I love to discover all the cool stores that a hip City has to offer. Sure you have your big chains like Zara, H&M, Forever21, etc., for the fast fashion and very seldomnly will they carry something climate appropriate, otherwise it’s usually mass produced without really considering the local style scene. And because I just love shopping and mixing high and low pieces, I love finding small unique local shops that sell interesting accessories and clothing. Little did I know that finding clothes that would fit me properly would be a challenge in Singapore.
Asia shopping is definitely different than what it is in North America. Growing up in North America, I never thought so much about my weight and physical appearance. Sure the asian side of my parents as-a-matter-of-factly would point out the obvious if I gain a few pounds here and there, but for my best interest of course. Other than that, I never realized how North America, despite all the stereo types really embraces the culture of size. It’s a catch 22, we care but we don’t, if that makes any sense – it’s more of a support system, not to shun or shame. As much as there are obesity issues, there are also those with eating disorders. North Americans know the realities of what being a real woman is all about, and we are not afraid to vocalize and express the realities. That the average girl is probably a size 6 to 12, there are big-boned girls, there are different types of body shapes, and there are powerful, strong and successful women who are not defined by their size or weight. Just look at our own Moms, they are the true heroes.
But after a year living in Asia amongst locals and foreigners alike and getting to know them and their woes, I have come to realize that appearance, materialistic goods, and weight have suddenly become a priority. Something that is constantly on the minds of these women, and the feeling of constantly being judged upon or judging others on. It’s like the women’s version of a pissing contest. The prettier, the skinnier you are, the brand names you carry, defines who you are, and how you will be treated.
A recent experience while shopping at a market was one of those shameless Asian “ah-ha” moments, where a store owner bluntly and shamelessly yelled out “no size for you!” as soon as she saw me stepping my foot into the store. I wasn’t insulted nor hurt, to be frank, I was taken aback from her sudden outburst. And felt like I was stepping into the twilight zone. And perhaps my approach is rather passive. However, if I were to look at it on the flip side, she just saved me a whole lot of time and frustration from scouring something I couldn’t have worn anyways. Was her method appropriate? No definitely not, but I wasn’t about to give her a lecture on customer service. Was it more acceptable because I was in Asia? Probably and I hate to stereotype but I know Asians can be shamelessly blunt. But I am not apologetic for my carefree spirit that they see in me – so we were even Steven. There are big people in Asia, so this whole notion that all Asian people are stick skinny is a misconception.
I like to consider myself healthy. I have breasts, a butt, thighs, I like to work out, I do have muscle mass, I do have those bloody love handles, I typically wear a 29 in denim, I have broad shoulders so I usually wear a size 10. I never really considered myself a plus-size, and by industry standards in North America, plus-size is after size 14 or 16. And what can I say, but my husband and I love to eat! We are big foodies and love traveling and trying various foods. I like to consider this being cultured – but whatever – I embrace me for who I am. [Enter P.Diddy’s “Can’t Nobody Hold Me Down” rap here] “Can’t nobody take my pride, uh-uh, uh-uh, can’t nobody hold me down… ohh no, I got to keep on movinnnnn..”
Maintenance for your health is important, and eating good calories and exercising is how you get there. The size of your hips, or the brand you wear should not determine the path to your life or measure the level of your success. I know Asia is still at its development phase (despite the sudden boom and wealth, it still lacks modesty, the willingness to understand and compassion for others – a very new-money way of thinking – and that’s ok, at least for now) and with growth this will become more intuitive and eventually fostered into the culture. But I think there is definitely a societal issue on curvy women in Asia. It’s almost taboo, people don’t talk about it and there is no voice.
Put it this way, it took this long for North America to be where we are today. Those Dove commercials we started seeing more recently didn’t happen overnight. But Asia definitely needs to help girls understand and help them feel empowered for who they are on the inside, and maybe have more Women celebrities or public figures who are confident and strong, that young girls can look up to for substance and not just superficiality.
And so finding local retailers who cater to curvy women became a mission of mine, and also how I discovered and learned of the beautiful ladies behind a local online boutique for “plus-size” (in Asia standards) called The F Dept (Department), having endured their own shares of frustrating experience with the local shopping scene, and how they are now changing the game for the curvaceous Ladies in Singapore.
