Photos in this article by Rachel Theodora Ding
Created by entrepreneur and visual creative Rachel Theodora Ding, the label wasn't just a sustainable route for shoppers. Female body shaming among the wider culture is still one of Rachel's biggest concerns to date. Riot Girl Weekend served as the avenue for Singaporean audiences who desired to be empowered by their clothing purchases.
What encouraged you to take your love for fashion further?
As a child I don't think I've been particularly invested in fashion or anything like that. I've always found it hard to anchor my passion to a subject, and it was only when I turned 20 that I discovered my love for vintage clothing during a school trip to Glasgow. It helped that I've received compliments for the vintage pieces that I've worn throughout the years.
There was a certain kind of thrill that presented itself upon spending hours sifting through piles of clothing just to find that one perfect piece, and I thoroughly enjoyed the process.In 2012 after graduating with a degree in Visual Communication, I spent a couple of years marketing for a local fashion brand which operated mainly as an e-commerce. Despite not having formal training in apparel design, I was lucky to be given a hand at producing original designs for the label. The icing on the cake was when some designs received such good response that they were sent for a second or even third batch of reproduction. At that point in time I was very involved in the entire process – from conceptualising to textile selection, right down to marketing the end-product.
The decision to bring Riot Girl Weekend to fruition was a slow burning one. I was never into the idea of running a business, or at least, not until December 2017 when I had an epiphany one morning while having my iced latte. This sounds so much like a scene that could come out of The Devil Wears Prada, or something like that, but I assure you, it was all real life. After years of sourcing vintage clothing for myself, I realised that rather than letting this passion remain a dormant interest, I could actually make it work as a serious business opportunity. The accumulation of positive feedback definitely helped spur the decision.
One of the things you were working towards in the beginning was ensuring the representation of various body sizes. You’ve also spoken out on skinny and fat shaming. What was usually on your mind when selecting the clothing for the catalogue?
I grew up being made extremely conscious about my body size. I used to believe that the more flesh I had on my body, the more I ought to cover up behind loose, baggy clothing because my "baby fat" was unsightly.
Designer pieces from Riot Girl Weekend, 2018
Despite what we see from fast fashion branding, there's honestly no one-size fits all when it comes to clothing design. It's all purely a marketing gimmick. When sourcing for clothes I try to pick out a range of different sizes to cater to different body types and sizes. Sometimes they fit petite girls, sometimes they fit curvy girls. Sometimes they fit a range of sizes, sometimes they are measurement-specific. Riot Girl Weekend, being a one-man show, had its limitations in terms of how I could expand the business operationally. That said, providing a wider variety of sizes in larger quantities is still a viable goal for brands.
Riot Girl Weekend was also a personal challenge against toxic masculinity and patriarchy. On top of that, the lack of sustainable and responsible practices by fast fashion to luxury brands. Do you think millennials today have the responsibility to stand up to these social and environmental concerns?
It enrages me that in 2018 women are still expected to seek permission from patriarchal systems, from career choice and progression, to how we dress and how we present or use our body. The way I see it, the only way to move forward and upward is to start by educating the current generation. We can't just say "I don't care, it doesn't affect me directly anyway" – this apathy will be our downfall.
The same also applies to sustainability in fashion. The industry produces 150 000 tonnes of waste a year in the US alone, so you can just imagine how much waste we produce worldwide (and this is just textile waste!). Fast fashion can never be fully sustainable no matter how the brands try to introduce eco-friendly measures.
As long as the entire business model is built upon providing customers with the latest apparel trends every week, how much waste can you really reduce? The nature of the industry is so quick-moving that overproduction and temporary trends are the norm, and will only continue to contribute to textile wastage.Being as civically engaged and technologically connected as we are, we have the ability and knowledge to make decisions that impact the world we live in. Activism will always be a work-in-progress. It's not exactly generation-sensitive but I do believe that as the current generation we have the ability and responsibility to learn from the past and make better mistakes. This cycle of providing a better tomorrow never ends – you've just got to learn as you go, and most importantly never be complacent.
What was the process of designing the pieces for Riot Girl Label like?
The designing process was smooth because I already knew what I wanted to present to my customers. When I first decided to launch a manufactured label, I read a biography on Diane von Furstenberg and was very intrigued by how the Austrian designer embraced the highs and lows in her life and career, and powered through it all.
Her non-conformity to social norms and what was expected of her as a woman really helped to mould and strengthen the story behind the pieces, smoothening the design process.As a feminist myself who feels strongly about women being sexually objectified by men on a daily basis, I fuelled my energy towards designing a capsule collection that allowed a girl to flaunt her femininity without compromising on comfort. Men need to know that women don't dress up for them. We dress up for ourselves.
What were some formative references that have informed your choices, even till today?
It really is a smorgasbord of influences that shaped Riot Girl Weekend on a daily basis. For a start, there were a couple of female-centric businesses in the industry that I looked up to – we differed in scale but they are the big sisters that I aspire my label to grow into some day. I also find that reading biographies of people like Simone de Beauvoire, John Lennon and Anaïs Nin really helped me get in the right frame of mind. My references don't usually all derive from fashion-related sources, but a range of pop culture to literary figures too.
Looking back, what are your takeaways in terms of running your own business and artistic practice?
Starting Riot Girl Weekend might be one of the best things I'd ever done in life. As a self-confessed control freak, I love being the one reigning every aspect of the business. This ownership also means that when things go wrong you can only point the finger at yourself, but I guess but that's how you learn to grow from your mistakes.
There is also importance in knowing what to let go of and what to hold on to. What worked yesterday might no longer be the solution today, and flexibility is something I'm working on improving every single day.What makes a strong brand to you?
It would be very convenient to call it a day after figuring out the aesthetic development, but I came to realise that building a brand is so much more than that. There are so many layers to the process, but the first is definitely to work out a clear vision of what you're bringing to the table. To do this, you'd have to understand your brand and ascertain what can (and will) be offered to your target audience. In my opinion once you've laid out the groundwork, the execution part should come up fairly easily.
To me, communicating the story of your brand is key in every step of the way. I believe this process is a cycle that never ends.You have to constantly be reviewing your actions and reflecting upon whether they're right, or what else can be done to achieve better results – all while keeping true to your vision.
The fashion industry is shining greater spotlight on millennial designers and emerging brands. Based on that, what do you think these people can do more of to achieve the status of a successful, timeless brand?
Finding the balance between keeping true to your brand's voice, keeping it consistent and knowing when to step forward (or backward) in order for growth to happen. In all honesty I am still trying to figure out if these intangible qualities are things that some people instantly get, or if they're things you would work on for years and still never be able to place your finger on.