Phuay Li Ying of Local Fashion Brand Ying the Label on Bringing Art Beyond the Walls
The starting point for every Ying the Label collection is a watercolour painting by its namesake founder Phuay Li Ying, whose favourite motifs include flowers, which can be seen on everything from its signature kimono tops and dresses to even capes.
The Queen of the Night, or tan hua flower, is the star of the brand’s latest Moonlit Night Collection. One would be surprised to find out that the inspiration comes from Phuay’s time spent watching Chinese historical dramas on Netflix, which she only got into during the pandemic. “The flower is always worshipped because it’s so rare and unique, blooming only once in a blue moon under the moonlight. It’s a reflection of how you don’t take beauty for granted. I needed to paint this flower because Covid-19 has changed us—and we need to be more appreciative of the things in our life,” explains Phuay.
For the former banker, who also helps run her family’s technology business, art has always been a big part of her life, and so is fashion for she has always enjoyed dressing up and wearing colours. Both of these interests come together within Ying the Label, which she founded in 2015. She had discovered digital textile printing then when it was still in its early days here.
“It’s an inexpensive way of producing fabrics. With digital print, you can produce in smaller quantities. This is also where I evolve my business model to make sure that I don’t produce too much so that I can focus on my art and really brand it as an art piece rather than fashion,” shares Phuay.
When did your interest in art develop? How did you become interested in using fabrics as the canvas for your art?
Phuay Li Ying (PLY) I love art since young and I’ve always enjoyed drawing and painting—more passionately when I studied in Melbourne. So while I did a double degree in business marketing and psychology, I still pursued my art and painted a lot. When I came back, I started working in a bank and didn’t explore this creative side until someone suggested for me to try printing my art on fabric. I thought it was quite an interesting idea, and the rest is history. I continue to explore different types of fabrics such as crêpe, duchess satin and cotton twill.
What inspired your design aesthetic?
PLY Finding the silhouette and evolving to the current aesthetics was quite an experiential journey. I started off with casual sleeveless pieces, basically what I like to wear, but over time I realised that my customers are women between their late 30s to 50s and they wanted conversational pieces for work. These are women who have given birth and have bigger arms and hips. So I started elongating my sleeves and really looked at the silhouettes my customers would prefer.
Can you take us through your creative process? What is your favourite step?
PLY My favourite part of the creative process is the painting and seeing the clothes come alive. My vision is to ultimately bring art beyond the walls. How do we go beyond fashion and market ourselves more as a designer whose focus is on art? We can go into many areas with art and I really want to explore these other mediums. I’m also exploring creating art directly on the fabric itself, and this might add another element to what we’ve been doing thus far.
How do you see the relationship between art and fashion?
PLY It’s important to fully understand the core that makes the brand unique. For me, it’s art and I don’t ever want to stop doing it, even if I change mediums in future. That core gives you focus and a goal to work towards. So as long as the core doesn’t change, it’s just finding different ways to expand it and grow within the peripheral.
What are you working on next?
PLY We are currently working on our sustainability journey and one of the things I’m focusing on is upcycling because I realise that there will always be fabrics that are wasted. So instead of throwing them away, what kind of products can we turn them into? We reverse engineer and look at what we have, product innovate and see what we can come up with. Our last two collaborations: The Renewal Bag, a limited-edition reversible tote with Bynd Artisan, and the Re-loop capsule of limited-edition fabric necklaces with Risis were made with our upcycled fabrics.
(Related: Bynd Artisan's Winnie Chan On Building An Artisanal Homegrown Brand)
Also featured in the Fabrics of Our Time series: Oniatta Effendi of Baju by Oniatta
- Photography Jeff Chang
- Art Direction Jana Tan
- Hair Benedict Choo
- Make-Up Benedict Choo
- Photographer's Assistant Hans