If you are my North American readers, I know what you are thinking, if you have already visited their site or seen their pictures, they are by no means ‘plus-size’ the way we know it.
I was so flattered and honoured to learn that they adored my style and wanted to collaborate with me.
Here are 10 interesting facts that I learned over our mini Q&A session;
MsYL: Can you share a little about who is/are behind The F Department? Name, where you were born and raised, currently based out-of, and how/what made you launch The F Department and how the name came about?
Felina and Kayley: The two ladies at helm, are Felina and Kayley. BFFs, both born & bred, and currently based-out-of Singapore. Raised in Asia, we grew up being told that being petite and small is the ideal size for girls. This really gave us a rather bittersweet experience when growing up; some may love us regardless of our shape, but others (the most hurtful being family) can be critical and cynical of our weight. It is disheartening to see larger sizes sold as one-offs and typically unflattering, which leaves very limited options for curvy girls, and why we tend to go for the big chains (like H&M, Forever21, etc.) but nothing to support local businesses. And this is our story, after a disappointing experience while shopping at a flea market together, we noticed that while there are so many trendy fashionable clothing at affordable prices catered to the skinny and petites, there was literally nothing for the curvaceous frames! Then it dawned on us, that the market for plus size is practically non-existant, and more or less ignored. So we basically came back home that day empty-handed but determined to expand the fashion choices for curvy ladies. The F Dept, or short TFD (The Friends Department) the name and core concept was inspired by Diane Von Furstenburg’s quote, “What I think I sell with my clothes is confidence, so hopefully all my dresses, my accessories, are friends to the women. When you open the closet, and your eyes are swollen, and you don’t like the way you look, you go to your friends.” And this became our building block. When you hate how you look, when you are down and out, when you are feeling insecure, you go to your friends – where you can be honest and share your complaints. Our friendship helps us to build confidence – the lack of it is the root cause of our insecurities. We know the woes of a curvy girl and what we want to sell is confidence “embracing your beauty from within” because being confident about ourselves is the best policy.
MsYL: Where or who do you get your style inspirations from?
Felina: I love browsing at Forever 21’s off the rack plus size collection – I love the trend and the modish outfits that they carry. And from time to time, I will check out curvier celebrities (like Leona Lewis, Mariah Carey, and Adele just to name a few) and take notes on (if and when) they are dressed well, their choice on outfits that flatter their body shapes.
Kayley: To be honest, I don’t really have a particular idol/celebrity that I like and get inspiration from. To me, anything can be fashionable if you wear it right and with confidence! I get my inspiration from the everyday people. I like to look at people (yes, I’m weird lol) I like to see how they dress, how they accessorize etc., I like to browse on Pinterest and Instagram and draw inspiration from there.
MsYL: How would you describe the person shopping at The F Department?
Felina and Kayley: Ladies that want to build confidence through shopping for clothes that will help them shape their bodies and hug their curves. Where they do not feel judged for their size or weight. Essentially the feeling of shopping with your best friend. Confidence is so important to stop us from being self-destructive. We don’t want girls to starve themselves for a dress. We want our customers to look beautiful, but most importantly feel beautiful. While it is a personal affair to change how you see yourself, we can help by changing the way others see you.
MsYL: What are your thoughts on Singaporeans’ perception on weight issue and how important is physical appearance in Singapore?
Felina and Kayley: There is a general assumption in Asian Society that girls are meant to be petite and slender, nothing wrong with that – if only being a bigger and fuller frame didn’t feel as though one was committing a crime. But the reality is that, we get called names and labelled as obese – and most hurtful when its coming from someone near and dear to us. It might be of media influence, slender-figures are sought after while chubbier girls are often portrayed as the pun or “unwanted”. A very superficial culture that needs to be addressed. So it is almost inevitable that curvier girls are left affected in how we see ourselves, as unattractive or being our own worst critic. I think Asian Society needs to start encouraging and promoting that the way to a healthier lifestyle is to eat well, exercise, and maintain a good work-life balance. Not just in losing weight for the sake of being stick skinny because that is the way it has always been, and that is what is considered to be beautiful or the way of life for Asian women.
