Chelsea Scott-Blackhall is one busy lady. When we heard that the founder and designer behind Singapore-born brand Dzojchen—pronounced ‘doh-jen’—was in Singapore, we grabbed at the chance for a face-to-face interview. But alas, our schedules couldn’t match up. Scott-Blackhall’s was packed with travels in and out of the country. So we connected via trusty technology instead. Dzojchen, if you’re unfamiliar, is only getting bigger.
Dzojchen released its first collection in 2012. In a relatively short period since then, it has made runway appearances in Singapore, Seoul, Paris and New York.
You only need to look through the brand’s Instagram account to see the number of famous faces that have been styled in Dzojchen. American rapper Common was seated front row at the 2018 NBA All-Star Weekend game in a printed number. Ryan Gosling appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live wearing a blazer by Dzojchen. Chadwick Boseman wore a full suit for the Black Panther premiere in Seoul and was on the cover of Time wearing a Dzojchen bomber jacket. There’s Janelle Monae, Donald Glover, Angela Bassett… the list goes on.
It’s an impressive list of big names and a testament to the hard work and hustle that Scott-Blackhall has (and continues) to put in. It’s not by all means a quantifiable measure of success. But it does get one thinking: if Hollywood is embracing our local talent, shouldn’t we be doing more of the same? As we learn from Scott-Blackhall, it’s, in a way, easier to make it outside of Singapore first.
ESQ: How did the idea for Dzojchen come about?
CHELSEA SCOTT-BLACKHALL: Through my early 20s, I hungered for experiences. I was eager to immerse myself in different cultures, landscapes and opportunities. I was wide-eyed and ready to go. Through my travels, I found myself living in various parts of Europe, Australia and Asia for months at a time. Originally, what was meant to be a short holiday to New York ended up being a love story with a city, and a come-to moment with myself.
Eventually deciding to move there, I found what it meant to feel truly present; feeling as though I was exactly where I was meant to be at that moment in my life. I know it sounds rather whimsical and vague, but it was during those times that Dzojchen was born, even before the brand materialised.
I credit those years as the foundation of my Dzojchen story. I was fascinated by just how much this industry affects each and every one of us. Some say that they ‘aren’t into fashion’, but just like the food you eat, the job you go to every day, the books that you read, the movies you watch and the hobbies that fill your free time, fashion bleeds into many aspects of one’s life. Clothes play a role in setting the tone—a second skin that delivers comfort and embodies authorship and confidence. I saw that as practical art. With neither design experience, nor stars in my eyes for the industry itself, fashion presented the opportunity to author my own story through practical creation. And perhaps an opportunity to assist others in authoring theirs.
ESQ: Having had no formal education in fashion design, was it a challenge for you to start Dzojchen?
CHELSEA SCOTT-BLACKHALL: The funny thing is, I don’t think it was my lack of formal fashion education that was the biggest challenge. The challenge came from choosing a path of entrepreneurship—laying the foundations and cementing the paving stones of my own path, as opposed to walking a road mapped for me by someone else.
Perhaps my passion for Dzojchen and my lack of a formal fashion education made me subconsciously oblivious of the risks, hurdles and hardships that I would encounter. If one is too aware and fraught with fear of what your hardships will be, perhaps you become too risk-averse to take them on.
In the university of life, I didn’t attend any lessons on how to combat future challenges. I simply had to experience, overcome and evolve from them; learning not only how to convert taste to honing the skillsets required to design, but also how to be a CEO, CFO, COO, CMO, personal assistant, stylist, photographer and more along the way.
ESQ: There’s always this struggle with young designers to try to find that Singaporean identity when creating their brand. Do you think that’s necessary for a Singaporean designer to develop? What does having a Singaporean identity mean to you?
CHELSEA SCOTT-BLACKHALL: I do not believe success for any designer is dependent on a need to create any form of identity other than your own. I never saw myself as having to create a Singapore identity, so much as a Dzojchen identity and being true to the designer I was and wanted to be. My mother is Singaporean, my father is British. And while I was born and raised in Singapore, there have been many influences beyond Singapore that have played into Dzojchen’s identity. East-meets-West has been a huge part of my story and part of what has made me who I am today. And perhaps, the birth of Dzojchen’s DNA: founded on paradox and duality, unexpected balance from contradiction, and the power of opposing energies and forms coexisting in harmony.
