Pandemic shake-up

Presenting live from Singapore to San Francisco

CIRCE HENESTROSA, 43, HEAD OF SCHOOL OF FASHION AT LASALLE COLLEGE OF THE ARTS

On how the circuit breaker has disrupted work, and overcoming the challenges

“I think we all have been working very hard in our different industries, Zooming and communicating in this new virtual space. In the case of the education sector, while no extreme changes were made to teaching and learning as the Covid-19 restrictions were imposed only almost at the end of the academic year, our team had to work very hard to get through it.

While Zoom is great, it is not the same as interacting face-to-face. We want our students to feel supported, as they do when they see us in person, so I felt we all managed to come together as a team to make their academic year as smooth and productive as possible. The students have created truly great projects and everyone can visit our School of Fashion graduate show to see their works at Laselle’s website.

My independent work as a curator has not been affected too much as I always work remotely with different partners from Singapore.

For example, we finished installing my Frida Kahlo exhibition at the de Young Museum in San Francisco on March 13 and, the next day, the museum closed. I was there and everything was cancelled. We immediately just focused on coming back to Singapore. It was a strange feeling. It’s a weird time for museums and the fashion sector.”

On the lessons learnt during this season

“It is interesting because by spending a lot of time online, I feel we have also learnt many new skills we can take with us in a post-Covid-19 era. For example, I had to prepare a digital presentation for the de Young Museum’s donors and I learnt a lot from that experience.

Having to record and do a presentation while in Singapore in collaboration with my colleague based in Boston for a live event happening in San Francisco – that was a great team effort.

I have also reflected a lot on how fragile we are as humans. I have learnt to value smaller things like having a conversation over the telephone with a close friend or being able to see so much nature in Singapore.

We had two sets of birds building their nests and hatching their eggs on our balcony during Covid-19. That was priceless for me. Seeing the possibility of life in the middle of this pandemic was very special.”

On post-circuit-breaker plans

“We are launching our Lasalle Graduate Fashion Show next Thursday. We have prepared a great digital version of the show, and I look forward to sharing it with the people in Singapore and the rest of the world.”

Adapting and growing the business


Multi-label concept store Manifesto is known for its in-store experiences like parties and relaxation classes, so its French founder Walid Zaazaa says he needs to rethink how to engage customers in other ways. PHOTO: WALID ZAAZAA

WALID ZAAZAA, 41, FASHION DESIGNER AND FOUNDER OF MULTI-LABEL CONCEPT STORE MANIFESTO

On how the circuit breaker has disrupted work, and overcoming the challenges

“Like most retailers in Singapore, we had to close our concept store in Mandarin Gallery temporarily during the circuit breaker. Our in-store operations were completely stopped, but it was understandable – safety comes first. We managed to continue our online operations and fulfil our orders coming in every day at Manifesto Shop’s website. To be able to do that, we had to use our logistic base in Hong Kong – adaptation was the key here.

We managed to minimise our losses and even grow our online presence.”

On the lessons learnt during this season

“I decided I wanted to use this opportunity to rethink our business and the way we do things. We had team conference calls almost every week and we started a process to think, plan and prepare for the future.

We are still in the midst of this process and we have yet to draw our final conclusions on how we are going to evolve, but I definitely see this challenging time as an opportunity to improve our standard and to draw new objectives.

What we want to work on right now is to get closer to our customers and to understand them better. We have a very loyal customer base, people who really understand who we are and what we do and we want to make this relationship even more exclusive.

We will also focus on our online presence and improve our visibility on the Internet.

If there is one thing we learnt from what happened these past few months, it is that e-commerce will have a bigger share of the cake and we want to be completely ready for this. We are small, therefore we can adapt quickly.”

On new practices adopted

“Before the Covid-19 situation, for the past few years, we were quite known for our parties and in-store experiences, tattoo studio and relaxation classes.

Now, we need to go back to the whiteboard and be creative, to think about how to engage in non-traditional ways with customers. Social media will probably play an important part in this.”

Learning to tune in to the quiet


The circuit breaker allowed singer-songwriter Weish to rediscover her love of cooking, reading, writing and tinkering on the piano. PHOTO: WEISH

WEISH, 30, SINGER-SONGWRITER AND ONE HALF OF ELECTRONIC BAND .GIF

On how the circuit breaker has disrupted work, and overcoming the challenges

“Well, most of my income has relied on live gigs, so I’d say it was a big blow. .gif launched our long-awaited LP, Hail Nothing, to a really great reception. We were planning a grand launch party, but sadly, we had to let that go. Response online has been amazing though, so we’re grateful.

