By ASHLEY LOO
Xavier Tan, 21, a final-year Design and Environment student at Ngee Ann Polytechnic, has always had a passion for fashion. Starting UNIK, a streetwear brand that reflects the lives of today’s youths, was a step towards fulfilling that passion.
Not one to confine his dreams to Singapore, UNIK (formerly known as Typoholic Apparels) was only a month old when Xavier began talking about collaborations with Melbourne.
“We have met people from Melbourne Fashion Week who wish to use our platform as a safe space for youths to express what they feel, serve their passion and yet earn from it,” says Xavier.
Melbourne in particular has always been in Xavier’s line of vision, having seen their thriving streetwear and graffiti scene being supported by the Melbourne Council. Similarly, UNIK’s potential collaborators raised the idea of using UNIK’s designs as a blank canvas for youths to “vandalise” on legally, like the street art in Melbourne.
Xavier explains that this idea resonated with his brand’s vision – to contribute to positive social change in the local community by uniting young individuals and involving them in various aspects of the business. He also wanted to give them the freedom to highlight their concerns about society from concept to design.
So far, UNIK has worked with over 30 youths from different walks of life. Some come in as designers with stories to tell, while others connect with these young designers to discuss their stories, and bring them to life.
Xavier aims to push his UNIK brand to become the platform that propels the voices of youths to be recognised, both outside campus and beyond Singapore.
“I thought it was just a poly streetwear brand at first,” says Sonia Tan, 18, an influencer, who modelled for UNIK’s April 2019 launch. She was impressed when she came in for her shoot because “there were professional photographers; accessories were prepared, and there was even food.”
The attention to detail is a testament to Xavier’s commitment to bringing UNIK to a higher level. However, he believes there is no time to rest on his laurels.
Xavier explains that UNIK requires an even bigger market, beyond his current Singapore base, in order to take in more youth designers and storytellers. As such, his current goal is to bring UNIK “to an international level and be more recognisable”.
Driven by this, he takes risks to promote his brand whenever there is an opportunity to capture an international audience. At the Skechers Sundown Festival recently, he persuaded Melo (Xie Yujie), one of the Higher Brothers, a hip-hop foursome from Chengdu, to wear UNIK on stage.
“I literally crashed their fitting room because security was not tight,” says Xavier.
Videos of Melo wearing UNIK on Instagram generated word-of-mouth publicity for UNIK and increased sales. “Until you knock on their doors, they will never know you exist,” says Xavier. The first series of UNIK’s April 2019 line sold out the next day and 45 pieces were ordered from China.
While this was a milestone for the brand, it may be seen as a commercially driven move which may distance sceptics away from UNIK’s original intentions. Wali Khan, 19, a UNIK customer, says that he bought the clothes not to support the stories behind them, but because he felt the value would grow.
“It is genuinely all hype. Then again, so are most streetwear brands,” he says.
Despite this, Xavier is already arranging several meetings for the next launch, he has thus far approached IKEA and Apple to discuss future plans.