The Heart Behind - Bare Label
THE HEART BEHIND is a series of interviews where we get to know the founders and the heart behind what they do.
We hear from the Jae and Serena, founders of Bare, a sustainable women's fashion label on a mission to "challenge the status quo and save the earth - all while looking damn good"
So how did the both of you meet? And what sparked the idea for Bare?
Serena: We met through a programme at Singapore Management University (SMU), where we were both studying at the time, but the conversation to work together only happened later. Some time after, we bumped into each other at a study area in uni. I mentioned in passing that I was working on a side fashion project and developing designs with a pattern maker. We later connected through Instagram and started chatting. I guess it’s like a modern day romance!
What started as a simple conversation about how we wanted to do things differently within the fashion scene led to a partnership. The next thing we knew, Jae and I were essentially married as business partners, and Bare was conceived.
Jae: One of the most unifying causes was our dissatisfaction with the current state of fashion. We both had our own gripes about it and were working individually to combat it. When Serena and I met, it was exceptional; not only in timing, but in the way our beliefs, style preferences, and skill sets seem to come together so nicely.
Is there any particular brand or personality that you are most influenced by? In terms of design, branding or values.
Jae: The values behind Bare are largely influenced by the concept of functionality. Stripped down to the wire, what can our clothes do for the wearer? What purpose do they serve? Everything else is gilded and superfluous. That subsequently directs our points of focus — silhouettes, stitching, finishes, and the like. The same philosophy applies to our branding. I truly believe in the idea of ‘less is more’, in the least cliched way possible! Amongst our fellow brands, I find that J. Hannah Jewelry and Lesse Official have outstanding visual identities that are simple yet strong enough to drive the point home.
Serena: I remember being really obsessed with the mission and values of byHumankind, a sustainable brand that makes personal care products. They stick very closely to their brand mission, and everything is executed so well. Till today, I would say their minimalistic aesthetics remains the gold standard for me.As for a brand personality, I think I can speak for both of us when I say that it’s Australian influencer Yan Yan Chan! Her quirky personality and impeccable style influences us greatly.
I noticed that your social media content includes architectural musings and film reviews. I’m a movie buff myself and enjoy your posts on films and movies! So, tell us what that is all about? Is there a connection between architecture, film and fashion?
Serena: Personally, I’m more about fashion, architecture and interior. I take inspiration from the architectural structure, layouts, and even the light- and shadow-play in the conceptualisation of our designs. For anyone interested, Nowness is one of the Youtube channels that have wonderful videos of architectural masterpieces. Goals indeed. As for films, you can consult Jae, I think she’s the true film addict!
Jae: I’m glad we share the same love for film! Well-designed clothing unites people and appeals to their emotions. But there are many other ways to evoke a visceral reaction, including thoughtful architecture and great films. Ninety percent of the time, we talk about hard-hitting topics like fast fashion and pollution. Sharing our favourite films is a good way for us to kick back and talk about something else with our community. We like to see it as ‘your best friend telling you about a really good movie they watched recently’! I come from a family of architecture and design enthusiasts, so I grew up with these influences. Specifically for Bare, I wanted to showcase organic architecture; structures and spaces which are balanced with, and almost designed to meld into, their natural surroundings. It’s proof that human spaces and nature can co-exist, and it’s an extension of what our brand stands for.
"Sustainability isn't just an environmental issue. It's the system at large."
The world has become so interconnected that we can’t shirk off issues in other parts of the world as ‘their’ problem anymore. Do you think fashion labels, or Bare, specifically, have a part to play in the social, environmental and political issues of our time?
Jae: For sure! Today’s brands, fashion or otherwise, don’t operate in a vacuum. Here’s where intersectionality comes into play — it’s the overlap of multiple social and political factors that create unique modes of discrimination and disadvantage. For instance, it’s crucial to recognise which communities can easily adopt environmentally-conscious lifestyles, and which ones cannot. This is usually tied to other socioeconomic factors, like systemic discrimination or poverty.
