all started from humble blogshops. In recent years, based on research, there have been more than 50,000 blogshops in Singapore. We try to bring across the difference between us and a blogshop is that we put in effort in design and production for our shoes, accessories and photoshoots.

To build up brand credibility and to differentiate our brand from others, I took charge to collaborate with notable brands to create fashion spreads & contests. We're very lucky to have L'Oreal Professionnel to work with us. This may sound really creepy but I remember stalking the guy at L'Oreal who was in charge of working with online stores. It took me a lot of effort to get in touch with him but my efforts were paid off when he gave the green light. His main reason to work with us was our ability to create conceptual fashion spreads. We are very grateful for this opportunity as L'Oreal has only worked with online shops that have substantial years of online presence. It took me 4 days to handpaint these large panels of backdrops, it caused me many days of backache after the photoshoot but it was all worth it as the results look amazing on photos. We went on working with other brands such as Vanity Trove, UOB, Tofu, and many others. We are also very lucky to be featured in media and magazines such as Elle Singapore, Her World Singapore, Catalog, Nylon and many others. 

This was my first full product lookbook, and it was the shoot I was the most nervous till date. Normally, I shoot beauty, fashion and portraits. I've done minimal product shoots in the previous L'Oreal & Bazaar/Lasalle editorials. For this shoot, I could envision how the photos will turn out but I wasn't sure if the results could turn out the same. There was no test shoot and we went straight with the actual shoot. Thankfully the results came out well, the studio was almost flooded with melting ice when we finished. Luckily there was no damage done and my cats could not be more indifferent after our so-many-photoshoots-since-the-start-of-Elska even when there were water everywhere haha. 


We worked with 8 other brands for our Elska Turns 1 campaign, including SkinFood and TrueFitness.
This campaign was to celebrate our brand turning 1. To thank everyone for their support, we invited our customers to join this contest, we sent out mystery packages which included beauty samples & vouchers worth up to S$150-200 to all customers. Inside this package included a specially designed cat mask, our aim is to engage customers to take photos styling with Elska shoes & their cat mask. We have some very creative entries as seen on the photo above (right). We also hand-made special pearl necklaces to thank all our participants for their effort. 


Following up was our biggest milestone yet, all along we only had self designed shoe and accessory collections, so I decided to launch a special clothing line 'Artisanal by Elska'. This line is handmade and made to measure. Although this line demands so much effort, it is one of our best decisions. There have been many requests and I have been rrrreally busy sewing the orders. It gives me a lot of contentment when I receive compliments from customers, it makes every effort worthwhile. We also have handmade pouches & bags where we fabricate them in our local sewing studio.

Just last week, we collaborated with Triumph to celebrate International Women's Day. This is the first time Triumph has collaborated with an online store and we are very honored to have this chance to work with them. It is my first lingerie shoot, I've worked with Nat about 5 years ago on my first fashion spread and I was really happy to have her gracing this campaign. 

Some of you may ask why spend so much effort in creating these lookbooks and if consumers appreciate them? Till date we have 25 lookbooks. I would like to say, yes, we put in a lot of effort producing these lookbooks, we work very hard to collaborate with brands for contests to reward our customers. We enjoy every moment of these process. Some of our shoots are more conceptual than the rest and we hope to engage and excite consumers in these creative experiences with us. Slowly, consumers will be curious to know what we are up to next. Of course, it is not easy to keep up but we will keep trying. Ultimately sales has to be the main factor for the business to carry on but we must not forget to implant creative measures along the way.  



These are some of our style notes and collages. We provide creative visuals hoping to inspire our consumers. Sometimes I model for my own brand as I hope to connect with the consumers on a more personal level. We are a creative company and we do not launch as often or as many products compared to other long standing online shops and we are still trying to find a good balance in between. We are a customer orientated company and I emphasize a lot on good customer service. We have a chat system where customers can ask us questions directly to save time on emailing, they can also leave a message for us if we are not online and we will get back to you within 24 hours. We also have a reward point system integrated in our website where customers receive points when they sign up and for every order. We hope to provide consumers an enjoyable experience while shopping with us. Loyalty points are for our returning customers to enjoy the benefits of purchasing from us. 

