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Brands To Know: Homegrown Brands Inspired By Travel

By Kames Narayanan

Courtesy of Matter

Words can’t explain the inexplicable wonder of traversing the globe. Somewhere along these journeys, thoughts long pondered upon are often either taken to fruition or put to bed for good. It was these gathered moments of clarity that impelled Renyung Ho, a trained sociologist, to start Matter, a local label conceived by the sincere intention to create products that tell a story — the where and why something is made, and by whom. 

Courtesy of Matter


“It was a confluence of opportunity, timing and the right intention,” recalls Ho, who met co-founder Yvonne Suner in Mexico in 2009. “We were working together at Banyan Tree and talked about the idea of starting Matter that year. About five years after the initial idea first took shape, my fiancé and I embarked on an adventure fundraising road trip down the western coast of India,” shares Ho. “The beauty and chaos of India and my time there helped me make connections and meet people that materialised the idea.” 

“I remember being in Sapa Valley, Vietnam, after a solo climb to Mount Fansipan on my birthday. I was sitting on the balcony of a café, reading, with the view of the mountains before me. Everything was still and a dragonfly landed on my book. It was then that I knew whatever I had in my mind and heart, was worth stepping forward to do. Starting is one of the best parts of the journey,” she continues. 

While the initial idea to start the three-year-old label lends itself to chance encounters on Ho’s travels, its succeeding creative processes are very much rooted in textiles and craft. 

Ho believes in products with story and soul. “It is with this philosophy that we uncovered heritage prints from the archives of our artisan communities with simple yet compelling stories,” explains Ho. “All prints hail from an existing heritage motif tied to a place and time, with a cultural story of its own, and every reinterpreted motif is our continuation of an existing narrative.” 

At Matter, the beauty uncovered across a myriad cultures is translated into wearable expressions of consciousness and appreciation. There is an abundance of heart in Matter’s repertoire of casual wear. Each heritage- tinged printed fabric brought to life through meaningful partnerships established across the globe.

“What we wear has always been a marker of who we are and where we belong in society,” says Ho. 

“Humans are made to create, and made to tell stories, and we are born to search for meaning. Patterns and prints are an expression of that yearning to make meaning. If you give a child a blank canvas and a pencil, they’ll be drawing symbols that mean something to them.”

Courtesy of Our Second Nature

Our Second Nature

“My sister was studying in London at the time Our Second Nature was being conceptualised and this meant frequent visits to London. I remember my first morning there when we went to Borough market, and I noticed a girl in a printed yellow skirt that caught my eye.” recalls Lauren Tan, head creative at Our Second Nature. “I admired how the skirt translated the copious amounts of life and energy that she had to offer.” 

The local womenswear label, which turns a year old this month, speaks of a quiet elegance anchored in novelty prints, each designed in- house. Every collection sees the birth of a new print, often distilled from Tan’s worldly escapades. 

“Sometimes, I don’t immediately recognise the impact a place has on me until I revisit the memories later and recall how being at a place at a certain point in time made me feel. I internalise everything, so while I enjoy physical spaces, its really the intangible feelings associated with them that gives me inspiration,” says Tan of her creative process translating travel inspirations into tactile ready-to-wear collections. 

The brand’s recently launched print Archive — a raw, fragile paper rendition of delicate florals — calls to mind summer’s unbridled joie de vivre. It was in fact, inspired by a family vacation in Lake District, United Kingdom. 

“While I wanted to replicate that feeling of a vibrant summer, I also wanted to restrain the print with a little bit of nostalgia, translating the same emotions of memory onto the print. We wanted this print to document our memory of a fond summer, the summer I had a year ago,” shares Tan. 

In earlier collections, Tan had investigated the kimono silhouette, with the label’s signature interplay of prints. 

While the label doesn’t owe its origins to travel per se, its design sensibilities borrow heavily from the landscapes of foreign lands. In taking Our Second Nature forward, Tan is led by a desire to “develop it in such a way that it’s really about the environment — the music, the scent, the energy and how it makes one feel”.

Courtesy of Âme Studio

Âme Studio

The French word Âme translates to “soul” — the starting point for Singapore-based social media entrepreneur, Melody Tan’s recent bohemian-inspired foray into the realm of lifestyle offerings. 

“With the recent desolations from factory building devastations, exploitation of garment factory workers and appalling working conditions, I felt that it was important for brands today to source ethically and sustainably,” says Tan. “I hope to encourage provenance in the industry today, so you know exactly how your product is made and where it came from. We also hope to promote local artisans in different parts of the world, telling their story and injecting personality into the products they make tailored to modern taste.” 

The idea of bringing back elements of her travel and sharing it with the people back in Singapore first crossed her mind two years ago on her first trip to Morocco. Enamoured of the beauty in the artistry of the locals and their well-mastered crafts, Tan sought to use her influence to evoke a greater interest in these acquisitions, often handcrafted, and the far-flung corners of the world in which they are made. 

“Travel is the brand. Many people whom I meet in Singapore are not very keen in travelling to more exotic destinations,” observes Tan. 

“Through my brand and platform, I really hope to inspire people, especially Singaporeans, to explore destinations off the beaten track,” shares Tan. “Which is why I often share about the place I visit and bring home souvenirs that I source sustainably and those that I have worked with, to create something entirely different. By sharing their story, I hope that people will want to visit these destinations too.” 

Primarily sourced from Morocco, Thailand and Indonesia, Âme Studios offers an impressive selection of woven baskets, embroidered — at times, sequinned — pillowcases and intricately carved porcelain chinaware. Far more complicated than merely travelling to a foreign destination and picking out eye-catching trinkets, the process involves a mixture of getting to know the locals, establishing trust and later forging a working relationship. 

“I realised how difficult it was to actually build these relationships with locals in these destinations. With some of them being so far away, communication is hard. I don’t even speak the same language as they do!” explains Tan. 

“I am not just travelling and sourcing, I am talking to these people, making friends and listening to their stories. This isn’t something that is going to happen overnight — it’s something that I am working on.”