INTERVIEW WITH

Interview With: A Textile Designer Turn Fashion Retailer

Sylvia Lim
Do Everything Officer (DEO), Triologie & The Emporium Group Pte Ltd

When it comes to textile design, fabric construction and retail fashion, Sylvia Lim has done it all. This makes it hard to put Sylvia in a box; it would be an awkward fit. She is unconventional, uncannily resilient and has an innate ability to make the seemingly impossible possible. As a teenager, the only thing Sylvia knew is she wanted to sow her career in design. The intricate world of textile design and fiber-to-fabric fascinated her.  This fascination led her 25-year career into all facets of the fashion industry. Curiosity and the challenge of stepping on uncharted grounds have seen Sylvia evolve from fashion label designer, multi-brand merchandiser, business owner and, literally, everything in between.

What is your educational background?
I studied Textile Design at Central St Martins in London. The same ala matar as John Galliano and Stella McCartney! But they are way more famous than me.

Why did you come back to Singapore to start your career?
When I was in London studying, I worked part-time as a freelance textile designer for brands like Laura Ashley, Mothercare and Marks & Spencer. Even Max Mara. They loved my designs. But my mother back in Singapore was not convinced I could get a job as a textile designer. You see, at the time, textile design was unheard of. She was worried I would end up selling fabric by the meter at People’s Park! Mind you, there is nothing wrong with that but it does not take an overseas degree from London. Near the time of my graduation, my mother proactively found me newspaper cut-out of a job posting in Singapore. I applied to appease her and ended up getting the job. That is how I came back in Singapore.

What inspired you to start your own clothing label?
Before 2012, I was working at CK Tangs with the primary role of internationalizing Tang’s own label, Island Shop International. At the time, there were 3 ladies who helmed the project. In 2012, we saw the opportunity to do something together. I was skeptical because I knew it was going to be hard work. But with more than 50 years of industry experience between the 3 of us, it was a opportunity I could not let slip.

What is behind the name – Triologie?
Triologie is conceived by the 3 of us, hence ‘trio‘. We had a vision of a label dedicated to the happy, free-spirited and world-savvy woman. Our unique handwriting was and still is to create quality wearable happy clothing made out of our own printed fabrics at palatable price points. The concept of Triologie is inspired by the joys of wanderlust, conceived for the modern female who loves to discover and enrich her life with fresh experiences.

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What role you play in the business?
I am the everything woman in the show now! I am also the main driver of The Emporium, a retail arm of the business. The Emporium is a multi-label fashion and lifestyle pop-up store featuring boutique brands offering quaint and unique lifestyle products that compliment Triologie’s clothing line. The concept of The Emporium adds an exciting dimension to retail shopping that I enjoy – that is, going into stores that are localized, lifestyle-eccentric with inter-categories of product offerings.

Describe your early days starting out, what challenges you faced and how you overcame them.
Though we started small, we had a very supportive network of manufacturers. It was just the 3 of us. Product development requires cash flow, lots of it. We needed to fulfill our minimum order for both fabric and clothing pieces quantity. We needed to take the risk of producing more than a capsule collection and test them in the market. We needed distribution points, real estate and manpower. Just a slew of issues we had to deal with. How did we overcome them? We did one thing at a time, in good faith.

How much was your initial investment to start up?
$250,000

How have those days changed from today?
Many of the issues are interminable. Leases will end, people will go and factories will shut. Since the inception of Triologie and The Emporium in 2012, I have store popped 8 times. Today, I finally made 3 locations more permanent where we situate: Millenia Walk, Tanglin Mall and i12Katong Mall.

Retail is a volatile business and we are currently going through retail silence together with the rest of the world. However, the business evolution in the past 3 years have made us better and smarter in meeting customer needs and wants; also, wiser in our business decisions.

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Was it difficult for you to switch hats from a textile designer to fashion retailer?
I was trained in textiles specializing in fashion and fashion business. I went full circle from an academia in fashion education, to fashion business consultant. I even had a 6-month stint with the UN in Cambodia working with the garment factories before plunging into retail. I started being my own boss at 40 years old.

Being a business owner at 40, is that a good thing or bad thing?
Personally, I think it is the right age. Experience and industry network is a huge factor. Decisions made are wiser and more immediate with less implications. The apparel industry is small, with experience comes guts and respect.

What is the best part of your job?
Seeing people wear my clothes and having them come back over and over again bringing friends and friends of friends. Many of my customers have been wearing Triologie since season 1!

What advice would you give young women in the creative field (ie. fashion, arts, movies) going into business to make money?
Do not to go into business thinking you are going to make money quickly. I gathered my portfolio of experiences and built my network for 20 years before mustering courage to take on this entrepreneurial journey. Perseverance is imperative.

If you could do it all over again, would you?
If the opportunity presents itself, I would. It is about meeting the right people at the right time with the right idea. In hindsight, the journey of running my own business has made me fearless! Nothing shocks me anymore. When you think about the worse, nothing else is impossible.

Who inspires you?
My dad. He is an entrepreneur too. He has been my pillar of strength and advisor from day one. This is the same man who never agreed for me to follow his footsteps!

What is the best entrepreneurial advice he has given you?
I remember my papa told me very sternly before I embarked on this journey: Do not give up halfway. Make it work. In good times, you reap. In bad times, there are opportunities. Find the opportunity. Do not go into the mode of blaming the world when times are bad.

What is one thing most people do not know about you?
I might be a toughie and crusty on the outside, but really, I am a softie. I need Kleenex!

How do you practice eco-conscious living?
Admittedly, I am not a strong practitioner in the green movement. But I do embrace upcycling and recycling things around us. Everyone in the office knows that we prolong the lifespan of everything including raffia strings!

If you could play your part in saving the planet in one way, what would it be?
Less wastage. I don’t believe in wasting.

Thanks Sylvia ♥

Opening of Millenia Walk - Sylvia Lim

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Click here for more information about Triologie and The Emporium.


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