The Heart Behind - Gypsied
THE HEART BEHIND is a series of interviews where we get to know the founders and the heart behind what they do.
We ask Aqilah, founder of Gypsied, an ethical fashion label transforming heritage textiles into conscious creations for the modern woman.
You started Gypsied 7 years ago, back in 2013. What’s the story?
This is kind of a long story! But here's the essence of it: Having worked in the retail industry for some time and picking up sewing along the way, I had a desire to create products that contained meaningful stories. This led me to question the different aspects of running a fashion and lifestyle brand from labour to material and final product. Being naturally introspective, I took to looking at my own heritage as a Malay Singaporean and quickly realised I could have that identity connect with a brand I wanted to create. Having traveled South East Asia quite a bit by then, I also had very strong convictions about art, heritage and fair trade labour. These pillars are central to Gypsied till today.
Is there any particular brand or personality that you are most influenced by? In terms of design, branding or values.
I had to take a look at my old notebooks for reference to answer this question, haha. The carefree spirit of Gypsied (as is its name) is definitely inspired by the idea of a casual and relaxed bohemian lifestyle with bits of beatnik. Though today I associate bohemian with being bourgeois, but that's a discussion for another day. Times have changed me.
Some brands I was inspired by for their values:
The now defunct ethical brand Zady, led by Maxine Bedat, People Tree and Sejauh Mata Memandang.
Some personalities I was inspired by for their style:
Maryam Nassir Zaddeh, Zadie Smith, Veruschka , and Francoise Hardy
Tell us more about your design and sourcing process. How do you go about it, from designing to finding your artisans?
Designing starts right here in my home studio. It always begins with an idea for something I have not yet seen and making it beautiful. I like to marry heritage textiles with straightforward, fuss-free designs and believe in creating signature pieces, refining them over the years.
I used to make every product in my home studio as well — good and crazy times. Learning how to sew has been one of the best things in my life! It exercised my mind creatively and to think laterally. Self-production gradually came to a stop in 2016 once I connected with tailors and craftsmen in the region to make our bags, clutches and apparel. It took some years before I established relationships with these makers.
The artisan journey has been largely the same too. I first started working with fair trade textile collectives before moving on to work with artisans directly, once I gained footing and confidence. This has had me traveling for hours on the road in Java. There are so many people I need to thank for the opportunities I've had over the years.
Starting a label and running it solo for the past 7 years is no mean feat. Did you ever wanted to give up?
Truth is, I feel like giving up every year. Running Gypsied has always been a huge challenge. When I first started and the idea of an #ethicalfashion label was still new in Singapore, it was a slow and steep climb. Many times uncomfortable too. Starting from scratch on multiple fronts with no experience, down to the decision to work with heritage textiles (that are considered primitive and traditional) — the odds always seemed stacked against me. Volume of products are small because batik is only made in 2m quantities, natural dyes are unstable and usually run in the wash, not to mention the challenges of educating the market on our work.
Times have changed today and there is a growing understanding of art, heritage and the malaise of the fashion industry but the hill generally gets steeper. What has kept us going are two things: Our curiousity for the stories embedded in each textile, and our customers who show up for the brand with each launch. They are a small and tight knit community I am grateful for.
"Sustainability is a buzz word. Connect inward with your self and outwardly with the community you are a part of or want to be a part of."
Why was it important for Gypsied to be a conscious and ethical brand?
It was important to me because I wanted to honour and understand where things come from and how they began. The process of being a conscious and ethical brand is aligned with the needs of the world today. We need a kinder, gentler and better world.
What do you hope to see in the fashion industry?
I tend not to put hope in that. What I want to see being built is a community that cares for one another, that puts in effort in the relationships with people. Not just when it is convenient and profitable. But because it is inherently human.
What do you want customers to know about sustainability and conscious consumption?
Sustainability is a buzz word. Connect inward with your self and outwardly with the community you are a part of or want to be a part of. Have awareness for issues at home and globally. Take time to think about the pertinent questions to be asked that can result in action. It can be as easy as making a more informed decision before purchasing something, or as challenging as starting a whole new movement. We need to leave a better world behind.
I remember you mentioned about wanting to explore different fabrics and prints from different parts of Asia! Is that still going to happen now that covid has exploded onto the scene? What‘s next for Gypsied?
That is so sweet of you to remember, Bertrand! Yes I am still forging ahead with that plan. Working with a collective of weavers in Cambodia, hope that works out in 2021.