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Impact 0392: Bringing new life into the fashion industry

Ashton Chua · 28 February 2022
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Eshton Chua, 27, is one of the co-founders of Syne Studio, a sustainable brand that began as a protest to generate interest in the latent potential of used clothing and fabrics, and to allow these materials to have a secondary life as appreciated items. 

Eshton has a background in multiple design industries, including fashion. Syne Studio stemmed from witnessing the vast amounts of waste from the fashion industry. Today he answers some questions about the cause that he is passionate about!

Tell us more about what you do!

Rather than adding to the existing problems that the fashion industry has been creating for years, we have ventured into being a bridge for brands to join in sustainability efforts with their damaged items and excess materials.

We began with restoring vintage Japanese kimonos to give them a second life as desirable items for the modern fashion-forward consumer. The kimonos are imported in large bales, and we sieve through all of them to see what we can salvage for restoration. We then strip the remaining kimonos that are too damaged to use as fabrics for other items or as patches to fix up the other pieces.

We have since expanded out from purely restoring kimonos into creating bespoke pieces for our clientele and developing smaller items from the fabrics we come across. This has allowed us to work with established brands like Aesop to create pouches with them, and even placemats and uniforms for a Michelin-starred restaurant, Cloudstreet. With that we have begun to release our own range of tote bags, hats and pouches, alongside being a collaborative option for brands to venture into sustainability.

What inspired you to do this?

Both my co-founder, Ian, and I have always been exposed to the beauty of things from the past. I grew up with my dad collecting old grandfather clocks, and I was very inspired to continue that from a young age. My main involvement with salvaging objects from the past would have been vintage cameras, and as I started working in the fashion industry, the amount of waste I witnessed triggered this passion in me constantly. I wanted to be able to positively affect the industry, but I knew that it would not be something I could do from staying in my roles in the industry. 

In Singapore, we are such a fast-moving country that we often do not take note of the amounts of waste we create. “Out of sight, out of mind” as we often say here. But we have to start somewhere if we want to move to being a country that is sustainable – it is our responsibility to do our little bit to preserve it. My form of that is through creating sustainable fashion, and we do hope that we can spread this to larger brands, and inspire consumers to find their own form of this calling.

Have you faced any challenges so far? And how did you overcome them?

Starting off, we feared not having a large enough audience, and whether starting our own brand would be financially viable for us. We began the brand really lean, with just the two of us, and this has allowed us to grow very organically without financially draining ourselves. Thankfully, we even managed to move to a larger studio last November. 

Having started Syne Studios while we were both still working full-time, we ran our own brand with whatever freetime we had. Building this from the ground up, we took time to figure out our main audience, and found ways to build a stronger social media presence, leading to larger brands and social media users taking note of us. These conscious steps helped us to find a constant consumer base who love what we do and understand why we do it.

The other largest challenge would be the Singaporean stigma to vintage clothing, upcycling and creative jobs in general. We’ve often been faced with questions such as “So this is second-hand in nature, shouldn’t I be paying less for it then?”, or “You mean you do this got future meh?”. 

These things have often driven us to ensure we create things that are desirable as themselves, whether the consumers are aware that they are sustainable or not. 

Ultimately, anything we create should be loved by whoever it goes to, ensuring that it will be used for a long time to come. As for the bleak way creative jobs are perceived in Singapore, having been in that industry for a couple of years, it is so important to firstly believe in what you are doing, because that will drive you to prove those who doubt you wrong.

If you could share one piece of advice with your fellow youth, what would it be?

Always know that finding 50 people who completely love what you do is way better than finding 500 people who only care a slight bit. Those 50 will give you a hundred percent of the support you need and that will lead you to a foundation not easily shaken, allowing you to remember the clear goals that you set out to achieve. The 500 will seemingly care but not be there when you truly need it. This applies to building a brand and your personal life, and it’s something I constantly remind myself at every step of my life.

What are your hopes or plans for the future? What do you want to see or perhaps do?

We hope to expand into creating more brand collaborations in the year to come, and working with more local fabrics and deadstock fabrics to have slightly smaller batch production items that are created consciously. 

At the same time, we have been working on setting up workshops to allow more Singaporeans to have their own experience with upcycling and sustainability. This would preferably lead us to build a larger community, creating a framework to allow for exchanging of ideas and to support those with a similar passion as us!

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