The long-standing love affair between art and fashion has definitely come a long way and has helped designers create many iconic designs. As rightly put by artist Andy Warhol, “Fashion is more art than art is.” Meet Phuay Li Ying, the brainchild behind the homegrown designer label, Ying The Label, who blurred the lines between art and fashion and created a beautiful synergy through her artwork.
From banking to art and fashion, you’ve pursued your passion for building a label that has now been recognised as the game-changer in the industry. How did you discover your calling?
Art has always been a big part of my life. I’ve loved painting since I was young, and while I was studying in Australia, I enjoyed going to art exhibitions and sculpture installations. Despite working in the banking industry because of what I’ve studied — marketing and business — I still ventured into passion projects on the side that revolved around art and fashion, like jewellery.
What really makes me happy is imagining what I can do to my paintings besides just framing it up and looking pretty. I chanced upon the opportunity to turn my painting into fabric, and then into wearable clothes. There’s no going back since!
From the boardroom to the design studio, how did you juggle wearing so many hats?
I grew the label organically as a one-woman show, and eventually, a team of four over the years. The only struggle that I had was the love-hate relationship with the niche market we’re targeting.
Thankfully, my business brain sets in and I found ways to diversify by creating more corporate opportunities for the brand. For one, I got to design the uniforms for DBS Singapore to help them express their brand story while making sure that the collection is wearable by men too.
What makes your brand and designs stand out from other fast-fashion brands?
Inspired by my own emotions and daily interactions with the world, I hand paint every single print that goes onto our pieces with traditional watercolour. The whimsical charm and experimental colour combinations of our artworks are the most distinctive and recognisable characteristics of Ying The Label.
After all, the best thing about painting is that you can work with many different colours on the canvas without limits!
As a homegrown fashion label, is “local” a big influence on your design aesthetic?
When I first started, I’ve never thought of my designs from a local perspective. It was only until I produced a capsule collection for National Day 2017 when I realised what I’ve been painting is what I saw outdoors growing up in Singapore. The local flavour that inspires me the most is the greenery and flowers, like the orchids that we have. I also painted our famous torch ginger flower that my mum really loves!
Having shone in the spotlight throughout the journey, what was your most memorable story so far?
The project that gave me the biggest breakthrough was the National Day Parade 2017 capsule collection, which was my first time embarking on a full-blown local project. I took inspiration from the Vanda family of orchids, in which Singapore’s national flower Vanda ‘Miss Joaquin’ belongs to.
It pushed me to think beyond what I usually do — by building a common identity around the different art pieces that has the power to bind everyone together as a Singapore story.
Fun fact: The customised collection was worn by MP Vikram Nair and his family during NDP 2017!
What are your thoughts about lasting quality and craftsmanship that goes behind Ying The Label’s pieces?
Instead of chasing trends, we believe in creating seasonless pieces that our customers want to wear. Over the years, our silhouettes have progressed from what I personally loved to wear when I was younger, to fine-tuning them by learning what our customers truly need — classic and timeless styles that can stand the test of time and last forever in their wardrobes.
We also invest in quality digital print process and sewing to ensure that the colours, hues, and saturation of my artworks are perfectly translated onto the different types of fabric. We do put a lot of focus into every piece to create something that we can pride ourselves on.
How do you inspire the #WomenofStyleTheory through your collection in our Infinite Wardrobe?
What I want for every woman is to have the courage to be bold and try out different styles without fear. I hope my colourful art pieces will brighten up everyone’s day and give them the boost of confidence to be more adventurous!
If you had to choose one must-rent piece, which would it be?
Our Great Escape Dress. The asymmetrical cut donned with bright butterflies is a refreshing look. It’s great for the office and its relaxed silhouette is perfect for after-work hours!
What can Style Theory subscribers look forward to from Ying The Label in 2020?
We’re focusing on bringing back our best-selling hero silhouettes where customers want to see more iterations of art prints on it.
At the same time, we’re looking at how to add more elements of sustainability to Ying The Label. More often than not, we have a lot of leftover fabrics that we don’t know what to do with. With product innovation, we want to create something usable and wearable out of it. This is a mini upcycling project that we’ll be launching soon!
Rent your favourite Ying The Label pieces on the Style Theory app now!