GIN LEE & TAMIR NIV
Ginlee Studio Pte Ltd
2011 (IL), 2016 (SG)
Gin Lee & Tamir Niv
Birthdate of Founders
1978 (Gin) & 1982 (Tamir)
BA FASHION DESIGN
MA INDUSTRIAL DESIGN
Team Size (Jerusalem)
Office (2015 -2020)
Team Size (Israel)
Office (2016 - Present)
NATIONAL DESIGN CENTRE, SINGAPORE
Team Size (Singapore)
Gin graduates from Central Saint Martins with a Bachelors in Womenswear design.
Gin and Tamir meet in China.
Gin and Tamir move to Israel.
Ginlee Studio is founded in Israel.
Ginlee Studio opens in Singapore. Wins the Emerging Designer of the Year for Fashion at the Singapore Fashion Awards.
Gin and Tamir move back to Singapore. Opens retail store in Great World City. Launches project MAKE.
Slowing Things Down
By Amber Sim, 20 November 2021
So where did you two meet?
Gin: Actually we met while we were travelling. It's very West of China, Xin Jiang. Do you know? You probably know because of the cotton.
Were you travelling for work or were you on holiday?
Gin: I was staying in Shanghai at that point. I was on my term break and Tamir was kind of on his gap year, so both of us were travelling.
Where did you both study in university?
Gin: Well I went to Saint Martins (Central Saint Martins) and Tamir was studying at Bezalel which is a university in Israel.
And Tamir you are from Israel right?
Did you always have plans to start your own fashion brand?
Gin: It came about actually on my move to Israel. I moved to Israel in 2010. At that point, I had a decade of experience and I felt like it was a good time to start. And it was a bit perhaps out of necessity as well, because in every new location I found I had a problem with staying within design, because you don't know the local market. That is the thing about design, is that if you don't know the local market it is hard to settle in. So eventually we decided, maybe this is the time to start our own business, because as long as we are together we always have that problem of, 'Where is home?' We wanted something that connects our homes so we don’t have to start from ground zero again and again.
That is the thing about design, is that if you don't know the local market it is hard to settle in.
Where were you working before starting the brand together?
Gin: So basically I was working in London. I was with Karen Millen at that point and then I moved to Shanghai; I was teaching at LaSalle. I moved on to Li & Fung, Shanghai; I was working as a design manager for two years, three years, before I moved to Israel. So yeah, basically it was when I moved to Israel that we started the label.
Tamir: And I was working as a freelance photographer and kind of a graphic designer in a toy company in Shanghai, and then I went to study. So we moved to Israel because I wanted to go to school to study.
And Tamir what were you studying?
Tamir: Industrial design.
Was it quite different going into fashion after that?
Tamir: It wasn't different or strange because Gin started the business during my studies, so it wasn't anything new or unique. I just went into the family business after that. So it was quite natural.
So you actually started the brand in Israel; why did you decide to come back to Singapore and establish it here?
Gin: The brand actually came back in 2016 before we did. We started the brand initially in 2011, it moved back to Singapore in 2016, and we moved back to Singapore in 2020. But it was alright because my sister was helping me at that time, she was managing the brand here, so it allowed us to be away at that point.
Tamir: I think it was kind of a natural move for us because we had the brand, we had grown the brand in Israel, and we came for a visit and we saw boutiques here and thought maybe we can try. We tried very small and thought it was working quite alright. I think her sister was doing freelance before, just helping us to send stock and all that. And we grew and became more like a company.
So where did you source your materials and manufacture your products at that time?
Gin: In the very beginning, it was out from Israel. So that was the challenge because I didn't speak Hebrew then and the seamstress I was working with was Russian. She could speak Hebrew but she couldn't speak English, and I can't speak Russian and I can't speak Hebrew, so our communication was just through samples. We usually just threw out one sample to show her. I mean my only criterion was that she had to sew better than me. My sewing is okay, it's not excellent, but she had to do better than me. So that's how we kind of started. I have experience with production in China; so eventually after two seasons we decided enough, it's not going to work out like that because first of all it (Israel) is not really a production country as such, so it’s very hard to maintain a certain level of quality and consistency. So we decided to go back to Shanghai where we used to live; I lived in Shanghai for on and off about nine years, and then after that, we came back—we kept coming back for production. We’re still doing that today, our home base is still in Shanghai.
