In Singapore, foods such as chilli crab and durian are an indelible part of the local culture. So how better for a Singapore-based fashion label to mark its 10th anniversary than by plastering these foods over dresses, skirts and hoodies?
"It is our first time creating our own digital print, so I wanted something that can resonate with me as a Singaporean and a designer. What can be more iconic than food?" says Afton Chen, head designer and co-founder of label Reckless Ericka.
"I chose to start with the chilli crab as a challenge to myself," says Chen. "I did not want to make the print too souvenir-looking, so I thought of using an outline of the crab in the design and to juxtapose it with Peranakan tiles." (Peranakan culture is a hybrid of southern Chinese and European influences prevalent in Singapore and Malaysia.)
The three designs in the "Chilli Crab" range are featured in a capsule collection of the label's signature looks, including full circle skirts and retro feminine midi dresses. The result is stylish and far from gimmicky.
Chen, who holds a bachelor of design from design school Raffles Design, launched a second capsule collection using a durian print design at the weekend, and it is just as vibrant and sophisticated.
There is, she says, at least one more collection in the works based on a food design.
This has been something of a watershed year for Chen and her husband and label co-founder, Louis Koh.
They withdrew their brand from sale at department stores including Tangs Singapore. This was a bold move - in a small retail market such as Singapore, independent fashion brands typically fight to be featured in department stores as it gives them exposure to potential customers.
Chen, who burst onto the country's fashion scene during the 2009 Audi Fashion Festival with her debut catwalk collection, says she had begun to feel creatively constrained by selling in department stores.
"We were trying to go very mass and somehow, I feel I had lost my voice a bit," says Chen, who won best costume design at the 2016 The Straits Time Life! Theatre Awards for designing 148 unique costumes for a drama called The Incredible Adventures Of Border Crossers.
"We were kind of dictated by what the buyer wants for the store. I stopped because I wanted to be an artist again. Now, we are focused on what we want to create," she says.
Today, the label - which is entirely owned by the duo - is available online and at three physical points of sale: Design Orchard and SocietyA in Orchard Road and the Reckless Ericka design studio in the Aljunied industrial area in Singapore.
Now that she does not have to worry about manpower shortages at shops or having to give retailers a cut of the sales, Chen says she is happier and more focused on her design work.
"I'd rather we have it all ourselves."
Being at Design Orchard, a retail and incubation space for Singapore designers and creatives, has also afforded the brand a measure of overseas exposure thanks to tourists shopping for local souvenirs.
The chilli crab collection, in particular, has gained traction among Japanese shoppers, she says.
The label is in talks with retailers across the region to take the brand abroad.
What makes Chen's designs stand out in an industry saturated with blog shops and mass-market brands is her production skills. One of the things she is most well known for is her multilayered clothing that looks different from every angle.
Chen achieves this look by personally drafting the patterns for every Reckless Ericka design and working closely with the factory to ensure the pieces are made to her standards.
The brand has long been using Tencel fabric - a material which is gaining traction among the environmentally conscious for being a sustainable choice of textile. "I (find) it easy to work with and maintain - you can machine-wash it - and it is long lasting," she says.
To Chen, though, sustainability goes beyond the kind of textiles she uses. "We ensure the factories we work with are ethical. Being sustainable also means ensuring that the product lasts for many years. For example, we use double stitching for the seams so that they are super secure. It costs more to do this, but if a customer can wear our clothes for a long time, I'm happy."
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