ONE FOUR ALL

It is a paradox that a name like IN GOOD COMPANY (IGC), intended to draw attention away from its creators to the products under its banner, almost immediately prompts acute curiosity about who they are. Apart from an unconventional name for a fashion label, IGC stands out for eschewing seasonal fashion cycles, its consumer-centric approach to design, and low-key founders. This is a friendship forged over one too many late nights at a company where they were all once colleagues—and it is to become an important cornerstone of the IGC story.

Individually, their personalities and skill-sets are different and very distinct from each other; collectively as a working team, they support each other instinctively, fuelled by their drive and determination to build a bona-fide brand. Creators Sven Tan and Kane Tan lead the creative vision of the label while Jaclyn Teo and Julene Aw run the nuts-and-bolts of the company. It is interesting to watch and learn the work process and dynamics of the quartet.

I got to know Sven when I was a journalist reporting on his Mercedes Benz Fashion Award win in 2004. His work and ideas at the time were adventurous and experimental in fabric manipulation, a far-flung departure from the aesthetics that IGC is known for today. Years later, I was invited to be part of a test panel to critique the debut IGC collection, ahead of what was to be their official launch at the now-defunct multi-label store, Front Row, in December 2012.

From their narration of the streamline brand philosophy to the intricately-wrought yet whistle-clean clothes on display, I found that team IGC was an original on many points. For a newcomer needing to make noise in the market, I was impressed by their debut of a tightly-edited 40-style capsule collection. It was an excitingly modern adaptation of wardrobe classics that had high technical finesse; it was affordable at highstreet price tiers, and ultimately, spoke of very quiet, good taste. They were approaching ready-to-wear from a very different perspective by not adhering to the trends or fashion seasons, and they were taking contemporary womenswear into a new direction the consumer market was unknowingly waiting for. In fact, since their launch three years ago, the collective has continued to inject a new energy and palpable sense of excitement into the Singapore fashion scene. As for their blatant disregard for catwalk trends, Sven explains that chasing blindly after the trends has become a “vicious cycle and was increasingly irrelevant” in today’s business environment. Instead of rushing out seasonal and resort collections up to eight times a year to fit international fashion calendars, IGC prefers to release a gentle flow of quarterly or bi-monthly “crucial essentials” to suit the customer.

On the working dynamics of the design team, according to Sven, “Kane and I have always been each other’s right and left hand in the way we work”. Where Kane is “soft” in his attention to flow and fall, drape and folds, Sven’s graphic bent, sharp tailoring and innovative silhouetting bring the “structure” into a distinctive aesthetic presentation that IGC is now known for. IGC’s deceptively simple looks are richly detailed as a result of their method of playing off each other’s virtuosic skills in this manner. Their approach translates into unique silhouettes with subtle volume and clean lines punctuated by artsy details from surprising cascades to poignant panels of fabric. It’s an element of the experimental that has almost been wrought out of ready-to-wear, by the relentless pace of fast, disposable fashion. For fashion pundits like myself, it’s been thrilling to find a homegrown brand so focused on the actual clothing and making sure that it works and is special, above everything else. On a personal level, it’s been gratifying that for its fine quality and designer details, it’s also really affordable and wearable enough for the every day.

From clean hem finishes that use a heat-fuse technique to the development of a new fabrication mimicking leather suitable for our tropical climate, Sven and Kane take pains to re-think everything and leave nothing to chance. It’s how they articulate their idea of beauty through their timeless yet modern togs and also ensure their garments’ newness and originality. For a young and small start-up, team IGC goes to great lengths to ensure this. They develop their textiles directly with specialist mills affording quality fabric exclusiveness and maintain an in-house sample room in Singapore (a rare luxury for many homegrown brands) to perfect every design, pattern and proportion, from start-to-finish before it is sent to a specialized production facility in Jiang Su, which is owned by a fellow Singaporean and friend. Their partnership is an exclusive business arrangement that not only ensures high standards of quality control, but is also a reliable source of ethical employment for the workers at the manufacturing facility.

Back at IGC headquarters in Singapore, under the astute stewardship of Julene and Jaclyn, the company reports steady growth and profits over the last three years. If Sven and Kane form the heart and soul of IGC’s design and creative direction, Julene and Jaclyn steer the business towards achieving commercial success. Every business function from product development to merchandising goes through careful deliberation; to a certain extent, this is a good measure of an efficient crew.

