It’s been quite some time since we’ve came across anything like Why Not? – a local collective comprising of six young fashion designers and creatives that aims to, in their own words, “disrupt the way we consume fashion presentations and products in Singapore”.
The six menswear and womenswear designers who make up Why Not? are recent graduates Khairyna Mazin, Lydia Kok, Manfred Lu, Miyuki Tsuji, Putri Adif and Sheree Toh, supported by creative director Izwan Abdullah and freelance PR maven Racy Lim. The product of their efforts: a multi-segmented performative runway show held two weeks ago at The Substation that saw each designer fully in charge of how their designs would be showcased – as opposed to the typical graduation showcase where they’d have little to no say.
There have been various (typically government or “establishment”-led) efforts to bolster Singapore’s fashion scene and its designers time and again but perhaps the closest we can recall that resembles Why Not? is the +9 collective mentored by Jonathan Seow of Woods & Woods fame back in the late Noughties. But in the decade since, there’s hardly been the same sort of raw, take-no-prisoners spirit among local fashion designers until lately with Why Not?.
We speak to the Why Not? team on what changes they’d like to see in Singapore’s fashion landscape and why commercial viability shouldn’t be the be-all and end-all – especially for nascent designers:
How did the idea for Why Not? come about?
Manfred Lu: ‘Why Not?’ was the result of lengthy conversations with Izwan. The idea of creating a fashion show, one that focuses on giving each participating designer full authorship of their crafts and vision, came from my own dissatisfaction with the way institutions carry out their graduation shows.
It gets very underwhelming with how fashion shows are put out today. The opinions and ideas of students are usually considered invalid or not fit for industry standards. We saw how fixated the industry was to simply produce shows that are more or less gentrified by the ‘visions’ of people who are stuck in the industry for decades. And every time you try to voice out on something, the replies are all ‘No, it won’t work. It’s too much’. So we named it ‘Why Not?’. It was simply just our reaction to all the rejections. The name became a new opportunity for us to fulfil and direct the most honest and true to form version of our works in a self-directed environment. An opportunity we’ll never get unless we made them ourselves.
Izwan Abdullah: Somewhere back in January, Manfred proposed that I do a series of visuals for him to showcase his final year project. He was dissatisfied with how his school’s grad show would turn out. I wasn’t really sold on the idea of having his garments shown online so I suggested that we do our own fashion show. I told him to rally like-minded designers to participate in the show where they would self-direct their own segments from all aspects including music and choreography. The show would be entirely student-led and we wanted it to be an alternate version to what our schools’ graduation showcases could be.
Walk us through the event, what went down?
Manfred Lu: The show was held on June 8 at both The Substation Theatre and The Substation Gallery. We used the gallery, which was at the entrance of The Substation as the ‘backstage’. The irony was that you witnessed the team getting ready first before entering the show. We wanted it to be open, as if you’re witnessing it from a television. We wanted people to observe what goes into a fashion show.
Here, a visual compendium of the show:
The show itself had six different segments, each a showcase self-directed by the designers themselves. The segments were distinct from one another. I’d say it’s like attending a music festival. Different bands of different genres playing on the same stage. The show had an intentional campy start, then you’re brought over to a heavy rock emotional spin before getting transported into an adrenaline rush. Then everything slowed down with topics surrounding sensuality before it ended with an abstract visual performance piece.
Izwan Abdullah: Adding on to whatever Manfred said, we streamed the show live and that played a huge part in the show’s aesthetic and concept. It was supposed to symbolise the kind of “surveillance” culture we experienced in school with our lecturers – and to make the show as accessible as possible due to space constraints. We’re really happy to say that we’ve reached the maximum capacity of 250 in the theatre and we really wanted to reach out to more people.
Below, snapshots of the attendees:
The open backstage concept was very inspired by Din Tai Fung’s open kitchen concept (not kidding!) where we saw a fascination in the process making. It worked for our show — people were crowding around the windows to see the models getting ready and made up and for most of us, it was a bizarrely new experience.
What amenities or infrastructures would be most helpful to young designers?
Manfred: Actual and honest coverage. Take away the competitions, take away the glitz and glamour. We don’t need it at all. We just need an outlet that allows for more collaborations and gives relevant exposure to young designers. Take more interest in their craft and stop looking at their works merely as a product for sale. Fashion graduates – they’re not in this to make a brand or start a label (yet)… So when organisations demand that the clothes have to be wearable and sellable, isn’t that just a demand to make something just so it’ll fit in the catalogue? Where’s the artistic integrity in that? Don’t bury the passion and spirit of young designers just to make their designs sellable.
Putri Adif: It’s more personal for me. I never felt like the competitions were organised for people like me. They’re intimidating, especially for new designers. The selected designers are usually recommended by the schools and these individuals are usually chosen mostly because of their grades. It just doesn’t feel fair, every student excels differently and it just sucks to know that if you don’t fit in their criteria, you don’t fit in the industry.
