Time taken to make a difference
The technical craft of fashion is what sets apart bespoke dressmakers like Time Taken to Make a Dress
SINGAPORE - At age 13, Ms Jade Swee made her first dress using her grandmother's sewing machine, a simple flora print affair for a younger sister. The act of creating something by hand inspired in her not only a love affair with fashion, but a devotion to quality craftsmanship.
That initial spark was fanned by her grandmother, from whom she learnt traditional Peranakan crafts such as making beaded slippers.
More than a decade later, Ms Swee, 29, parlayed that passion and several years of working experience into Time Taken to Make a Dress (TTMD), a dressmaking business she set up with partner Letitia Phay, 28, in 2010.
"I used to follow my grandmother everywhere, observing her cooking and sewing. She taught me how to draft by drawing a dress on a newspaper. That was a very big part of how I got my skill even before fashion school," she told TODAY.
The pair noticed a disturbing lack of attention being paid to the technical aspects of the business; the roll-your-sleeves up, backroom grind of putting together a garment that many young designers shied away from.
Spotting an opportunity, they scrounged together S$100,000 from family and friends to start their studio in a shophouse on Niven Road.
"The technicalities of fashion are very important, but it is also very hard work and very dry so many people want to be designers, but not work in the backroom," Ms Swee said.
"We spotted a gap, all the dressmakers we knew were in their late 40s and older."
That belief in craft, coupled with a willingness to experiment with technique, translates into dresses that are not only aesthetically bold, but stay true to the designers' vision from initial sketch to final fitting.
They see themselves as the female equivalent of a men's tailor, with the bulk of their business from bridal gowns, and bespoke dresses making up a smaller proportion.
Early customers included friends and acquaintances who were around the marrying age.
The process starts with the customer's personality acting as a blueprint for what will eventually be created; "the girl is our muse," said Ms Swee.
Design-wise, the duo experiment with techniques that involve complex pleating and origami to differentiate their offerings.
Often, customers come to them through word of mouth after "finding nothing out there they like". One panicked bride even asked for two dresses to be made a few weeks before the wedding day, after she was unhappy with an earlier effort by another designer.
Prices start from S$800 for short dresses and S$2,000 for long ones. Their most expensive creation was an S$8,000 gown that took about six months to put together.
To showcase their work and push themselves creatively, TTMD creates a collection every year. The 2012 instalment was sponsored by vodka brand Grey Goose and exhibited alongside creations by established local designers Resham Melwani and Wykidd Song late last year.
The team has grown to six, comprising the two founders, a seamstress, a junior designer and two assistants. Ms Swee is looking to hire more staff to handle the growing volume of business. Ms Phay is currently on a one-year break studying fashion design in Tokyo.
Further down the road, Ms Swee envisions them creating their own label targeted at a wider audience, but only when the TTMD's bespoke business is secure.
"There is a certain aesthetic that we believe in, and one day, we want to put that in a collection," she said.
By Francis Kan
19 July 2012
Ms Jade Swee. Photo by ERNEST CHUA