She could speak Hebrew but she couldn't speak English, and I can't speak Russian and I can't speak Hebrew, so our communication was just through samples. We usually just threw out one sample to show her. I mean my only criterion was that she had to sew better than me.
But you’ve kind of already moved your whole business to Singapore right?
Gin: We still have an online store and we still have a customer base. Right now we are in conversation about some wholesaling with Israeli retailers. There are still people who know us I think more because of the pandemic. We were actually going to maintain the studio there but it just didn’t’ feel like it was possible for us to help with anything at all because we just couldn’t go. So we decided to sit back for a bit and see what was happening, and consolidated to only online.
We had to think as fast as we could, and at the same time try not to lose our souls.
What were some of the biggest worries you had at the beginning when you first started your business?
Gin: Oh there is a lot. Like anyone, any entrepreneur first starting out, your worries are from cash flow to stability to production issues to...you know, you name it and there is something to worry about. I think at that point it was more for us to gain confidence in what we were doing, because obviously I was designing for the Israeli market which I had no clue about; I just had to learn very quickly. I learnt by just watching the women, listening to feedback, looking to do a bit of competitive research—like who is doing what and how much are the prices. I had to figure out quite quickly every product that we put out there, how people responded to it—did people like it, did people not like it, did I hit the right notes—really learning on the spot. We had to think as fast as we could, and at the same time try not to lose our souls.
Like any entrepreneur first starting out, your worries are from cash flow to stability to production issues to...you know, you name it and there is something to worry about.
And then coming back to Singapore did you find that your products appealed to the Singapore market as well?
Gin: We didn’t have to change too much actually.
Tamir: Only sizing.
Gin: Sizing, yeah. I would say we had to size down. The Israeli women have much more curves than the Asian women, and that was the body shape I was designing to. So in a way, people knew us for more loose fitting shapes that are a bit more forgiving, which kind of appealed to perhaps slightly older women. In that way there was also a bit of space because we weren’t targeting young adults or 20 somethings.
Tamir: I think in Israel usually the crowd is a bit more mature, like 30 plus, but now it is younger.
So in a way, people knew us for more loose fitting shapes that are a bit more forgiving, which kind of appealed to perhaps slightly older women. In that way there was also a bit of space because we weren’t targeting the 20-somethings.
So you just started out as an online shop, is that right?
Gin: We started out as a consignment brand actually, so we were selling in a physical shop but through partners. That’s how we started, as a consignment brand.
Do both of you have separate roles when it comes to running the business or do you both have a part to play in different areas?
Tamir: Yeah definitely. She is more in designing the clothes, of finance…now we are doing a lot of things actually. Laughs. I’m more in the marketing side and online, and I’m also a part of the design but not so much in the decision making.
And has that worked for you guys throughout the business? Because I know partnerships can have their problems.
Gin: We had a long time to work it through. It’s never easy I think for any partnership. It’s a lot of compromising as well as coming to an agreement on what we’re going to do and all that. So we had a lot of practice, and I think for that we are doing well in terms of achieving some kind of mutual understanding.
Tamir: I don’t think we ever saw it as a partnership, I would say it’s more like a family business, so each one of us just puts everything in.
Gin: I do think it is a bit of a partnership because where I’m weak, he’s strong. We have different strengths and weaknesses.
Tamir: But she’s very strong.
I don’t think we ever saw it as a partnership, I would say it’s more like a family business, so each one of us just puts everything in.
She wears the pants?
Gin: No, he wears the skirt. Laughs.
How big is your team now?
Gin: Now we are about 12 people including ourselves.
So when you first started it was just the two of you?
Gin: Kind of, yeah.
Tamir: When she first started she was one of her, and then I joined in, and then three, four, five…
When she first started she was one of her, and then I joined in, and then three, four, five…
Now do you think most customers would hear about your company through social media?
Gin: I would say through social media, through...because we also have a physical space,
Tamir: Physical, yea. I think a lot are coming through the physical store. Obviously, we are working on the social media as well, but people know us from physical, from social, from press…
I’m curious, on your Instagram what was the inspiration behind using dance to show off your products?
