I consider myself fortunate in my meetings with the current range of designers that we house at CUEVOLUTION. Like the other designers, my meeting with Steven Tai was realised through a mutual friend of ours who shared the same enthusiasm as we do for fashion. We had only ever met over Skype – our friend had introduced me to Steven over Instagram and a quick WhatsApp text message ensued after I insisted on having Steven at CUEVOLUTION. Finally, after our first official (albeit brief!) meeting at LFW last year, I was even more certain that the label, Steven Tai, was a perfect fit for the umbrella of designers that we had at CUEVOLUTION.
Having won the prestigious Chloe Award at the 2012 Hyeres Festival and presenting his first ever show at Mercedes Benz Berlin Fashion Week, it is little wonder that Steven Tai has become the brand we have lovingly known it to be: cool, quirky with a charming disposition that appreciates the nerd in us and transcends the norm.
Meeting him briefly over lunch in London again this year, I managed to slip in a little proper tete-a-tete with the designer himself to better understand the DNA that codes the Steven Tai brand aesthetics and ethos.
Who is the Steven Tai woman?
The Steven Tai woman was slightly nerdy growing up and has grown into herself over the years. She appreciates her awkwardness and has a great sense of humour. She doesn’t believe in the va-va-voom, but rather the allure her personality.
How did it all begin?
I was born in Macau where my parents worked in clothing manufacturing factories. So I was surrounded by clothe making from a young age. But I only really became interested in fashion when I was in high school and I started noticing how clothing can not only transform individuals but also indicated various social groups and status. Studying business in university, I realised how much I appreciated creative individuals, especially ones on the fringe in their fields. It was about that time I learned about schools like Central Saint Martins and Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp. It really blew my mind how creative and boundary-pushing fashion is and it was then I realised, that this is what I wanted to do.
What sets you apart from the other independent labels out there?
I think it is our unique sense of character and humour that really sets us apart. We really celebrate something that few people dare to celebrate.
What was the inspiration behind your latest SS16 collection and how is it different to your previous seasons?
It is based on Alice in Wonderland’s concept of unbirthdays. The celebration of everyday, including the ups and downs. It is different because we focused a lot more on the identity of the brand. It expresses the unique and awkwardly charming personality in all of us.
“I BELIEVE IT IS SO IMPORTANT TO BE SINCERE WITH THE STORY. IT IS REALLY THE ONLY WAY TO CONNECT MEANINGFULLY WITH AN AUDIENCE.”
Your thoughts on the current global fashion scene…
I think the speed is a bit daunting and the expectations from each season is very high, especially due to the competition. I think opting out of the fashion timeline is a way to rebel against the system. It underlies a bigger dissatisfaction within the industry and it is a first step towards a change.
Is storytelling important in fashion and are we losing the art of storytelling?
I believe it is as there are more brands than ever. I believe it is so important to be sincere with the story, it is really the only way to connect meaningfully with an audience.
Tell us about the award from Chloe what was it like when you got it?
It was quite surreal. Coming from Central Saint Martins, which is more known for its creativity rather than its wearability, it might have seemed strange to win an award for a house that is so commercially driven. This helped prove that my aesthetic was ready for an audience beyond just the fashion crowd.
Fun question- what was it like knowing you would be stocked at Dover Street Market?
It is literally a dream come true. I have loved DSM even before I set foot in the shop. And it meant the world to me when we started stocking there. I am very honoured to be housed alongside such great designers that I admire and look up to.
Any advice for younger aspiring designers/labels who wish to get into big stockist(s)? And does the weight of the name of the stockist(s) (say Harvey Nichols) play a major role for young labels? Or should they not be so hung up on that?
Young designers need to constantly think of ways to get their names out there. I think plenty of research on initiatives that aim to help young designers, such as incubation systems, competitions, and blogs are important as a platform for them and their label. Big name stockist(s) can be important, but it depends on whether the goal of the designer is to gain press or sales.
“WITHOUT PROPER GUIDANCE OR SUPPORT, CREATIVE SOULS WILL STRUGGLE TO BUILD A BUSINESS. NO MATTER HOW GOOD THE DESIGNS ARE, A BRAND IS A BUSINESS AND IT NEEDS TO SURVIVE FINANCIALLY.”
There appears to be a growing amount of designers who have opted to come out and start their own label fresh from university. Do you think working in other fashion houses is important before starting your own label? Or does it not matter?
I think it is extremely important to work in a house before coming out to do your own label. There are so many aspects involved and without proper guidance or support, creative souls will struggle to build a business. No matter how good the designs are, a brand is a business and it needs to survive financially.
What are the key challenges you have faced as an independent designer/label while growing your label – any key advice?
Cash flow is a huge issue for young designers – managing your spending well and creating a realistic budget before you start would definitely help in the long run. Another key challenge is the ability to cope with disappointments and problem solving. There is little to advice on how to tackle these problems as experience and individual differences are what differentiates one designer from another. Deciding on which solutions are viable is what sets the collection and ultimately, the label from success and failure.
“MANAGING YOUR SPENDING WELL AND CREATING A REALISTIC BUDGET BEFORE YOU START WOULD DEFINITELY HELP IN THE LONG RUN.”
Your thoughts on the fashion scene in Asia…
I think it is a very exciting time in Asia. The growth of young designers is exploding and it breeds a new generation of consumers who are more accepting and brave with their wardrobe choices. I think the market in Asia is huge, and it is a place where this growth of supply in designers might actually be met with the demand.
If you could design for a fashion house which would it be and why?
Prada or Miu Miu or Undercover. I love their vision and although Undercover is so different from the others, I think they all do what they believe in with such conviction. Which is what I admire about them.
What would be the ultimate purchase in your wardrobe?
Something comfortable and I don’t have currently in my wardrobe. I would want something that I can’t find too easily elsewhere and is designed with a vision.
Your current designer crush.
Your current muse.
You can’t leave your house without…
*all images are from Steven Tai’s SS16 lookbook
Shop Steven Tai here.