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Brand to Know: A Singaporean Clothing Label Inspired by Yin and Yang

By Guan Tan

 
Felicia Yap
 

The fashion industry, at a glance, is a rapid river. It rides with great momentum, unceasingly. It is difficult to find rest. Every piece of clothing and fashion magazine is produced with new fabrics and ideas. Once these products hit the retail stores, their creators observe closely as sales figures swell. To the Chinese-German Lisa Crosswhite, founder of local clothing label Lisa Von Tang, the fashion industry is very much a Yang place to be. "I think our world has been built on Yang. I mean, most capitalist societies are built on Yang. It's very linear. You have to go and achieve, and progress." 

By Yang, she is referring to the ancient Chinese philosophy of Yin and Yang. The concept dates back to 200 BC, and refers to the existence of two opposite and interdependent forces that govern the universe and all other matters of human life. "Yin is negative, dark, and feminine. Yang is positive, bright and masculine. Their interaction is thought to maintain the harmony of the universe and to influence everything within it," author Robin Wang penned in his book on Yin and Yang in 2012. 

Felicia YapLisa Crosswhite and team's workspace in the Lisa Von Tang store in The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands.
Lisa Crosswhite and team's workspace in the Lisa Von Tang store in The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands.

When extended to fashion, "Yang is structure, direction, and taking initiative. Yin is basking in inspiration, being open, and being in the moment. I feel like Yin is the magic side for me, and Yang is getting things done." 

With her one-year-old label, Lisa Von Tang, Crosswhite wanted to strike a balance. A brand that forces itself to progress may not be progressing in the right direction. "I feel that if something is too much like that, you lose the juiciness of connecting with the universe, with people. And you can't create from a good place unless you're connected to [Yin]." 

She sums up her clothes in a phrase, "east meets west". Crosswhite wanted to hark back to her heritage — she was born to a Chinese mother and a German father. Her collections are largely inspired by the literature that she is reading. And for now, Crosswhite is reading about matriarchy and goddess worship — an anti-thesis to the patriarchal societies and religions that govern cities today. "A lot of my research is into pre-patriarchal societies and things that were more sustainable — communities and governments that were smaller an there's more accountability. It interests me because development wasn't so linear but circular."

Felicia Yap
 

She then embarks on fabric sourcing. "I work in a very Yin way. I just go and see what attracts me. "Oh, that's nice," and I will just grab it. Even if I don't have an idea for it yet, I will go and buy what attracts me." Crosswhite explains herself, that she keeps this fabric sourcing process as sustainable as possible. "When I think of Yin, I also think of it as a circle. I think of sustainability because it is about continuity and connection. In terms of what I do, I try to use only leftover fabrics. So basically nothing that we've produced comes from its own fabric order." She gestures to a jacket hanging before her, "There will be someone else who made an order for that silver fabric from Japan, and there's a little bit left. So I take a little bit, and that for me is enough to make 20 jackets."

Felicia YapOn the right-most corner of the rack, a silver jacket made of leftover silver fabrics from Japan.
On the right-most corner of the rack, a silver jacket made of leftover silver fabrics from Japan.

While Crosswhite executes her inspiration and fabric sourcing processes in a Yin manner, the design and manufacturing processes make up the Yang end of the equilibrium. "And then I have to package it up and make sure that it makes sense in a merchandising way." For instance, with her upcoming collection inspired by the Hindu goddess, Durga, Crosswhite has an Indian sari-inspired blouse. "There is a merchandising aspect. We don't have a lot of tops. I wanted to do more lightweight sweaters in solid colours. It's a mix of what I need to sell from and what suits the brand, and inspiration. You see, there is Yin and Yang going on. There's magic and there's practicality... I feel that if I don't let the Yin be part of [the process], the whole collection is going to fail." 

Felicia YapLisa Crosswhite, founder of local clothing label, Lisa Von Tang.
Lisa Crosswhite, founder of local clothing label, Lisa Von Tang.
Felicia Yap
 

The Durga collection will be unveiled on the 12 June in a runway show. And the brand promises that it will be immersive and experiential. In fact, even at its retail store located in the Marina Bay Sands Shoppe, the brand attempts to inject tactile experiences for their customers. Crosswhite has a set of Chinese astrology cards that guide customers to find out their Chinese elements — and discover if they are Yin or Yang by nature. "It's just fun. I like giving people experiences. I feel like in this world where everything is so online — social media and buying online — it's nice to have tactile experiences in person." 

At the end of the day, she hopes to inject a balanced perspective into this Yang-driven fashion industry, alongside a balanced footing in life for her customers. "I think a lot of people, particularly women and entrepreneurs, are very hard on themselves. You push yourself forward by the whip instead of compassion, and that is not very healthy." Crosswhite herself may have learnt to revere the Yin in life — to let go of and accept the uncontrollable emotions that surfaces so frequently. And she is hoping this philosophy will clothe the people she dresses. It may sound contradictory, but acceptance is a form of "personal power" as well.