How do we then lend our voice to these people? Sustainability isn’t just an environmental issue; it involves the system at large. If we want to protect the planet, we must protect and uplift its inhabitants too.
Serena: Businesses now have to offer a lot more than a simple product or a service. They have to take on more life, be relatable and essentially become a person. I think that brings greater value and purpose. It’s also what drives us to do what we do for Bare, especially since we have always thought of ourselves as first and foremost a platform for conversation. Our passion in creating beautiful garments then becomes an aid to supplement this and engage with people.
Tell us what was the process in sourcing for suppliers, materials etc. Did you have specific requirements ?
Jae: Off the bat, we knew we wanted every step of our production process to be as sustainable as possible. Everything from fabric to packaging had to be purposefully selected in line with our bigger mission. This then helped us to narrow our scope down, approach the relevant people and have the right conversations.
Serena: I started out literally knocking on the doors of different suppliers and production companies. We then went through a long process of referrals, evaluating suppliers, studying fabric choices, and doing site visits before finally deciding who to work with. We’re extremely blessed to have met many capable people that contributed to Bare. I have visited our production team more times than I can remember — it has become my second home! And in a true familial sense, they are always imparting technical knowledge and advice to guide us through this journey.
What have been the high and low points of starting this label? Did you face any resistance or setbacks?
Serena: Since the inception of Bare, the odds were very much stacked against us. As two students from SMU, we weren’t equipped with the technical skills needed in this field. Furthermore, the fashion industry is known to be highly exclusive, saturated, and dominated by big players. This meant it was already extremely hard for us to break into the market. Factor in having to learn about clothing design at the same time, and you can see how big of a hurdle we had to overcome. On a personal level, some of our friends and family had similar doubts about our venture. Ultimately, Bare was founded out of the passion for a greater cause; Jae and I found ourselves coming back to this idea again and again, relentlessly wanting to make it work. Any self doubt we had was cast aside and we took the leap of faith. I have no regrets about it at all! With every package we wrap, and with every name we write on the parcel, the sense of satisfaction only grows.
Jae: I think a lot of entrepreneurs can resonate with the fact that, with running a business, it's a never-ending battle of sorts. It’s less of a binary “highs and lows” and more of a rocky road with vastly different obstacles that manifest in various — and sometimes unexpected — ways. Sometimes, it’s the way a clothing sample doesn't turn out the way we envision it to. Other days, we might face an unresponsive supplier or vendor. As with most businesses, we’ve recently had to reevaluate our strategy in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s certainly trying, but along the way Serena and I have learnt to pick ourselves up by the bootstraps and continue trudging on!
What do you hope to see in the fashion industry?
Serena: I believe that change is coming and more people are seeing that. That in itself gives us great comfort! Still, more has to be done, and will be done, eventually. For us, the key is to consume mindfully and rethink the way fashion is widely viewed as disposable and temporal. More importantly, it’s about adopting a more long term perspective with our purchase decisions.
Jae: I also look forward to seeing more mainstream brands step up to the plate in their sustainability practices. Regrettably, greenwashing is pretty prevalent these days, and brands that operate in a truly sustainable manner are few and far between. Smaller, independent labels like ours are still the primary drivers of change. As time goes by, I hope the big names can leverage their platform to normalise the concept of sustainability, further propelling it into a standard practice that is also highly accessible by the mass market.
What do you think consumers need to know about sustainability?
Jae: A little goes a long way. With sustainability peppering our daily conversations and slowly emerging on social media, it’s not unusual to feel overwhelmed. You don’t have to immediately switch to a carbon neutral or zero-waste lifestyle! Our advice is to start making small changes to your daily habits, and slowly work your way up. Sustainability is a long journey and it’s better to do it imperfectly than to not do it at all.
Serena: We’re all about starting the conversation and providing a platform for people to learn. To anyone out there who hasn’t started their sustainability journey for fear of not knowing enough, or doing it wrong, don’t be afraid to try. It is about the steps you take and the mindfulness in the decisions you make. It’s never too late to start!