Gin: When we first started in Israel, the Israeli customers saw our stuff as quite elegant for the market. So because of that, we tended to be worn for events, when people go to weddings in dresses. In Israel the weddings are not like in Singapore where everything is so formal. People go and literally take off their heels; there’s a dance floor in the middle so people will start dancing. And it’s not jazz or anything, it’s literally proper dancing, so they’re moving. So one of the things we tended to do at that point was to test the clothes and see if they can be danced in. Because we worked with a lot of silk at that time—the seam slippage is quite weak compared to polyester or something like that—we had to check to see that there was enough room, and that’s how it became part of the DNA, to have flowy shapes that are not restrictive on the body.
In Israel the weddings are not like in Singapore where everything is so formal. People go and literally take off their heels; there’s a dance floor in the middle so people will start dancing. And it’s not jazz or anything, it’s literally proper dancing...
When you first started did you always have a creative vision of the look you were going for? What were some of your first designs?
Gin: I think when we first started It wasn’t because—like I said I had to learn quite quickly about what the Israeli women want. Before that I was working mainly for the European market. My client at that point was the Inditex group, your Zara and all that, so it was very trend-based. It was very much about keeping the right product and having the right offering. So it’s a bit different. The first collection was a little bit like that and I realised that there wasn’t a reason to buy from me because you already had those high street retailers. And also, what is it that I have to offer that I can say, okay I’m proud enough of the design that people would want to buy from me. So there was a lot to learn at one go. It took us a while I would say, like four or five years, before we could say okay, that is a bit more in line now with what we believe we want to do, what people want to buy from us. So it took us a while just from learning about the new market, that was a bit of a challenge for me.
The first collection was a little bit trend-based and I realised that there wasn’t a reason to buy from me because you already had those high street retailers. And also, what is it that I have to offer that I can say, okay I’m proud enough of the design that people would want to buy from me.
Was that the time you conceived of your signature pleats design?
Gin: More or less, like around that period. I think 2015, 2016, 2017 was a bit more transformative, but before that I could just say that it was more my learning, about me as a designer, how I run a business and all that.
Tamir: I think that we are always exploring new technologies and new things in the designs, so every season we try something else. You know, laser cutting, embroidery… Actually at one point we were known for doing embroidery on clothes; back in Israel we had different embroidery designs. I think at some point we did the pleats out of curiosity, we had a small collection and it was very very successful over in Israel. And yeah, we just kept on doing that.
Gin: It was always about fabric manipulation, playing with fabric. I love that transformation from 2D to 3D, so we were always playing with it to see how you could make it yours. So when people say, ‘I really like your fabric,’ referring to the pleated fabric, we explain to them that we made this fabric, we designed the pleats on it, we designed the way it flows with the dress.
It was always about fabric manipulation, playing with fabric. I love that transformation from 2D to 3D, so we were always playing with it to see how you could make it yours.
Can you tell me a bit about how exactly you make it, the process and the technique?
Gin: Usually we start with a swatch of a certain pleat that we like, then drape it around the mannequin and see; maybe I want that to flow from here to there. Then you design the shape, and then that transfers to the pattern and back to the pleats.
Tamir: But it’s not like you forgot the sketch. Usually, it starts with the sketch. I think she is very traditional in the way that she designs. She has the sketches, the fashion sketches she is doing. Maybe it’s not so glamorous as they always show, but they are nice drawings and fast sketches that she is doing. And the silhouette fits the pleat design on the silhouette which she draws. Then we start testing because pleats are a bit more tricky, there is a lot with the weight and how it shrinks, especially when you do diagonal pleats like we have for the IVY Dress; all the dynamics of the dress are changing. Because it kind of goes to the front, we need to shorten the front and lengthen the back and do a lot of adjusting along the way.
Gin: It is kind of like going back and forth between the drawing board and the prototype; the technique, the shapes, just keep going round.
Tamir: Most of the design is actually mould treated. You have mould pleats and you have machine pleats. You have fabric that is pleated and you sew it into something, and you have garments that you sew and then you pleat, so we sew the dresses, the tops, and then we put it together. So we always work with the shape of the pattern.
I think she is very traditional in the way that she designs. She has the sketches, the fashion sketches she is doing. Maybe it’s not so glamorous as they always show, but they are nice drawings and fast sketches that she is doing.
