Three stylish women on fashion that feels powerful

A style-packed boost

  • 23.04.2021

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For the past month, we here at Buro. Singapore have been sharing and telling stories of strength and its many facets. Whether it’s finding strength and confidence in accepting one’s physical circumstances, or the different examples and measures of strength, it’s a shared concept that’s highly individualistic.

At times, we need that extra boost in the form of fashion to make us feel good. Not because it’s a crutch or a way of coping with certain issues, but rather an extension of our innermost emotions and feelings. And doing that through fashion — almost always the first thing that someone notices — helps to visually express that to the world.

It’s akin to a form of self-actualisation; except with some stylish threads to elevate one’s appearance.

We speak to three individual women in Singapore’s fashion industry to find out what’s their one piece of fashion item that helps give them some semblance of strength and confidence. And at the same time, their reflections on how their relationship with fashion has changed over the years and through the different phases of their lives.

Melissa Quah

New Media – Creative and Content Specialist, Directions Group Inc.

Just like my love for art — from as young as I can remember — fashion to me is simply my means of expression; because expression is my fate. I know… it may sound like some quotable quote but to be very honest, I’ve only come to resonate in entirety with this underlying calling as I was journaling some weeks back. This resonance is why I am able to say with true conviction why I’ve been and will always be able to work in the realm of fashion.

Style to me means to exemplify one’s very core — the undeniable sense of self with daring ability to unapologetically don things that make you happy. Haha yes, even if it is as fleeting as the happiness derived from the instant gratification of every desired purchase. I believe no one can take that feeling away when one’s ego, persona and ever-unchanging self are in tangent and that’s when one’s style can truly be palpable and identifiable.

I have a love-hate relationship with fashion. I love that it helps me realize my expectations but hate what it inevitably does to my bank account when I’ve had one too many ‘treat yoself’ days every other month.

I’ve definitely become more serious and committed to fashion over the years, as I begin to consume it with greater and deeper reverence with the way I approach and connect it to my own body of photography work and creative direction. I try my best to see a piece of clothing for its artistic value and what it can do to my image’s composition. In order to do this, I pay attention to the material and appreciate the thoughtfulness and progression of its design.

A blazer, always, gives me strength. To date, it’d have to be my Comme des Garçons raw-hemmed blazer that I got from a Club 21 sale in 2018. It’s probably the rare few fashion items in my possession that can denounce my cynical stance that a fashion item is made for instant gratification as I still get all excited whenever I put it on.

It makes me feel like I’ve got Icarus’s wings. I swear we’re experiencing a similar ‘plight’ here in Singapore and I barely even need to be mindful about flying too close to the sun as my blazer — though thankfully lined with cotton, has a 100 percent wool exterior (weeps in Comme). That aside, I love that the blazer is well-tailored on top and ‘free’ at the ends. It embodies what I seek in the investment pieces I purchase — the versatility to take me places and I guess in many ways, the confidence to be the realised vision of myself; one of a strikingly balanced duality.

I’ve learned to grasp the full extent of understanding that life is full of regrets but that it’s also about bearing the decisions that you don’t make. You’ve got to ask yourself the hard, hard questions to find what you love, and when you do, pursue it like a long-lost desire that simply makes you want to get out of bed each day and allows you to feel alive. Finally (this is not random I promise) as someone who explores the theme of youth in her work because she’s afraid to grow up, I’ve come to earnestly admit with all my heart that as long as you have dreams, it’s fine to worry as little as you can about youth that is seemingly slipping away.

Lily Hamid

General Manager, SOCIETYA

I must be honest, I never ever thought I’d be in fashion retail. When we started SOCIETYA in 2014, all we really wanted to do was to shorten the gap between shoppers and talented Asian designers who were still quite under the radar but had so much to offer. This industry has challenged me to step outside of my comfort zone, and I’m the type of person who rarely does so without a lot of preparation! These seven years of building SOCIETYA have been nothing short of challenging but I’ve never felt more engaged and fulfilled.

Style is not just the clothes you wear, it is a way of self-expression to showcase your individualism and your attitude. Your style is that personality that you project out and it is unique to you. Clothes are just one of the tools for you to express it.

This relationship with fashion has definitely been a rollercoaster of sorts. It took a really long time for me to understand my body, to understand that I didn’t need to loathe shopping, and that I didn’t need to dislike what I see in the mirror. It wasn’t always easy to shop for clothes in my size — I’ve walked into a store and before I even started browsing, the salesperson would wave me off saying there was nothing in there that would fit me. Before I could understand how to dress myself in the way I liked, I had to accept and welcome the way I looked.