ESQ: I love that Dzojchen’s clothes are not stereotypically Asian, if that even makes sense. I feel that just because a brand is founded in Asia, it doesn’t need to have some semblance of Asia infused into it; which more often than not, resembles a caricature and can border on being costume-y. Also, I don’t think Singaporeans are very much attuned to our Asian heritage anyway—we’re a mixed bag of Asian and Western influences. Was that in any way a conscious decision when formulating Dzojchen?
CHELSEA SCOTT-BLACKHALL: I guess there was a naive honesty in creating Dzojchen. I never saw Dzojchen as a business decision but more so as part of my own journey and evolution. I never rationalised or formulated a plan for what Dzojchen should be or should look like. Rather, I instinctively knew what Dzojchen should feel like. It never occurred to me that because of being Singaporean, part of the Dzojchen look and feel had to be Asian.
ESQ: Not many people, especially Singaporeans, know this: A-list celebrities have worn Dzojchen to red carpet events. Can you talk about how that came about and was that part of the strategy in order to have a bigger presence overseas?
CHELSEA SCOTT-BLACKHALL: The Dzojchen journey to success was not entirely a speedy one. The brand launched its first collection in 2012 and for several years we were a denim brand. My choices were not determined by a laid-out business plan that had been put in place years and months prior. It was a truly organic evolution, which I wouldn’t replace with anything. I’ve made mistakes, learned a lot, lived a lot and I certainly grew to appreciate the process.
The opportunities to dress celebrities came from being aware, prepared and nimble when the opportunity arose. It was not a specific Dzojchen strategy designed to conquer an overseas market, but more of an influential tactic to help build awareness and esteem for the brand.
Freshly inspired by Virgil Abloh’s interview with Naomi Campbell for British Vogue, on his appointment at Louis Vuitton, I truly feel that with enough belief in yourself paired with hard work, you can ‘will something into fruition’. It truly felt that way.
ESQ: How does it feel to have people such as Common, Chadwick Boseman and Donald Glover—basically, the who’s who in Hollywood—wear a brand that you’ve founded?
CHELSEA SCOTT-BLACKHALL: Surreal and wonderful. Waking up to a notification of it still feels like an adult Christmas morning every time.
ESQ: Who would be at the top of your list of men you’d love to be wearing Dzojchen?
CHELSEA SCOTT-BLACKHALL: David Bowie, up in the stars.
ESQ: Do you feel that Dzojchen has been better received outside of Singapore? If so, why do you think that is the case?
CHELSEA SCOTT-BLACKHALL: Singapore’s fashion industry is still in its infancy. We are a young country with a budding and creative fashion industry, which has just as much opportunity to thrive as anywhere else. However, during Dzojchen’s evolution I realised that, sometimes, it’s easier to convert those with no preconceived ideas of you, than to convince those who have made conclusions from batch mentality. Singapore has very few historic contemporary-luxury fashion brand success stories, so I set out from the beginning to be a global brand. It made sense both emotionally and economically.
ESQ: Have you seen a shift in the fashion landscape in Singapore since you’ve started the brand?
CHELSEA SCOTT-BLACKHALL: I have seen very significant shifts all around the world and Singapore is no exception: the social media and e-commerce boom, the affirmation that fast fashion was not a fad and is certainly here to stay, the questionability of whether the wholesale distribution model in its current state is still a sustainable growth strategy, pulling back the reins on B2B and empowering brands to trust in their B2C direct-to-consumer strategies, and the evermore innovative ways brands are employing to reach their customer. It’s a golden time to watch, learn, execute and innovate.
ESQ: In your opinion, how should Singaporean men dress better?
CHELSEA SCOTT-BLACKHALL: Trust your ability to co-author your story through fashion. Break a monotonous wardrobe habit and never fear trying something new. Don’t live in a dress rehearsal.
ESQ: What have you been up to recently and what big plans are ahead for Dzojchen?
CHELSEA SCOTT-BLACKHALL: We are aboard exciting times for Dzojchen. Rolling out our omni-channel strategy has taken much of our time and effort, and our belief that while e-commerce is here to stay, physical retail and experience shopping is not going anywhere. And we are simply at the dawn of retail 2.0 in all its innovation and glory.
This article was originally published in the August issue of Esquire Singapore.