Talking to Iris Sangalang and Dustin Ramos is like talking to people you've already known for years. The founders of Monument Lifestyle and DUXTON are, simply put, two of the friendliest people around. They welcome you with hugs, are genuine, and seem to radiate positivity. It makes sense then that the duo started Monument Lifestyle—a cafe and multi-label concept space—in 2017. The space along Duxton Road embodies that relaxed and chill spirit with its California surf-inspired decor and the array of American brands that the store stocks.
I first met Iris and Dustin in March at Boutique Fairs, a biannual event that gathers independent brands based in Singapore. Back then, they were previewing their latest venture: DUXTON, a menswear label of T-shirts and Hawaiian shirts. "We did a sneak peek where you could pre-buy DUXTON. The fact that people waited for three months [before the actual launch in June] was insane. Because I would never wait for three months for something," Iris exclaims.
Since fully launching DUXTON in June this year, the duo have been busy manoeuvring the fashion industry's fast pace. "Fashion moves so fast; we had no idea. We've just launched spring/summer 2018 and people are like, 'So when's fall coming out?' And I'm like, 'What do you mean?' " Iris explains. Dustin goes on to say, "We were playing catch up when we were in Los Angeles [in August]. We were just getting shots for some of the fall collection." For a collection that's due to be released by the end of October, that is a relatively tight timeline by industry standards.
Iris and Dustin might not have experience in fashion but they know their way around a business. The couple hails from California but have lived in multiple cities working in the start-up world. After selling a start-up in New York City, they had the opportunity to come to Singapore to set up the Asia Pacific office for a Seattle-based start-up. It's their business-savvy attitude that prompted them to formulate Monument Lifestyle. According to Iris, the lack of a refuge away from the city that's in the city, combined with the curation of lower-tier American brands around Asia, led them to found their cafe and retail space. Being from America, they do know their American brands after all.
"We started slowly reaching out to all the founders of different brands and said to them, 'We’re thinking of bringing you guys to Southeast Asia and kind of providing a showcase. Would you guys be interested?' I think for a lot of folks when they’re trying to get into the Asian market, there’s an issue of trust. They don’t know who they can trust to get into the market. So I think we provided a really easy way of bridging that connection because we’re from the States and we’re also Asian-American; it's kind of like a nice gap between the two," explains Iris.
Monument Lifestyle then became a testing ground for DUXTON. The couple would get feedback from customers about what they loved from the different brands that Monument Lifestyle brought in, gathering insights on what their target audience looks for in a brand. For example, they acknowledge the connotation that 'Made in China' tags carry till today—Iris calls it a "strange stigma"—so they decided from the start that DUXTON was to be produced in the US.
Currently, DUXTON is focused solely on essential T-shirts and printed shirts. Dustin elaborates, "The quality of fabrics that we found in Japan and the prints were so unique. And the feeling [of the fabric] was so fitting for the weather here in Singapore that we wanted to find a way to bring it in. As for the essentials, I think there isn’t a guy who can’t use at least one or two more essential tops to throw on top of their jeans or whatever their outfit might be."
The deal with Duxton
Certainly, there has to be something about Duxton Road for the founders to set up shop and name their first ever menswear brand after it. It goes back to the idea of finding refuge in a city. Iris and Dustin consider Duxton as an escape from the corporate confines of Singapore's Central Business District. They've also got to know people in the area who were starting unconventional career paths after spending decades in the corporate world.
"We've found so many type of characters on this street that were doing that and we're so inspired by them. They're totally jumping the gun and it's so inspirational. If they do it forever, it's wonderful. But even if they do it for five years, the fact that they're able to do it, that's amazing," Iris says.
These men are also who Iris and Dustin want to dress. The ones who have been stuck in a style rut from being in industries where dress codes are strict and individuality is almost non-existent, but are now stepping out and want to step up their sense of style.
I was treated to a preview of DUXTON's autumn/winter 2018 collection. The essentials have been expanded to include even more colours—according to Iris, they do 20 – 25 colours each season—with the addition of basic black and white, both of which were curiously (but deliberately) not part of the debut collection.
The woven shirts are the ones that have a greater style range next season. Having started with just four short-sleeved Hawaiian shirts, autumn/winter 2018 will see the introduction of long-sleeved plaid shirts (called 'Jack' as a reference to lumberjacks) and more vibrant prints for their short-sleeved offerings.
What about bottoms? According to Iris, they will be introduced only in autumn/winter 2019 so we'll have to wait till then. With the increasing variety of DUXTON's T-shirts and shirts, they don't seem to be in any rush to churn out trousers. And what I've learnt about the cheery couple from our conversation, is that they do have it all planned out. But even if they don't (which is quite unlikely) they already have garnered some fans in Los Angeles. One of them just so happens to be photographer Mitchell McCormack—he photographed Henry Golding for our September issue—who they bumped into while visiting showrooms, and who has expressed interest in DUXTON.
Might we see DUXTON on a Hollywood celebrity next? It doesn't seem that far-fetched now.
The DUXTON autumn/winter 2018 collection will be available at Monument Lifestyle and online by the end of October 2018.