So most of the time does the end product evolve a lot from the original sketch?
Gin: Yes. A lot. Once we prototype, then we see, then we amend, then we change. So the end result might look very very simple. Like the MAKE Bag for example is kind of rectangular, but we went through quite a lot of prototypes just to get to that simplicity.
Are there any other materials or different textures that you are experimenting with or you want to work more with in the future?
Gin: I think pleats itself needs to be on a syntactic base. So right now we are trying to find more recyclable poly (polyester) for those pleats. It’s also balancing the weight and the quality, because for the garment you don’t want it too stiff; it needs to have the right handle and at the same time be stiff enough to hold the pleats. So there is always the exploration of the raw materials, trying to make a bit more of a sustainable choice, as well as finding what we need in terms of the look of it. In the collection, we tend to think about user; what she is using it for. For example, if it’s for something you want a bit more comfort in, we will choose a natural fibre, a natural base, so maybe 100% cotton so that it keeps its shape. So it’s really thinking more about what she uses it for.
Both of you have had a lot of experience travelling and working overseas. Is there anything from those experiences that influenced your designs now?
Gin: I think so, yeah. There is always those cultural references. We like local. We like local stuff. We always try to see how we can bring that in in a way that is not—
Tamir: Not so much straightforward, but more like elements, design elements.
Gin: Like for the recent shop that we opened at Great World City, it has this courtyard area. We were trying to bring that Tel Avivian light into that space. It’s a bit hard to explain, but one of the briefs to the ID (interior designer) was that we wanted to make it look like it is outdoors in the shop, so people might go like, ‘that’s the way out’, but actually no, they just walked into our shop. Those are more of a reference of where we came from. I think also even the vibe. The Israeli are very very casual people. You go to restaurants and the waiter doesn’t just take your order. The waiter will sit next to you and say to you, ‘what do you want?’ And sometimes we try to bring that in a bit to the culture. I think also it influenced - it definitely had a lot of influence on the design as I mentioned about the women that I designed for in the first place; I always have that in the back of my mind.
What are some of your favourite brands or designers?
Gin: I have a few. I remember at one point I was doing a study, like research—it might be a bit old now—but about, ‘can fashion do without it’s hype?’ I mean that sounds weird, but at that point, it was about doing the clothes, not that marketing side of things. So I would say the references might be a bit in that era, but I just really like when your craft stands for something rather than the whole marketing around it. I think this is what fashion is to me, it’s the design of it rather than the lifestyle.
I just really like when your craft stands for something rather than the whole marketing around it. I think this is what fashion is to me, it’s the design of it rather than the lifestyle.
Over the whole COVID period I'm sure there were a lot of challenges you had to overcome. How did you deal with that?
Gin: When we first went into lockdown we actually signed for the new shop. It was the same day that they announced it and we kind of had to sign for it.
Tamir: Yeah, we kind of knew it was coming, but we said okay, things are going to be different, and we want to be there with something else when we come out of it. In a way, we felt the urgency but we said if we stay where we are, and we don't take a brave step forward, we're probably not going to be there when it all ends. You know, we are a bit like that, sometimes we just make decisions a bit more from the heart.
Gin: The reason we decided to sign for that shop was because we really wanted to house this project called MAKE IN SHOP, MAKE. We wanted that space because we really wanted to make this project live; it's all about doing it on the spot, doing it when the customer wants it and changing that relationship between the consumer or the customer and the product by showing them how things are being made, but in a smart way because we didn't want to show that we are a tailor shop, so people come in and we make to measure—we didn't want that. So we redesigned the whole way production is being done and built things in more modules, so when people want it we can put it together. And pleats have a way of changing the way things look quite dramatically because they can change shapes; if I pleat it horizontally and vertically it looks like a square rectangle. So we played a lot with that and we really wanted to make it a reality, I think that's why we decided to sign for it.