Like many fellow artists, live streams, online DJ sets and other such alternative performing platforms came into the picture. I’ve also been working with the Esplanade and social workers from Singapore Girls’ Home on a very meaningful project.

More recently, I’ve had the opportunity to write and perform a devised monologue/song performance for Checkpoint Theatre, for a digital festival called Two Songs And A Story – lots of exciting storytellers on the line-up, too, and that’s coming out next month.

I’d also been doing some writing jobs on the side for the past couple of years, so I started to find more work in that area during the circuit breaker. I’m working on a series of articles and interviews about casual racism for a children’s newspaper.”

On the lessons learnt during this season

“I’ve learnt how to be at home. Life is messy, people are complicated, the world is in chaos. I’ve been trying to learn to tune in to the quiet, to be more present, to find joy in small moments. Oh, and I’ve learnt to make some legit desserts.”

On post-circuit-breaker plans “Live gigs are still not allowed, so there’s not much of a shift for me just yet. But being able to hang with friends in the flesh has been great. Meeting face-to-face with clients and collaborators is so much easier too.”

On new practices adopted

“The past few years have been so crazy hectic, I’d forgotten how much I loved to do certain things – cook, read, write, tinker on the piano. The circuit breaker has sort of forced me to rediscover these things. I’ll definitely be more conscious about making time for them.”

Seeding an exotic garden


With cancellations of weddings and celebrations affecting business at botanical design studio This Humid House (left), its founder John Lim (right) took the chance to set up his own garden to grow unusual plants for use in its new floral products. PHOTOS: JOHN LIM

JOHN LIM, 35, FOUNDER OF BOTANICAL DESIGN STUDIO THIS HUMID HOUSE

On how the circuit breaker has disrupted work

“As weddings and celebrations have been put on pause, so has the events side of our business. Our supply chain has also suffered from the global disruption of transportation networks.” On overcoming the challenges “We’ve thrown our energy into something we’ve always wanted to do: to have a garden of our own where we’d be able to grow the unusual material we want and harvest when we want. We’ve also built a robust line-up of new floral products – bouquets and arrangements – developed around this more sustainable practice.” On the lessons learnt during this season “There are so many, the biggest of which is that pause is necessary. We appreciate the perspective this time has given us as well as the impetus to do what’s always been on our hearts.”

On post-circuit-breaker plans

“We are settling into a new relationship of the discovery of what our garden is able to provide, of trial and error and seasons and micro-seasons.

We also patiently and eagerly await the resumption of events.”

On new practices adopted

“We’ve been challenged during this period to be a lot more visible on social media channels through engagements and collaborations; we’ve been pleasantly heartened by the response and we plan on running with this.”

Stitching up the business for bridal masks


When Ms Letitia Phay’s (left) dress label created a bridal mask (above) and posted it on Instagram, the response was overwhelming. PHOTOS: LETITIA PHAY

LETITIA PHAY, 35, CO-FOUNDER OF DRESS LABEL TIME TAKEN TO MAKE A DRESS

On how the circuit breaker has disrupted work

“We had appointment cancellations and existing clients’ weddings and events either postponed or cancelled pre-circuit breaker. During the circuit breaker, we couldn’t use the atelier at all and didn’t want to risk clients’ gowns being damaged or misinterpreted working from home. And we had no way of meeting new clients. We honestly weren’t sure if we could survive it.

Since we couldn’t do anything for work, we shifted our focus on our family life. My business partner Jade and I both have two boys so we spent the time homeschooling and setting up fun and creative activities for our kids.”

On the lessons learnt during this season

“We love what we do too much to give up.”

On new works during the circuit breaker

“When we were allowed to start work again during phase one, we created a bridal mask for a client who was getting married and couldn’t find something to match her dress.

We didn’t think much of it, but after we posted it on Instagram, the responses were overwhelming. We never imagined creating and selling masks but it was clear that it was very much needed and we couldn’t say no.

We are also in the midst of creating a minimal bridal line that we feel will be something our women can relate to in this climate and season of intimate weddings wherever they may be held.”

• This story first appeared in Female. For more on the next big names and ideas in fashion and the local creative scene, go to Female’s website, follow @female_singapore on Instagram and pick up the July 2020 edition, out now on newsstands.

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