I’d like to see more welcoming initiatives such as Why Not?. It’s good to feel like you belong and you have an opportunity to make something. I don’t think sidelining designers is the way the industry should work; it should be more collaborative.
Izwan Abdullah: I think in general with these platforms, there’s no permanence. Exposure is good and all but there’s not really much beyond it. Maybe we can look into scholarships or attachments – something that designers could benefit from and use to further enhance their craft. Like Putri mentioned, I don’t think competitions work very well in this context. Such platforms should be as accessible as possible so that everyone gets an equal opportunity.
What changes would you guys like to see being implemented in the local fashion landscape?
Izwan Abdullah: Ultimately, we want to change Singaporeans’ perception of fashion. I think it’s ironic how some in the audience were dismissive even though the format of the show was obviously experimental. I think that people forget to have fun sometimes, and it’s okay to not take everything too seriously – come with an open mind and have fun. Having said that, some of them were quite supportive of the initiative and had a lot to contribute to the conversation. I hope one day, we’d get to see fashion being elevated to the same stature as other art forms like sculptures, paintings and architecture.
Manfred Lu: I agree with Izwan. What most people think about fashion, especially in Singapore, they see this closed world of glamour and beauty, they see power and opulence, but I don’t think that’s true at all. Fashion is fun, it has always been fun. It’s shocking, it’s exciting. But along the way I believe we lost that. We forgot how to have fun. We forget that fashion is expansive and dynamic as well. There are different interpretations to it. If everyone sees it this way, young designers wouldn’t have to be scared of trying something new. They’d be celebrated instead of being critiqued and judged. I hope in the near future we’d change that in Singapore.
Sheree Toh: I think there are a lot of passionate individuals and emerging designers in Singapore but perhaps due to the lack of viable opportunities and encouragement, not everyone is able to pursue the path of fashion.
I do believe we have channeled a lot of funds and resources in the government’s efforts to build a local fashion industry, such as the recent opening of Design Orchard as a new hub and incubator for local talents and brands, where designers share access to mentors, programmes and facilities in their progress.
What we lack is confidence – the individual’s confidence to achieve what they desire and public confidence in local designers. Regarding art and design, people are still relatively conventional and not fully convinced that it is a viable career path. Without even giving it a shot, it is a pity that passionate individuals are fearful of the challenges that lay ahead and opt for other paths. It would be refreshing to witness more individuals stepping up and out of their comfort zones to present what they have to offer, and also to give themselves a chance.
Khairyna Mazin: I’d like to see fashion consumers become more educated in their choices. The majority’s perception or liking in fashion is quite shallow. Most of them are only into seemingly “cool” or “pretty” clothes. Because of that a lot of emerging fashion designers are having a hard time trying to break through. I think it’ll take us a lot of effort to actually garner the support from local fashion enthusiasts.
Miyuki Tsuji: The local fashion landscape is very commercialised, and there’s still a lot of space to cultivate different talents and creatives. Despite growth of independent brands, I would still like to see more segregation in the market, and also more inclusivity. This means that as much as we welcome more variety of style, people should also be more open-minded and learn to embrace something fresh.
This, I believe, is doable, but the government also needs to provide more support to new fashion initiatives and see fashion as a vital form of art. Many are not given due recognition, so by offering and creating new platforms, I am sure many more will feel more inspired to contribute and add vibrancy to the local fashion landscape.
Putri Adif: It’s quite rare to see local designers experimenting here in Singapore. They’ve always played safe, they’ve always refused to change, but I understand, there’s always that pressure to sell and ensure the business stays afloat. And the rest of them just disappears, they leave to another city because they know the opportunities are better there, that they’ll be accepted. Local designers, especially the younger ones should not be afraid of trying something new. I’d like to see more of that and I’ll gladly be a part of it. I’d rather have an industry that’s diverse than boring and repetitive.
Lydia Kok: I want the scene to become more independent, self-driven, and diverse. The current landscape is heavily driven for international appeal. This shape of the landscape confines of commercialism and traditionalism and lacks experimentalism. If the scene were to become more refreshing, bold, and individualistic, we solidify the concept of what fashion in Singapore could be.
Can we expect more iterations of Why Not?
Izwan Abdullah: Yes, definitely. We’re strengthening the structure, roping in more producers and assistants and trying to gather more resources to enable future designers. We hope that the increase in awareness will help us in continuing our cause. We really genuinely enjoy doing this… so, why not?
Manfred Lu: Of course, the job’s not done yet. The first attempt will always be an opportunity to do better, to be even more daring and experimental. There are more people like us out there and now that Why Not? is on the radar, we hope it truly becomes a platform for designers to consider – especially young designers who just need that extra guidance to bring their works to life. It’s something everyone here at Why Not? is truly passionate about.
All images by Gabe Tan and Christian Julian (@whatsingaporewore), unless stated otherwise.