So answering the question of how did we cope with it, it was actually in some ways very good because it helped to speed up a lot of things for us. It raised a lot of awareness for sustainability issues, like just talking about experiential retail rather than just having a coffee place in your retail shop. I think the reason we went for all this is because we believe this is the future, and I think COVID helped to speed things up. Nevertheless, it was still a challenging time because the shop was closed, and there wasn’t a need for people to buy things; even now dragging on for two years already people are tired, and you feel it in the consumer. People are tired. So the challenges are there, we keep thinking about what's the route ahead? What do we do? What’s ahead for us? Because to sell more things, it's like, okay, what do we want to achieve? It's amazing that it changed so much over the last two years in the fashion industry, but we believe there's a better way of doing business and that's what we're pushing for. So that really kept us going.
The reason we decided to sign for that shop was because we really wanted to house this project called MAKE IN SHOP, MAKE. It's all about doing it on the spot, doing it when the customer wants it and changing that relationship between the consumer or the customer and the product by showing them how things are being made, but in a smart way because we didn't want to show that we are a tailor shop...
While a lot of businesses are moving online and realising they don't need a physical store, do you think when it comes to clothing there is still that necessity to see the products in person?
Gin: We had an online store before COVID struck. And I will say during the last two years, obviously the online growth was very good compared to pre-COVID days. So for us, it was good because it really helped people to adjust to buying online for things that you can’t try on, and I think having the right return policy or exchange policy gives them the confidence. But I will say, at the end of the day people still will want that tactile experience where you can touch, you can feel, you can try on.
Tamir: Yeah, I don’t know. I think that it’s not so much about trying the clothes anymore, I feel that—obviously if you’re in the neighbourhood it's easy to go, but people are looking now more far and wide. They're much more willing to try even if it's not a local brand. They will order it, it will come to their house, they will try, if it doesn't work, they will return it. I think people are more and more adapted to that idea; for us, it’s more like giving the option, but also creating a place where it's worth coming down to because of what you do there. It's not just a clothing shop.
Gin: For MAKE, that project that we house in the new shop, we also give the experience part, so people can come and experience it. They can do it by themselves, we guide them through it. So I think that's what's drawing people to that physical experience still. Yeah, but I would say both. It definitely grew online but at the same time we do see people, perhaps with the restrictions and isolation, people actually yearn for more connection with humans.
Tamir: If you talk about the percentage of online to offline, retail is generating much more revenue still when compared to online. It's definitely growing, and it will keep growing.
For us, it’s more like giving the option, but also creating a place where it's worth coming down to because of what you do there. It's not just a clothing shop.
How did you come up with the idea for MAKE?
Tamir: I think at some point we were starting to have a problem with the fashion industry in the way it operates. We were working with a lot of shops in Singapore and Israel, we produced a lot; sometimes you have styles that don't work, and you start seeing boxes in your warehouse. We felt like something is not good in the way that we're doing things, we need to try to make the demand and the production closer to each other. And obviously, there were pre-order ideas before but we imagined if you could actually do it on demand on the spot, so you can actually fulfil something from a base from let's say - initially, it was like, take a top and resize it to the customer’s size with pleating.
So we kind of started developing a few different initiatives. The first one was actually this initiative called GOOD. Basically, we produce much less than we used to before. Let's say we produce 30% of what we used to, and then we asked the customer a very simple question, ‘Can you wait?’ If the customer can wait three to five weeks, they get the end of season discount. And we can also provide it to those who need the dress for tonight. The benefit on our side is that we can actually plan our manufacturing better. We understand the demand, we collect the data, and then we produce accordingly. So it doesn't matter if eventually we give the same piece to the customer or not, we know that eventually at the end of the season, we don't have so much waste.
We were working with a lot of shops in Singapore and Israel, we produced a lot; sometimes you have styles that don't work, and you start seeing boxes in your warehouse. We felt like something is not good in the way that we're doing things, we need to try to make the demand and the production closer to each other.
What was the customer response like when you introduced both these services?
Tamir: The customer response was great. I didn't mention MAKE, so MAKE is kind of an extension. You take a base and you can make from one base a lot of variants, so a lot of different products, different colours, different combinations.
Gin: For GOOD there’s a wait time of three to five weeks, so we thought it'd be great if we can reduce that to cover a grocery shopping trip or you know, just to see what we can do. So that was the thinking process at that time, how do we solve this issue of overproduction and changing customer expectations of retail? And how do we combine it with what we have, so it’s our solution? What are we known for? What can we do about that? So we started with GOOD, then MAKE.
