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Fashion

Giving The Slow Movement In Singapore A Beautiful Handmade Touch

With its mindful, anti-consumerist spirit and focus on well-made pieces that last across time and trends, could the slow movement be fashion’s much-needed salve especially following the great Covid shake-up? We spotlight two young, under-the-radar Singapore labels leading the charge with their naturally beautiful, lovingly handmade clothes and accessories.

Su By Hand

Supei Ho, designer and founder of slow fashion label Su By Hand

Designing for luxury labels across Asia and Europe for more than a decade has given founder Supei Ho a heightened sensitivity to the amount of waste generated by the fashion industry. Desiring to create well-crafted pieces that “evoke an emotive connection to our clothing” to counter such rampant more-for-less culture, she started her slow fashion label Su By Hand two years ago, injecting much love and labour into each design.

Take “Fragments Make One Whole”, a series of breezy separates crafted from dead-stock silk sporting self-designed prints marbled on by hand. For all their simple silhouettes, their patterns are lined with delicate embroidery done by couture-trained embroiderer Studio Eyral and take 10 hours to complete. Sold on her website (subyhand.com), the most labour-intensive pieces are made to order only.

Other collections include pieces coloured with natural materials such as pomegranate and avocado – all hand-dyed by Ho – or made with fabric sourced from Living Blue, a dyeing atelier in Bangladesh that also supplies to global luxury houses. “The beauty of natural dye is that the colours are ‘alive’ and very vibrant,” says Ho. That they’re akin to art should also make them keepers.

A finalist in the Textile and Fashion Federation’s tent-pole competition this year, Ho puts it best: “They’re clothes that remain in your wardrobe for years simply because of their beauty and your emotional attachment to them.”

How would you define slow fashion?

“Slow fashion is very much about the process. For me, it is mindfulness and sustainability translated to the entire process from sourcing, designing and producing to marketing. Authenticity and transparency are very important to Su by Hand. We are not trying to be another fashion brand because there are enough brands around. But there aren’t many brands, at least not in Singapore or Asia, that incorporate artisanal techniques, whether it’s in the detailing or the treatment/dyeing of fabrics. Fashion as we know it now lacks soul! Look at vintage clothing with the amount of thought given to minute details and you will know what I mean.”

Could you walk us through the process of natural dyeing?

“It’s a very organic, intuitive process. First you need to mordant (a substance used to set dyes) the fabrics (mordants ensure that the colours will adhere; they can also interact with and change the colours). Then depending on the dye used, you need to know how to extract them, usually by boiling, sometimes by pounding/soaking in water overnight prior to boiling. Mordanting the fabrics ensure a good colour fastness, then you need to wash after dyeing. The beauty of natural dye is that the colours are ‘alive’ quite literally, and very vibrant. They are not flat like chemical dyes. Of course the colours may fade a little after awhile, but because I use mainly light colours in my collections, I haven’t really had that problem so far. This problem of bleeding, discolouration etc will affect mainly deeper, darker tones.”

A lot of people still see sustainable clothes as expensive or premium. Are there any misconceptions  you’d like to address?

“Firstly, I think our price sensitivity to clothing, especially in Singapore, does not easily allow for a sustainable mindset that is also geared towards quality. It’s ok not to spend a lot on clothes and I seldom buy clothes myself. But when I do, I pay premium prices and subscribe to the less but better mindset. I’d rather pay more for premium fabrication (natural fibres like cotton or silk) than I would on polyester. In SG, many brands thrive on selling styles that look good but don’t feel good. Comfort is very important for Su by Hand. There is no real beauty if you look good but can’t feel good in a cheap, non-breathable polyester! But that doesn’t mean all polyester is bad. Polyester is easy to handle, machine washable etc. But there are different types of polyesters, and there are good substitutes in regenerated cellulosic fabrics like Tencel, modal etc.”

We seem to be seeing a desire to have things that are made with more care and time in recent years. More independent labels that pride themselves on their hand-made products and workmanship are popping up – what are your thoughts on this?

“Yes it does seem to be a good time for handmade goods. However, the market (in Singapore) is small and things have always been very trend-led here. So I do wonder if the appreciation is deep and sustainable in the long term. Consumers here are also very price-sensitive. I think premium slow-fashion brands need to look beyond Singapore to gain real traction. My vision for Su by Hand has never been just a local one; we are small, but in the current climate of things, (there is a newfound appreciation) for small and conscientiously crafted things.”