Our Barehands was established with a clear vision: to empower small-producing communities and foster their long-term sustainability. Its founders, Germaine Lye, Chanel Go, and Mitchell Hong, believe in equitable sharing of opportunities and resources, regardless of the artisans’ backgrounds.
The founders’ earlier experience building a sustainable coffee business project in Myanmar strengthened their conviction that they could generate meaningful employment by enabling artisanal communities to showcase their talents and create market-ready products for global markets.
During travels to developing countries, the founders were inspired by the unique handcrafted works produced by these communities. They recognized that by sourcing higher quality raw materials and collaborating with the artisans on trendier and in-demand designs, they could assist in the creation of higher-value products that would find success in international markets.
Our Barehands began its journey in 2019, initially offering a modest range of shoes, bags, and accessories made in India and Colombia. As the brand expanded in 2020, it was able to broaden its supply chain by collaborating with diverse partners from various countries.
The opening of its boutique at Singapore’s Funan Mall features a significant portion of the apparel available is produced through a partnership with a non-governmental organization dedicated to assisting Afghan refugees in Malaysia. The collaboration provides employment opportunities for the refugees while they await resettlement, empowering them with skills and a source of livelihood.
Retail in Asia speaks with Our Barehands co-founder Chanel Go on identifying community partners and expanding to brick-and-mortar retail.
RiA: Tell us about some of the communities you work with. How do they benefit from Barehands?
Go: The communities we have and are working with include leather shoemakers in Karnataka, India, Wayuu weavers in Zulia, Venezuela, and the deaf community in Singapore, among others.
Barehands supports artisans in these communities with market-ready designs, sourcing of quality materials and equipment, imparting business skills and know-how, as well as financing and accessing international markets.
At the same time, we believe that re-investing in our artisans is highly important. We do that by connecting them to a network of resources that includes up-skilling and training by like-minded individuals and brands.
RiA: Please describe the steps you have taken in growing the business. Barehands recently opened its first brick-and-mortar store – why is now the right time?
Go: We decided to open a physical store at Funan Mall after receiving feedback from customers who have been patronising the brand for some time at several pop-ups and boutique fairs over the years, and wanted a more permanent and accessible space for them to try out our apparel before making a purchase.
The Barehands business model is slightly different from the mainstream. Customers place their orders online and at our physical stores, but wait up to nine weeks for their pieces to arrive – as more than 70 percen of sales are made-to-order, with the rest being available as off-the-rack pieces at Funan Mall and its concept lounge at i12 Katong.
RiA: Have customers been mostly based in Singapore – or are you also seeing interest from international customers on your online store?
Go: Currently, majority of our customers are based in Singapore. However, from our online store, we have received quite a bit of orders from international customers – from Australia, United States, the Philippines and others. In addition, our newest Funan boutique that opened its doors on August 5 has seen interest from tourists visiting Singapore.
RiA: What is your ultimate goal for Barehands, and how do you see the business evolving in the next two to three years?
Go: Our Barehands has worked with 10 different communities and 144 artisans in eight countries – India, Myanmar, Venezuela, Colombia, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand. The goal in the next three years is to establish the growth of at least three artisan communities from being nascent to self-sustaining. This will require us to grow the brand not just in Singapore but also internationally, and at the same time invest into these three communities.
We look forward to expending efforts in showcasing the brand and the artisans behind, through the opening up of physical stores in Singapore and beyond.