It was five years ago that Beyond The Vines was established. Founded by husband-and-wife duo Daniel Chew and Rebecca Ting—the latter handles the creative and design aspect while Chew oversees business development—the homegrown brand started out offering deftly designed, understated womenswear that focused on clean architectural lines.
Beyond The Vines was successful in that it captured a loyal female audience in Singapore over the years. Its minimalism-led designs were easy enough to integrate into an existing wardrobe and the price point was relatively affordable.
Then in September 2020, the brand cleared out any evidence of its formative five years from its Instagram account; and in a video post, depicted the packing of its last five years into a box, closed and sealed, as if but a memory.
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If change is really the only constant, Beyond The Vines is now ready to take things further and better than ever before. For starters, it is no longer a womenswear brand. In fact, it calls itself a design studio—a term that's reflective of what the brand seeks to do, which is 'create boldly, design simply'. It now has officially expanded to include menswear (after introducing a unisex capsule collection last year) and a growing range of lifestyle products that range from colourful stationery to branded tapes. And all these excellently displayed in its new concept store at the heart of Orchard Road.
It's definitely not lost on any of us, and especially the founders, that they've rebranded and launched a new physical space while still dealing with a global pandemic. As businesses both big and small are taking hits, Beyond The Vines looks to be the poster child for better days ahead in the retail sector, especially thanks to a viral nylon bag creation. Ting tells me that they're lucky and blessed to have it all "worked out".
ESQ: Beyond The Vines launched its first unisex capsule collection last year. How was that experience?
REBECCA TING: We had a lot of fun doing that. But I think also with that collection, we started to understand more about our male customer. Because it was unisex, there was deliberation on things like button closure—do we follow womenswear or the menswear side?—and the fit. It was very experimental for us and, in a way, a test.
ESQ: Was that then the impetus for venturing into menswear?
REBECCA TING: Yes. I mean, it was already in the pipeline. We were already thinking about doing menswear, but we thought that instead of doing a menswear capsule, which is pretty normal, why not attempt a unisex one and then see how people react?
ESQ: Was there a muse in mind when you were designing the menswear collection?
REBECCA TING: Not really. (Laughs) Well, I won't say muse, but maybe Daniel's voice was quite strong—it was more of a driving voice than it was probably an aesthetic. In terms of aesthetic, it was also sort of mirroring the women that we were rebranding the identity into.
I think the philosophy of the design and our design process stayed the same for menswear. But of course, it was a bit of a challenge for us. I think men, or at least the men we were trying to dress, have a more critical opinion on their apparels. For example, even though they just want to wear a boxy T-shirt or like the utilitarian look and it doesn't need to have much, but the very fact of not having much is more difficult than, say, throwing stuff on or putting something in prints. That was really one of the challenges that we had to face: what should be included that makes a statement, but at the same time doesn't overpower and isn't too much?
ESQ: The menswear is part of a total brand revamp for Beyond The Vines. Did the decision to start anew stem from a commercial standpoint or a creative refresh?
REBECCA TING: For me, I feel like it was both for sure; one triggered the other. Being in the brand on the day to day, a lot of things come intuitively for Daniel and I. Of course, they need to be backed by data but there's a lot of sensing. We were out having dinner and just having casual conversations when he asked if we see ourselves doing this for another five years and if we're happy with what we're doing. And we couldn't really say for certain that it was a 'yes'. So it was more like an internal thing more than we felt like we needed a refresh because we needed the business to have a certain sustainability. We're also rather purpose-driven people and we want to always do something with intent, so when we felt like it started to feel very pointless, you know, just putting stuff out, it started to hit us.
ESQ: You've included a lot of lifestyle items in the mix now. What's the idea behind the stationery and those branded tapes?
REBECCA TING: Although we started with ready-to-wear, we're quite design-centric at our core. And not having a fashion background of sorts gave us a different perspective—we look at ready-to-wear as products in the same way that we look at the non-apparels as products, that they're for the end user. One of the considerations when designing new products for us is how to design in a way that we leave an identity without being too forthcoming about it. Because it's very straightforward to just put your brand name on anything.
ESQ: How challenging was rebranding and launching a new store during this pandemic? Because obviously no one could have foreseen the situation that we're in now.
REBECCA TING: I think the first few months were probably the toughest. I don't know how other businesses do it, but we feel like the people we take care of first is always internal. We spoke to the team and sort of challenged them to come up with innovative ways to work with the products we have to help alleviate the situation. And that's how the dumpling bags grew insane. It was from this activation of an internal spur that made the team step up even more to think of how to position the bag, because nobody was buying stuff during Covid; people didn't need clothes. But yeah, I think the morale of the team was the biggest challenge, more so than turning the revenue to keep the business afloat.
We also signed the lease for the Ngee Ann City space early this year just before the pandemic. We honestly wanted to pull out because however long that the pandemic was going to last, were we confident that the mall traffic would pick up and the unit in its location was worth it? We had to weigh a lot of things, went back to the landlords, and we managed to get a good situation out of it. It worked out for us. We were supposed to open in June and managed to push it back till October.
ESQ: Back to the dumpling bag. How did that end up becoming viral?
REBECCA TING: It really was birthed out of this adversity. Daniel's great with current affairs and he suggested that we try doing live streams that have become very big in China. I was very hesitant about it but he was insistent that customers would like it. He started telling me that the whole purpose of the rebrand was for us to peel the layers off between the brand and the customers, and in this way, we get to speak with them face-to-face. And yeah, it is in line with the philosophy of our rebranding so we eventually tried it and started with the dumpling bag.
The bag has been around; it's not a new product. But maybe it's just that people started to hear the intent of the design that it grew popular and just became crazier from then on. They realised how easy the dumpling bag was to use and that it didn't cost an arm. Right at the time we only had four colours for the bag and then we released more, and people went crazy.
ESQ: That's amazing!
REBECCA TING: But also insane! We'd have customers who send screenshots of their online shopping carts, and they'd have six colours in them. Even when we do Instagram Lives now about anything else but the bags, all people ask about on the feed is the bags. It's great. We know that we put out a good product from the start; we just didn't think that it would have gone so crazy. I think maybe it's because there's a gap in the market for something that's between luxury and fashion—a lifestyle bag. And it definitely saved us during this period.
The Beyond The Vines design store is at B1-42/46 Ngee Ann City.