MsYL: Who is/are your role model(s)? and Why?
Felina and Kayley: currently Jennifer Lawrence and Colbie Caillat – both known for their bold quotes on their weight and not conforming to Hollywood standards. This is the type of role models with a voice we need in Asia, being great influences through their arts, empowering Asian girls!
MsYL: In your own words, how would you describe Singapore’s style scene, and does that make or cramp your style? If not the local scene, what other Cities/Countries inspire your own personal style and why?
Felina: It’s definitely a challenge shopping in Singapore for plus-size, unless you shop at an American or European chain. The local retail scene is so limited in terms of sizes and selections. Personally, I like to dress sensibly and comfortably. So while crop tops and mini-skirts are what’s trending at the moment, this isn’t for everybody!
Kayley: I would say Singapore’s style scenes is pretty laid-back casual. I tend to buy and shop more at European brands because there are much more options for sizing.
MsYL: What is next for The F Department? (when will your next launch be? What kind of style can we be expecting then?)
Felina and Kayley: We just launched recently, and having fun testing the Singaporean market! Basically making all the decisions of the styles that would sell, but also taking into consideration if we would personally wear them. We do plan on expanding our categories to beachwear, office attire and formal dresses in the near future. So stay tuned!
MsYL: What is one random / interesting fact about each of you?
Felina: I can’t sing for life but I sing as though I am Mariah Carey. God help us!
Kayley: I secretly love to perform and would love to learn to dance Street Jazz. And I love to sing! Sadly, I only have the courage to sing Chinese songs, even though I listen to songs in english more! I have a girl crush on Taylor Swift!
MsYL: Which of the piece from your recent launch is your personal favorite? And why?
Felina: My personal favourite is the Yukiko Oriental Kimono. My style is very laid-back and my wardrobe is rather multi-functional. I like pieces that can be versatile for the office, for casual days, or for date nights. And a kimono style top is like the saviour for all occasions. Having trouble thinking of what to wear?! Throw on your go-to spaghetti strap and shorts, and wrap it up with a kimono. What I love about this Yukiko Oriental Kimono are the exquisite blooms prints, the colour and its light weight material is perfect for Singapore’s humid weather too.
Kayley: I love the Heidi Sweetheart Dress! I got one for myself and wore it on Chinese New Year and received tons of compliments on it! I just love the cut – one can never go wrong with an A-line dress!
MsYL: You are giving life to ‘plus size’ apparel in Singapore and helping girls embrace their body size and helping build their confidence, if there is one Singaporean (or Asian) celebrity or public figure that you would love to see become an ambassador for The F Department, who would it be and how would they help represent your brand?
Felina and Kayley: This is a good yet difficult question you asked, but I think will help you and your readers understand the lack there is on public figures and Celebrities in Asia that voice embracing natural beauty and healthy body image for girls. Typically when you do see a curvier Asian celebrity, they are a Comedian or portray the nerd, or the social outcast in TV and Movies. Hence the recent boom and craze in Cosmetic Surgery in South East Asia over the last few years. Even finding plus-size models is a challenge. Sadly, in Asia, it is very much a culture where curvy girls cannot walk with their heads held high. Hopefully we can slowly start to change this mindset, and help girls embrace their natural beauty and size.
So now that you got to learn a little more about these beautiful Entrepreneurs – the best part – which I saved for last; is that the prices are affordable because these Ladies understand that fashion can get costly! And hopefully this will help empower women of Singapore that beauty starts within.
Curvaceous Women also love to shop to look and feel good. There is no rule to say that there are exceptions based on one’s size.
Let me hear your voice Ladies, how can we help one another embrace our beauty the way nature intended it?! Share your thoughts on the comment section below!
Listen up, Ladies in Singapore, starting today Friday March 13th, 2015 use promo code “msyolee10off” for a 10% discount off with a minimum purchase of $30 SGD dollars (before shipping). This offer ends on Friday March 20th, 2015 and only valid for those residing in Singapore.
Thanks for reading!