Tamir: It’s really like customers get it very quickly. So at first, well, the first customers were like, ‘Why do I need to wait if you have it here? Why don't you just give me the discount now?’ But very, very fast, people learnt about the initiative and the way we think. And now over the circuit breaker when we launched GOOD, almost all the orders were through GOOD, and now I think about 85% of those styles are through GOOD. So people are willing to wait, and you can see that customers come back and they know already, so they will plan in advance. So it's quite good for us, for everyone, I think.
Yeah. And I guess it's good because they have to think harder about whether they really want something. I feel like with online shopping, it's so easy to just see something and buy it without really thinking twice.
Tamir: Yeah, in a way it kind of eliminates the impulse buy.
Gin, you have experience working with Zara and these bigger fashion labels. With these huge fast fashion brands, how do you think they can take on a more sustainable approach? Do you think models like GOOD and MAKE can be brought to a larger scale?
Gin: I do think to a certain extent. One of the problems I felt is that when you say grow, it’s always a numeric growth, and that is the fundamental problem; in order for you to have a numeric growth, you have to sell more. So I think as a company we should be asking how growth can be not just on the P&L (profit and loss), and what does it mean? For us as designers, we probably get satisfaction from doing things that are more interesting or more challenging. So to answer the question, if all these big companies can be more sustainable, yeah, I think in fact they can, and it makes much more of a difference when they are sustainable than when I'm sustainable because of just the sheer volume that they create, and the amount of waste that comes from impulse buying.
Tamir: I think that what we are talking about in MAKE is actually localizing production. So we localize production by making it modern and smart, and there's no reason why fashion in this day and age should stay using cheap labour, sewing on sewing machines…You have so many ways to cut fabric, to sew fabric, to plan things very very fast. You can definitely become local, more sustainable, and fast.
As a company we should be asking how growth can be not just on the P&L, and what does it mean? For us as designers, we probably get satisfaction from doing things that are more interesting or more challenging.
And do you think the responsibility to create a more sustainable industry is 50/50 with the consumer and the company?
Gin: I think so, yeah. I think there’s a lot of awareness now. I don't think that we are very sustainable, I think it’s just really, really good that people are aware; that's the good thing. There’s the talk about the industry just greenwashing and all that, but nevertheless, people are more aware than they were two years ago. So I think it's both; when there is demand there is supply. So as a producer of goods, you have the responsibility to try to make as good a decision as you can.
Talking a bit about the fashion scene in Singapore; when you were growing up as a girl, what did you observe about the brands and the fashion scene at that time?
Gin: I think in Singapore we always suffer from one season. We don't have seasons, we are in a tropical climate and it's always hot. So growing up in Singapore there is always this playdown. I feel like in general there's not enough subculture, which means that there’s not enough exploration. It’s either you look like that, or you look like that. But I think it’s changing.
Tamir: Yeah, I think that when we first visited those boutiques, we discovered the local fashion and discovered that there are things going on. It’s quite nice because it's growing very, very fast. I think that the government, the people are more aware, they put a lot of effort into innovation in design, and we got a lot of support from the government for things that we do, like these initiatives that we are part of. Everyone benefits from that.
In Singapore we always suffer from one season. We don't have seasons, we are in a tropical climate and it's always hot. So growing up in Singapore there is always this playdown.
So now when you design do you keep an eye out for current trends or do you just follow your own vision in what you create?
Gin: I think a mix, because at the end of the day, I see myself as I provide the clothes you provide the body, so there's that balance where I don't feel like I dictate; I feel like I'm just digesting the information but outputting it in a way that feels like us and the brand. Obviously, the consumer who buys from us likes that, what we do. So it is an adaptation of, she likes that silhouette but in our handwriting. So I feel like it's a mix, but I don't think our consumers are so trend-driven, like ‘I must wear this because it’s that.’
Tamir: I also think that we make unique pieces. I don't want to say that we are trendsetters, but we are making special pieces that don’t look like anything else, I feel.
I see myself as I provide the clothes you provide the body, so there's that balance where I don't feel like I dictate; I feel like I'm just digesting the information but outputting it in a way that feels like us and the brand.
Do you think there is a distinctive Singaporean style?