We also concentrate on building engagement with our customers through Elska designs. Every order is wrapped like a precious gift with Elska premium black boxes exquisitely finished with a ribbon. The construction of the box is designed by my dad, it is very convenient to put together and dismantle without the use of any tape or glue. It also doubles up as a nice storage box and can be used as a hand-carry shopping case.  Care manuals and stickers are included for every shoe order. Currently a Triumph discount voucher is also included.



Handling a business is not as easy or glorious as it may appear. We have a very steep learning curve and we have to oversee everything from planning, creative process and right up to the realization of the brand. We have our heads and hands in every aspect of Elska, from photography to styling, from marketing to customer service as we want to be there every step of the way. For now we are 1 year and 4 months old, we want to focus on getting all the small details right as they strengthen our foundation while also keeping sight of the big picture. It is not easy as we have no business experience before but we will work really hard. For us to be able to use design to improve our overall development is an advantage we have and we must always try to reinvent ourselves continuously in order to keep up. 

We have lined up a series of exciting projects for Elska, we can't wait to start on them, I can't reveal much here haha but you can join our mailing list on www.el-ska.com to get first hand updates.


Last but not least, I would like to share with everyone the one mantra I live by everyday, as seen above.
'Don't just dream it, Do it.
It's good to dream, but it is more important to put the thoughts into action. 

Initially I wanted to attach a short clip of my presentation but the video sound is not very ideal and I only have myself to blame, I put down the microphone after a while because it's rather difficult to manage my speech cards with just one hand haha so I'm going to write my Q&A down.

These questions were posed by the audience after my presentation:

Q: Sounds like you're really busy, so how do you maintain your energy?
A: I eat a lot, haha, I mean I snack a lot. (I don't eat much when I'm very focused though)

Q: How big is your team at Elska?
A: In Singapore, we have 5 (some of them are part-time) in a team and we have 2 colleagues overseas to help us with production.

Q: So which countries are your products made?
A: Most of our in-house designs are manufactured in asia, the handmade products are made by us locally in Singapore. For curated items, they're mostly from Korea.

Q: Are you planning to do menswear in the future?
A: We hope so. I like menswear too, so probably in 2-3 years time? We are definitely open to the idea.

Q: How do you balance the design aspect and business aspect?
A: For the business aspect, it is really tough. The design comes very naturally for me. For business, you have to think about being practical, the designs must be acceptable for the audience. The designs cannot be too loud or in your face, business is all about selling and generating sales. If you have a design that is over the top, people go like 'wow' but they do not buy, there is no point so we must always find a good balance. For example, we ask our customers for opinions so we will know what they want, if they prefer lower heels or flats, so from there we can design and curate accordingly and our business can move on, which is also infused with creativity, so there is a merger of design & practicability.

Q: So it is more like selling a theme or concept to your audience right?
A: Yes, that will be correct.

Q: So that the consumers can buy the 'theme' as reflected in your lookbooks yes?
A: Yes each lookbook has a theme, we try to connect the audience with the theme and we try to excite and engage them.

I was so glad that I did not screw up my Q&A, I was really nervous although I did not appear so (thankfully). The last presentation I gave was at Energie FW12 which was about 2 years ago. That presentation was actually a lot scarier, maybe because I was much younger (21?).

I was very blessed to have my dad, Jason, Jes & Roy with me at the presentation last week. Thank you for coming down, it means a lot to me. :)


After my speech in the morning, I headed over to 'It was only a dream' charity fashion show by Raffles with Elska as their main shoe sponsor held at CHIJMES. The interior was so beautiful.



It was an amazing show with Sean, Sheila & Cynthia showcasing their collections. After the show, Kai invited all of us for dinner at Lei Garden, it was so good catching up with everyone again, I wished we had Joe with us though. Joe if you're reading this, please know that we all love you very much & you will always have our greatest support.


We headed to a celebratory party with Jes's classmates & juniors (organizers of the charity show) after dinner. I can count the times I actually go to a club with my 5 fingers excluding fashion events/runway shows. I prefer chilling over cafes & bars with live music and ambient atmosphere.

I haven't blogged for the longest time and I've decided to start again as I want to document my DIY/design works & behind the scenes of photoshoots. I know my first post has been incredibly long but believe me I've tried my best to summarize it haha thank you for taking your time to read this. I'll be documenting a customized order of hologram pouches very soon, I'm so excited already and I hope you are too, so till next time! :)

Love,
Ace

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