We don’t know about you, but when it comes to getting dressed, we tend to gravitate back towards the basics — especially when need to get things done! The foundation of our wardrobes, good quality essentials like a simple dress or plain tees in neutral shades do the job to pull prints and colours together. That’s what entrepreneur Audris Adabella Quek realised when envisioning her ethical fashion label, Paradigm Shift. Audris launched the label for everyday women – for all the modern and modest minimalists out there. The label produces long-lasting wardrobe essentials you’ll want to wear on repeat.
What’s more, all of her designs are ethically-made with a transparent supply chain and, quirkily enough, inspired by coffee!
We chatted with the Singaporean fashion designer all about making the leap into the fashion industry, how she crowdfunded her brand and her work with Nepal-based ethical cut-and-sew Purnaa.
SJ: Hey Audris! First things first, tell us why you decided to launch a fashion business.
Audris: Before launching my label I was in the event management industry. My job gave me a sense of achievement, but never fulfilment and satisfaction. After a series of different experiences, it became clear to me that I craved more than just achievement.
Eventually, I left the industry all together in search of new beginnings. Interestingly, the last event I ran was an accelerator boot camp in San Francisco. Startups matched with industry experts and mentors for one-on-one consultations. The whole experience really opened up my eyes to the world of entrepreneurship.
It prompted me to ask myself, “If there were no limitations and you could do anything, what would it be?” Immediately my mind was taken back to a scene in the classroom when I was 14 when we had a questionnaire on the first day of school. On the last page, one question asked, “What is your dream?” My answer was, “To have my own business, design my own products and use the money to help the less fortunate.” In short, I’ve always wanted to be a business owner cum designer!
Soon after, I made the leap into the fashion industry and studied to pick up the necessary business and design skills. In November 2018, I launched my label’s first product — The Long Black — inspired by coffee!
You raised $13,000 for your brand through Kickstarter. What was that experience like?
My goodness, it was such an adventure! I had planned and prepared for Paradigm Shift and could clearly envision what it would be and how it would look, but my major hurdle was that I didn’t have any capital to kickstart the business (which was obviously vital!)
That was how I ended up looking into crowdfunding. Actually, the entire process acted as a form of market validation too. It was a reality check for myself to know if this “dream” was just in my head, or whether it was actually viable, something others felt was lacking and therefore possible to turn into reality!
Bootstrapping a business like that really takes guts! Kudos to you.
From having to lay out the foundations of what Paradigm Shift would stand for as a brand, to perfecting the cut of our first dress, to travelling to source for an ethical production partner in Nepal to finally building our launch campaign, it was crazy but rewarding. I did the best I could with the limited knowledge, resources and budget I had, and then launched it with an expectancy, praying hard it would be a successful campaign in that crucial 40-day timeline!
Thankfully it was!
Yes! But it really was a rollercoaster. The sort you scream your lungs out because it was scary, yet exhilarating at the same time. Saying that, I would totally do it again.
Your debut dress, The Long Black, was made in 7 different sizes, from XS to 3XL (UK 4 to 18). Why was size inclusiveness so important to you?
Acceptance and community are big values in my personal life, so naturally, I wanted the brand to reflect that as well. I have many beautiful friends whose self-esteem has been damaged by unhealthy and unattainable portrayals of women in the media — only a few people have the body of a runway model.
Amen to that!
And at the end of the day, I set out to make clothes for the everyday person. I want women to know that they are beautiful just the way they are. It’s great to see the rising inclusiveness of the fashion industry in the West, but I feel it’s still lacking here in Singapore.
Audris working on the cut of The Long Black Dress in Nepal at Purnaa
There’s a number of fast-fashion brands producing minimalist designs. How have you set The Long Black apart from cheaper alternatives?
Despite that being the case, it’s rare to find quality and affordability in cheap high-street brands or blogshops. That’s where Paradigm Shift comes in.
We design intentionally for functionality and empowerment. Our designs go beyond the silhouette. The cotton fabric we use is of beautiful quality. Each piece produced gave six women in Nepal one hundred days of work.
Yes, your products are made at Nepal cooperative Purnaa. Why was ethical manufacturing important to you?
It’s crucial that our makers are treated with respect and dignity. We personally visited Purnaa before working with the organisation to check workspace conditions, down to the air-ventilation and sufficient lighting. I didn’t want to jeopardise my values and risk working with a partner whose team’s wellbeing would be compromised because of bulk orders to fulfil. In fact, it’s best we make things slow and purposefully instead.
Partnering with Purnaa has taught me that being “ethical” goes beyond working conditions and fair wages. It also means genuinely caring for our makers in creative ways to show gratitude, like providing tea breaks (as some skip breakfast to travel to work) and education for the employees’ children.
Was sourcing a production partner your biggest challenge then?
Actually, I’d say self-doubt and feeling inadequate was the hardest thing, especially while experiencing so many “firsts” during the initial stages. Watching the success of big brands in the local and global market can be intimidating. But hey! We all start somewhere, don’t we? I’ve realised what matters most is to keep learning and moving forward.
Balancing the business, money-making aspect while advocating for sustainability and ethical production can be a challenge, too. On the one hand, the business has to move forward toward profitability and come to a place where we can do more to bridge the gap between the first and third world. On the other, we’re careful not to overproduce so we don’t end up perpetuating waste issues like the traditional fast-fashion model.
So, where do you feel the sustainable fashion movement is right now?
I think we’re just beginning to see the tip of the iceberg. I believe the sustainable fashion movement is only now becoming more recognised and will continue to make waves. It’s awesome because more people are aware of the social and environmental implications of fast-fashion. I’m noticing that more and more people are willing to make lifestyle adjustments for the greater good. With more advocates, events, communities, education and time, I believe we can really bring about positive change.
And how about locally in Singapore? Have you noticed a “paradigm shift” in Singaporeans response to ethical fashion?
Yes — I’m one of them! Having seen and known the unethical side of the business, it’s so important to me to step up and voice out, to educate others and fight for the rights of those trapped in the exploitive fast-fashion industry. Local organisations in Singapore like Fashion Revolution are playing a massive role in pioneering and paving the way to increase awareness.
Finally, what’s been the most rewarding thing about what you do?
It is rewarding to know lives are being improved and empowered. I absolutely love hearing stories about how our designs have brought about an awareness of ethics in the fashion industry, have meant people get dressed faster and more effortlessly in the morning and walk around in everyday comfort.
Psst…Preorders for Paradigm Shift’s new designs, the ‘Flat White’ linen dress and the ‘Iced Latte’ jumpsuit are now open on their website!
Susannah is a fan of prints, sunshine and dogs. The founder of ZERRIN, she's passionate about making sustainable style accessible, inclusive and empowering for all.