Gin: I find that in general, Singaporeans or the local market, it always felt like there’s a lot of practicality. Every time they speak it’s like, ‘ah, I need to hand wash this.’ So there's always that practical side of things. The Israeli for example, they just always touch the fabric first; ‘ah I like the touch’, ‘I don’t like the touch.’ It’s a very tactile way of checking out things, which I find quite different from the Singaporean way of looking at things. So to me, that's quite Singaporean—very practical.
Tamir: I think that it’s becoming more and more daring as well. I think that if you look at how women dressed up to work a few years ago, it was very much like, this one you wear, this one you don’t; this looks okay, this is not okay. I think that now it’s kind of opened up. It's quite nice, I think that people are dressing nicer over here in general. Compared to Israel it’s more adventurous. And if there is a Singapore style, I don't think so. I think that if you’re asking if there is a Singapore design, I think that it is forming. It is a relatively new thing, so you must have discussions, you must have references to build it up, and I think that it is fast growing.
Gin: And I think because Singapore has a lot of influence from around Asia, from the west, it’s kind of like a melting pot of everything, like our cuisine. So I do agree with Tamir, it will take time to form so that we have a bit more of a distinctive style. But I do think rather than saying like, if that’s Singaporean or not, I think it's to look at what Singaporean brands are doing and find what's common among them. I feel like this is what’s perhaps giving us more of that Singaporean style.
Tamir: I think that this is one side of it, which is basically the design discussion that's going on. I think the second thing is what we're talking about in the product, is that design very much connected to craft, or to the manufacturing, or to the resources that are around it. So, if you talk about Italian design or Dutch design…it forms, on one hand, this design interaction and referencing; and on the other side, what is your ability, what is the local manufacturing like, what are the materials that you can get; the landscape. I think that because Singapore is not really manufacturing, and there are no specific skills, that is also the problem in that way.
Gin: Things are changing as far as I can see that more and more young people are going back to that, learning how to do things.
Is there a Singapore style, I don't think so. I think that if you’re asking if there is a Singapore design, I think that it is forming. It is a relatively new thing, so you must have discussions, you must have references to build it up, and I think that it is fast growing.
Speaking of local brands, have you done any collaborations with other local companies? Or do you have any plans to do so in the future?
Tamir: We do stuff together like you do the print and I do the dress, something like that. We do events together, we sell each other's stuff; like now we're selling Binary Style in our shop. We host them, we’ve collaborated with other brands before in terms of events.
Gin: I think that for us, we’re still looking for partners that feel like there is more balance. There’s one collaboration that we did, and we felt like one was becoming like the supplier and the other becoming the designer. We didn't understand how to work that through yet. So I do feel like it's something that we have intentions to work on for the future.
What would you say has been the most challenging part of running a fashion label in Singapore?
Gin: I guess the size. You know, your market is small, you have limits, you cannot find things easily, or raw materials. I think those are the limitations for a small nation. But I think Singapore is very well connected, so in that way, it’s about looking beyond the shore really, like with the sales channels, with the sourcing routes and all that stuff. I think besides that the climate is one of the key things I find it quite challenging; designing with one climate where you feel only the cold in the aircon.
Tamir: Actually she loves designing jackets.
Your market is small, you have limits, you cannot find things easily, or raw materials. I think those are the limitations for a small nation... besides that the climate is one of the key things I find it quite challenging; designing with one climate where you feel only the cold in the aircon.
Oh, that’s a shame. So would you have any plans to open another store overseas, somewhere with different seasons you could design for?
Gin: That's what we did in Israel, actually. Israel was quite clear. There’s spring, summer, autumn, winter. Now I come back home. And it’s just like—
Tamir: Spring summer, spring summer.
Gin: I don't think I’ve got my head around it yet. You don't feel the year has passed in a way. So that's what I miss, designing in other places that have seasons. I think that would be the key challenge for me and for most fashion designers—to understand what it means to be cold and to design to it.
You don't feel the year has passed in a way. So that's what I miss, designing in other places that have seasons.
Would you have any plans to design menswear in the future?
