The Youths In Balaclava boys are preparing for their first Paris Fashion Week in June. Credit: Youths In Balaclava.

Local label Youths In Balaclava (YIB) has a bit of a reputation. The homegrown fashion brand is known for its bold takes on the urban aesthetic, and as the name implies – a rejection of the establishment and toeing the line. But that might be oversimplifying things for YIB, which launched in 2018 to critical acclaim. “A lot of the press have labelled us as this sort of anarchist brand, but we choose to disagree with that,” they say. (The seven-man team prefers to be quoted as a collective.) “We don’t destroy without purpose. It’s chaotic, but thoughtful as well.” 

READ MORE Watch Video: Youths In Balaclava, The Singapore Label Inspiring Us

The trajectory of the streetwear brand, whose members are all only in their mid to late 20s, has been impressive as a local outfit able to garner as much attention on the world stage as it has. From international stockists – Dover Street Market, Matches, SSENSE and Saks, to name but an acclaimed few – to the early support of Comme des Garcons president Adrian Joffe. It even put on its first runway show at Paris Fashion Week independently last August, although it wasn’t without its stresses, like the accidental involvement of the French police who were called in when the heist performance aspect of the show appeared a smidge too real. “It embodied the spirit of the brand,” they say, wryly, of the unexpected happening.

Credit:Cheong Vincent

Youths In Balaclava opened a retail showroom called OTRHVN (pronounced Outer Haven) for the first time in November on Jalan Pemimpin.

Going into the new year, YIB is casting its gaze inwards, taking a series of new steps as befitting its independent status (while it is still stocked in DSM, the brand no longer operates under its showroom.) The label opened up a retail showroom for the first time in November, marking its first attempt to create a physical world to match the clothes they make. An extension of its studio space, OTRHVN (pronounced Outer Haven) in Jalan Pemimpin is open to the public and resembles a dark and cosy cave where insiders can take a look at the latest YIB treasure trove. 

They are also turning their attention this year to secondary line Bandits, with a new drop of products in February for new categories such as underwear. Prices start from $35 onwards. They’ve always approached Bandits on a nonseasonal approach, says the team, but now want to focus a little more on it and to increase its offerings, especially considering its more accessible price point and experimental opportunities. A gateway, if you will, for newcomers to approach and make the journey to the main YIB line.

Credit:Youths In Balaclava

Part of Youths In Balaclava’s upcoming Fall/Winter 2024 collection will feature the reworking of archival pieces.

Nine seasons on, the group also realises the potential that exists in revisiting its previous collections, now that it has an archive of looks to fall back on. In particular, they will be reworking pieces from F/W 2020, F/W 2021 and F/W 2022 to incorporate into their F/W 2024 show pieces. “Not everything should be new,” they say, adding that the chance to develop core pieces that will become iconic for the brand is important in its next phase of development. 

READ MORE: In Singapore, Young Fashion Labels Work To Reduce Textile Waste

Creating their own physical space, putting more energy into the accessible Bandits line, honing in on previous designs to further develop signature looks? It sounds like a very thoughtful approach, indeed. 

Credit:Cheong Vincent

Youths In Balaclava held its first runway show during Paris Fashion Week last June.

Looking back, what kind of year was 2023 for your brand?

“A rollercoaster ride filled with ups, downs, and new challenges marked our journey. For instance, we conducted our inaugural virtual showroom presentation, selling clothes through a camera in a TikTok Live format throughout the night due to the time difference with international buyers. Presenting our Spring Summer 2024 show at Paris Fashion Week was equally captivating. We undertook the endeavor independently, applying all the knowledge we’ve accumulated so far into practice. It felt like a significant examination for us—from selecting the venue to inviting guests, the logistics were intricate. Leveraging the resources and friendships we had cultivated along the way greatly contributed to the success of the collection and show. This experience held immense personal value for us, being something we cherish deeply.”

What takeaways have you learned that you will keep in mind moving into the future?

“A lot of people have high expectations for their first show. We believe managing your expectations and working with what you have is crucial. It’s good to dream, but you also have to accept reality in that sense. It wasn’t smooth sailing! There were numerous hiccups along the way. However, without these experiences, we wouldn’t have learned as much. These challenges are instrumental in helping us grow as a brand. In the end, everything fell into place for the Paris Fashion Week show, even with the entire police shut down. Experiencing that at our first show, we initially thought it would be a fiasco, but it turned out to be a silver lining. Friends were telling us, ‘You’re Youths in Balaclava, of course, you’re going to get shut down!'”

Credit:Youths In Balaclava

Expect underwear at Youths In Balaclava starting February via its diffusion label Bandits.

What can we expect from your brand in 2024? Tell us more about this new endeavour and why 2024 is the right moment for the brand to launch it.

“This year, we are channelling more energy into our secondary line, Bandits, a focus we’ve always had in mind for the longest time. Recognizing that not as many people in the youth demographic have the means to invest in the main line, we aim to address this accessibility gap. One of the significant challenges in the art world is gatekeeping, a spirit we don’t want to embody for our brand. Our goal is to invite people to join us on this journey, necessitating a welcoming approach. Bandits, being more accessible, also serves as an experimental opportunity, allowing us to explore ideas we’ve never tried before. It serves as a playground with a nonseasonal approach.

Furthermore, with nine seasons under Youths in Balaclava, we are reflecting on specific items and considering their reintroduction. Revisiting these pieces helps us refine our skills, applying newfound knowledge to the old. Normalizing the repetition of certain items from previous collections is our aim, turning them into core items.”

If you were to pick one word to encapsulate your feelings about the new year, what would it be and why?

“Perhaps, it’s all in the details. Over the past year, we’ve learned and absorbed a great deal. The pace of the system seems a bit too fast, with fashion brands rapidly churning out content through marketing stunts, resulting in less appreciation for the artistry behind it all. We aimed to reconsider how fashion is presented on this front. At one point, we even contemplated skipping the upcoming season, feeling burnt out from our experiences in Paris. Ultimately, we zeroed in on the realisation that moving too fast often leads to overlooking the details. This is what we are eagerly anticipating in 2024 – placing a greater emphasis on the details in the garments we produce and taking the time to slow down, revisit, and revamp our past works.”

Credit:Youths In Balaclava

Staff uniform for Youths In Balaclava during Paris Fashion Week.

Do you think this will be a ‘year that asks questions’ or a ‘year that answers’ for the brand?

“Time for answers. Recently, we’ve dedicated a significant amount of time to reevaluate and return to the drawing board regarding our path forward as a business and as a team. With all that being said, it now seems like there’s so much to do. While it’s essential to keep asking questions, we can’t remain in a perpetual state of inquiry. We must also take action and avoid paralysis. After spending time regrouping, it’s now time to venture out, even in the face of uncertainty. The goal is to maintain curiosity but keep moving forward.”

What do you think is the general mood facing the homegrown fashion industry in 2024?

“Liberating? Across creative industries even. People are curious now. They start seeking. When they want to know something, they look it up on the internet. It’s easier for people to find answers. For the longest time, I think people were holding back, choosing stability and security over pursuing things they wanted to do. But now we see a lot of friends leaving their 9-to-5 jobs to do something they always wanted to do. Even if it doesn’t make the same money. It’s an off-route kind of journey, for sure. I think for us too – we used to walk the path trying not to step in the mud [of imperfection]. But now I think it’s about finding comfort swimming in it.” 

The answers have been edited for clarity and brevity