Fashion is widely known for its extravagance, eccentricities, suffocating glamour and tendency of pandering to certain categories of consumers.
High fashion leaves images of glaring spotlights, stick-thin models and a sense of iciness at the core of its practices. Is this truly always the case?
This is the popular belief that is being circulated throughout media outlets.
Alternatively, we have local entrepreneur, Elisa Lim, and her dedicated team, who have been redefining the concept of fashion with their label, Will & Well Singapore, a unique clothing line that produces inclusive apparel that are both comfortable and functional while staying aesthetically pleasing.
Fashion was not always the main draw for Elisa – she was once a regular netball player and participated in competitive ballet during her teenage years until a serious knee injury prompted a different path.
Elisa shares, “when my knees snapped, my father encouraged me to pick up a new hobby, so I explored the craft of sewing and clothes-making, which eventually developed into an interest in fashion.”
For Elisa, a deeper thought eventually sank in. “What are the other potential uses of fashion aside from expressing your own style through conventional blouses, skirts and dresses?”
She spent hours in libraries and surfing the web to grasp the intricacies of the fashion industry. It was decided by the end of her secondary school education that she wished to pursue fashion design as a career.
She enrolled in Lasalle to further her studies and went on to attain an honours degree in fashion design & textiles from the University of London.
Taking A Chance
During her diploma program, she was approached by a medical professional, Dr Jit Seng, to design clothes for his bedridden patients.
This ultimately motivated her to come up with a universal apparel system that offered functionality despite physical impediments of the wearer, bringing meaningful impact to a wider community.
This eventually sprang into a full-fledged collaboration between Elisa and her two friends, Caroline Justine and Ethrisha Liaw, while they were fellow design students in Lasalle College of the arts.
The team decided to create clothing that were usable by both wheelchair-bound and non-wheelchair users for the final year project.
Will & Well Singapore was soon to be born.
Elisa explains the origin and meaning behind the name of her brand: “It was recommended by a friend during an Eureka moment. The name seemed a perfect fit as it summed up our vision: as long as our customers have the will to live a dignified life, we will provide the apparel for them to go out and live it well.”
“Fashion design does not exist merely as a concept – it is a physical product with a purpose, it is like a “skin” you don.”
As she puts it, her business is at a unique halfway point between the fashion and healthcare industries. “Being in a fresh domain, you get to set your own boundaries,” she states.
Being in an arts school had greatly influenced her research and development techniques. However, she does not take pointers from a specific designer or era, preferring to focus on present day practicalities and problem-solving through apparel functions.
She attributes her confidence to her perseverance in fighting for her ideas and witnessing the satisfaction of people who benefitted from it. “Confidence grows from such personal triumphs.”
Towards New Waters
Establishing a label has led Elisa towards new territories of her own.
The biggest challenge for Elisa came in the form of business studies that were alien to her as a design student.
Will & Well Singapore recently launched its first collection, which was a milestone event for the young entrepreneur and her innovative team. Their latest products are now available on their online catalogue.
Elisa is immensely grateful and appreciative of her like-minded group. “I was behind the production and design of the collection while the rest of the team was highly supportive in marketing and selling our ideas and what we stand for. They share the same hope of impacting lives through apparels.”
The business operates unlike mainstream fashion lines, as R&D involves visiting healthcare facilities and special needs institutions to understand the challenges faced by people with disabilities.
Design prototypes are then tested and refined before being released.
According to Elisa, people she meets from the institutions and facilities understand that her work is based through dealing with questions from the ground and fine-tuning problems in current systems.
It assures her that R&D is moving in the right direction.
Some of her many memorable clients include elderly stroke survivors in their 70s or 80s and people who were undergoing post-operation recovery.
The gratitude received from these individuals warmed the hearts of Elisa and her team, serving as a testament to the social impact that they have made within a brief period.
When I probe about the second collection set for release later this year, Elisa maintains a level of secrecy but hints that contrary to seasonal fashion releases, it will focus on the challenges that people face and methods of overcoming them.
Additionally, there may be several forays into the healthcare sector underway.
As a parting piece of advice from the inspiring entrepreneur to current fashion and design students: “It is a tough industry due to its traditional idealistic “me, myself, and I” attitude but, never give up even if you feel dejected. Things will work out along the way, just know that you can and will push through.”
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