Gin: I’m trained as a womenswear designer, and the key asset that I have is understanding the curves of a woman. So I wouldn't say no, but I think it's just more like, having the time, having the manpower, having the team to do that. I think for now, our exploration is in how to design the process a bit better so that it will make more sense, like project MAKE or GOOD. So we’ve given a lot of time to that rather than say, ‘Oh, we just want to do more lines’ and all that. We look at how we do things.
I will say maybe, I wouldn’t say no.
I’m trained as a womenswear designer, and the key asset that I have is understanding the curves of a woman.
You were saying how you have received a lot of government support. Can you tell me more about that?
Gin: I think in general there's a lot of mentorship going on. That’s one of the most valuable things that I find in Singapore; people are willing to speak to us. I find that quite good because I started the business in Israel, and in Israel, I couldn't find people who were willing to speak to me. So I believe that's one of the influences of the government; you know, you can actually get businesses, serious businesses, to speak to you, for someone who just wants to learn how to do things. That's the biggest support that we find. And I do think with mentorship also comes a lot of expertise; people who have done it before that you can learn from. That helps greatly.
There's also like TBFI (The Bridge Fashion Incubator) for example. MAKE was brainstormed at that period of time at TBFI. So at that time, it was just a great space to think. They brought in a lot of people to speak to us ranging from the finance world to startups, just really, really inspirational. There are all kinds of government help in that way, to fund the creative industry, to make sure that companies have the right mindset or the right tools to grow.
TBFI (The Bridge Fashion Incubator) brought in a lot of people to speak to us ranging from the finance world to startups, just really, really inspirational. There are all kinds of government help to fund the creative industry, to make sure that companies have the right mindset or the right tools to grow.
Do you have any advice for the younger generation who are looking to start their own fashion companies?
Tamir: We're still young! Laughs.
Gin: I think in Singapore the key challenge is: Why do you want to do it? Laughs. I think that would be the key challenge. People are looking for security, looking to achieve certain things at certain points of their life. In that way, I would say that you’ve got to try.
Tamir: I think that COVID kind of taught us that it’s safer to be an employee. (Both laugh.)
Gin: The Asian mindset you know. My mom always says, ‘Why you do this? It’s good that you teach! It’s good that you be a manager! Why do you want to do this?’ And I find that not nice. Like I say, you've got to try! I hope for more entrepreneurs in Singapore actually, because it's important. In order for the nation to be creative, you've got to have entrepreneurs, you've got to have people who want the challenge. If everyone just stays safe and says, ‘oh, you know, that's what I'm going to do’, we will never be a creative nation; we will never be. Because it's easier just to be hired and follow because I don’t need to think about it. I would say go for it. Of course, there’s risks, but you live once, no?
I hope for more entrepreneurs in Singapore, because it's important. In order for the nation to be creative, you've got to have entrepreneurs, you've got to have people who want the challenge. If everyone just stays safe and says, ‘oh, you know, that's what I'm going to do’, we will never be a creative nation; we will never be.
Can you tell me about anything you're working on now? Like your next collection?
Gin: Honestly, one thing with COVID is that I don't know how to plan. Every time I start, I stop. Every time I say okay, is this it? Is it two more months? Like how do I drag this on? So we are working on and off. Like right now for example—
**Tamir:**We have some prints coming.
Gin: He just fills it in for me. Laughs. We are working on something for Chinese New Year, there are a couple of things that we want to put in for that. And also, to continue to develop our MAKE project. There’s still that vision of a sizeable pleat that is always just in my stash that I really want to make work. There are always too many things that I want to explore and not enough time.
There are always too many things that I want to explore and not enough time.
Lastly, is there any advice you would have given your younger selves when you first started Ginlee Studio?
Gin: I wish I had more confidence back then. It was one thing that took me a long time to gain. I wish I had more confidence just to believe in myself a bit more. I do think it’s very important to have the ability to say, ‘Okay well done. You did that. Well done.’ To appreciate what happened and not just say, it's not good enough, It's not good enough.
Tamir: The Asian complex.
Gin: I think those were the obstacles, the key obstacles that I had to get through, just to have the confidence to say, ‘Okay, well done!’ you know, ‘you managed to sell something! Someone wants to buy your things! Well done!’
Gin: I think just not to take that long in that process. Have confidence and believe in yourself, because no one would if you don’t.
Have confidence and believe in yourself, because no one would if you don’t.