IGC’s evolution and progress is steady and organic. The first in the group to become a parent, Julene’s role as a new mom was pivotal in the brand’s introduction of their Mini Me line. Inspired by the lack of options available in the childrenswear market, the team thought it made perfect sense to “miniaturise” signature IGC styles for little girls aged 3 to 8 years old. It was right on the money as scores of yummy mummies became their brand’s first customers when it first launched at Front Row boutique. Sven recalls that perhaps because it was just before Christmas as well, that Mini Me pieces were snapped up so fast they needed to be replenished more quickly than the womenswear. It was an early indicator that the collective had put their finger on the pulse of what consumers were after. To date, Mini Me is stocked by highend childrenswear retailer, Kids 21, and the only home-grown children’s label to be placed alongside luxury brands including Moncler Enfant, Stella McCartney Kids and Baby Dior at the premium retailer’s stores.

 

From fast-friends to company co-founders, the IGC collective “saw the potential of banding together with something that we would not have been able to pull off on our own individually,” says Sven. They formed IGC to offer “clothes in a blend of simple aesthetics with good quality, and at affordable price points”. Instead of a narrow demographic approach to define their customer base, says Jaclyn, they took a broader lifestyle approach. “We studied friends and real people to figure out what they would really like to wear,” she explains. “We wanted to offer clothes that would serve the foundation for a long-lasting wardrobe that could transcend fashion trends and seasons, and one that didn’t define a woman by her age, or even interest.” By no longer having to think about age or customer persona but about comfort, quality, timelessness and impact when designing, Sven and Kane found themselves creating a style to appeal to women regardless of their lifestyle and income brackets.

The imminent success of a fashion label is said to be indicated by the number of retail stores it is placed in. While still considered relatively young in the industry, if measured by this industry metric, IGC’s growth would hardly be considered meteoric. Currently stocked at TANGS Orchard, Keepers: Singapore Designer Collective, Kapok in Singapore, and Mporium at Suntec City, as well as their own online store (www.ingoodcompany.asia), they have only just opened their first stand-alone store at ION Orchard this August 2015—almost three years after they first launched to market. All things considered, this is the way IGC prefers to progress—steadily and quietly. It moves at its own pace, accepting only selective retail opportunities at opportune times. It has also until recently resisted overseas expansion and only ceded to being placed at cult destination store Kapok in Hong Kong as the brand’s first overseas retail outpost in July 2015. New retail doors in Jakarta with Sogo and Galleries Lafayette have soon followed.

As its name suggests, IN GOOD COMPANY premises the gathering of ideas and collaborations with like-minded creative partners from the beginning. The brand has worked with fellow creative businesses under its “IGC x collaborations” banner to board IGC’s retail opportunities in order to share ideology and customers. Past and on-going collaborators have run the gamut from silversmith Argentum to illustrator Kuanth—whose prints for igc’s collections are huge hits—to Hong Kong-based leathersmith Hoiming and aromatherapy bath brand, Mmerci Encore, among many others. Perhaps the biggest collaboration to date lies in the heart of IGC’s flagship store—a café. in partnership with Vanessa Kenchington of the popular Plain Vanilla Bakery. Their pairing up in the expansive and minimally-chic 3,3002 feet boutique-cum-caf. space at ION Orchard is a partnership that makes conceptual and business sense—the draw of looking good, living and eating well; the merging of two like-minded companies’ brand philosophies in a harmonious community space for people to shop and share a bite together. If anything, the café. also serves as a spot to appease bored betterhalves looking to mitigate the struggles of shopping with a good brew and sandwich.

“We’ve always envisioned that IGC would go beyond just clothes: Our flagship is about creating a community space built on shared ideas and conversation,” Jaclyn explains. But to the goal-oriented Sven: “The opening of our stand-alone store will only make us strive to deliver the right products and the purest articulation of our brand to remain competitive; our goal is not just to build a concept store but an alternative lifestyle destination in Singapore retail.”

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Text by Cat Ong

Cat Ong is a former journalist turned freelance editorial consultant with an illustrious career that spans 32 years in the publishing industry.

Photography by Jovian Lim