I understand more than ever now that having the right fit for clothes is so, so important at making you feel good and look good. When you have different proportions, having that understanding helps you find clothing that works for you, rather than the other way around. I love shopping for comfortable, everyday-wear that still has that something special in their designs, as well as a mix of stronger, statement pieces that I can dress up and dress down. I like to wear my clothes regularly, and not just keep them for special occasions.

A lesson I’ve learnt since becoming a mother is to not sweat the small stuff. Now, I project my energy and time into things that matter, in all aspects of my life, which extends to my fashion picks as well. I don’t buy on impulse, and anything I do invest in are quality pieces that I know can last me a long time.

One of my all-time favourite buys is a sheer, blush kimono top from one of SOCIETYA’s Indonesian designer labels, Sean Sheila. The duo behind the brand — Sean Loh and Sheila Agatha — were so kind to custom make this in my size. Besides feeling and looking really good in it, what I love most about this top is that all the exquisite hand-embroidery work is done by under-privileged community groups that the designers support in their production line. So, this is a really meaningful piece to me.

From the way it was handmade, hand-embroidered, and knowing that this piece of clothing helped someone in their community provide a livelihood for themselves, that makes me feel good. The fit of this kimono top is great too as it’s cut in with a little bit of structure so that it hugs my figure the right way. It has a powerful silhouette but because of its beautiful blush hue, it’s soft at the same time. I feel like I can accomplish anything every time I wear this top.

I would hug my younger self and tell her that other peoples’ opinions are reflections of their own limitations and boundaries, not yours.

Monica Millington

Founder and director, Tropick

I have always been a person that possesses a deep appreciation for beautiful things, but as for what drew me into the fashion industry, that is just the tip of the iceberg. What seeded my passion is how what you wear can transform your life — it creates a first impression when you walk into a room and visually communicates your persona to the world. Fashion is a powerful tool to allow you to take control of your own narrative, and I started Tropick so I could create the best ‘tools’ for people to wear with confidence and literally feel comfortable in.

To me, style is so much more than ‘fashion’ and is an evolutionary extension of one’s personality. It’s a visual representation of your persona, reflects how you carry yourself and it shows the world what you think of yourself. My style over the years, if I were to look back, completely mirrors how I felt about myself at the time. For example, when I was young and naive to the world, I had a laidback hippy style to me. When I was going through trauma and feeling low about myself, I was inexpressive and unimaginative in my style. Now having lived abroad, started my business and found my forever life partner, I am unapologetic, bold, and unafraid to shine in my style. I don’t put any parameters on style, and I allow myself to wear whatever I am feeling fabulous in — be it a hoodie or a ballgown, and completely own it!

As I started up my own clothing line, I became more educated on fast fashion versus slow fashion, the logic behind pricing, and what makes a quality garment. My shifted focus to more conscious consumption means I am willing to spend more for the right piece, which consequently means I buy fewer but higher quality pieces that can work with my existing wardrobe and can be worn in many different ways. I like to be proud of the pieces I wear so I can unabashedly share them with the world.

Right before I moved out to Singapore and got married, I went on a two-month-long solo backpacking trip, so I had gotten rid of many of my things and the majority of my wardrobe — I was ready for a clean slate! I was in this really cool stage of life where I had gone from living out of a backpack to curating my wardrobe for my new life, and I feel like I had a chance to start fresh and dress exactly as I felt without any obligation to my old style. I used to want to walk into a room and feel cute or desirable, but after the journey I’ve been on, I dress to walk into a room and feel powerful and influential.

A classic white button down is by far the item in my closet that makes me feel the most powerful. It can be dressed up or down, masculine or feminine, sexy or conservative. My go to is my Tropick shirt, not just because it is a piece from my own clothing line, but because I literally put blood sweat and tears into perfecting this exact shirt. Not only is the piece an incredibly versatile wardrobe staple, but this shirt represents all of my lifelong dreams, hard work and passion coming to fruition. And I can’t think of anything more empowering than that.

There is a reason I genuinely love what I make because my pieces are flattering, high quality, and insanely comfortable. There’s something to say about being able to look chic as hell without feeling restricted in any way. This shirt is my secret weapon, because when I wear it, I have a constant reminder of what I am capable of as an added confidence boost.

If I could speak to my younger self, I would tell her to stop being afraid to shine, and stop thinking that shining too brightly is wrong. I remember being scared to wear or do anything that made too much of a statement because I might make a mistake or fail and people would judge me. I would also tell her that no one of any influence or success followed the rules and did what everyone else was doing. The status quo is so boring anyways!