Y21, a Singaporean fashion label previously known as Yacht 21, is embarking on the next stage of its rebranding journey with the reopening of its flagship store at Suntec City. In October the store unveiled an innovative retail concept that embodies the brand’s fresh identity as an urban resortwear label catering to the modern woman with multifaceted lifestyles.
Beyond offering the complete range of women’s apparel from Y21’s collection, the flagship store will also serve as a platform to showcase the brand’s latest venture, the Y21 ReWork initiative. This experimental upcycling project highlights innovative products that exemplify the brand’s commitment to sustainable fashion practices.
Retail in Asia speaks with Y21 founder Jarenis Ho on rebranding Y21 and dressing the modern woman.
RiA: Can you please tell us a bit about your background, and how you arrived at creating your own womenswear label, Y21?
Ho: I started my company in 2009, inspired by a boat trip that I took with my friends where I noticed a gap in the market for year-round cruise wear. Post-pandemic, we have transitioned to designing urban wear clothes for the modern woman with hybrid lifestyles. My journey as an entrepreneur began during university. My early experiences of setting up stalls with my friends at school bazaars to sell a variety of items, from handmade jewellery and batik dresses to decorative gifts for Valentines’ fuelled my love for running my own business.
Prior to Y21, I started a TCM-inspired fashion label, called Folk’s Leaf, as well as another label called Hurs that sold vintage-themed apparel and handmade accessories by local crafters. While these companies eventually folded to make way for Y21, the early ventures helped me understand the subtleties of running a business. With no experience and no one to turn to, I had to learn to build and manage them from scratch, from sourcing for reliable clothing manufacturers to printing name cards. I was learning new things every month that excited me.
RiA: Y21 was formerly known as Yacht 21. Can you tell us about this rebrand?
Ho: Two years ago, Y21 embarked on a rebranding in response to the changing lifestyles of women. Since the pandemic, modern women no longer wanted separate pieces of clothing for work, parties and vacation. Instead, they have hybrid lifestyles and desired outfits that meet this need. This could mean looking for professional clothes that are office appropriate yet comfortable enough for working from home, or those who want more casual outfits that are also appropriate for working remotely.
Y21 pivoted from making travel-friendly collections that are meant for vacations to designing women’s clothings that are well-made, versatile and timeless that can be worn anywhere, from day to night and from work to vacation.
RiA: Your brand has embarked on a boutique revamp with a view to reducing waste. Can you tell us more about the design features and initiatives you are most excited about?
Ho: We are revamping all our stores as part of the next phase of our rebranding exercise which will fully reflect our transition to Y21.
The refreshed store concept, designed by local design company Studio Gin&G, moves away from the nature and resort image that the brand previously had as a cruise wear label. It now features simple, functional and elegant elements that are reminiscent of Danish designs. Y21’s new colour scheme of cobalt blue and light pastel blue and green colours, which echo the brand’s spirit of vibrancy and energy, are also prominent throughout the stores.
Recognising fashion’s waste problem, Y21 wanted to do more and change the way it operates to leave a better impact. The store revamp presented a unique opportunity to do this. Starting from its own backyard, the homegrown label sought ways to minimise waste and improve circularity in its retail stores.
It used alternative materials such as ethically sourced and stained timber veneers for flooring, as well as 100 percent high density polyethylene (HDPE) plastic waste or recycled plastic that were collected from local establishments to design its new countertop. In total, nearly 50 kilograms of recycled plastic were turned into more than 62 counter panels, each featuring a unique speckled pattern of blue, orange and a dash of pink that complemented Y21’s new store concept. Where possible, old furniture such as hangers, mirrors, storage racks and pedestals were repurposed and given a new lease of life.
A section of the revamped flagship store at Suntec City also showcases the assortment of bags and redesigned clothes from Y21 ReWork. This is an upcycling initiative by Y21 to transform defective clothes and leftover scrap fabrics from its manufacturing process into new products that are designed by up-and-coming talents from local fashion schools in Singapore.
RiA: Do you feel the in-store experience has become more valuable post-pandemic?
Ho: While it is necessary to be online for companies such as ours in the digital age, brick-and-mortar remains essential in our business strategy. According to the Department of Statistics in Singapore, sales from physical stores are still capturing well over 80 percent of total sales in 2022.
Despite the proliferation of e-commerce, we have noticed that customers still enjoy the physical experience of shopping – the human interaction, the touch and feel of clothes and the overall vibe of the store. The act of shopping is more than just a transactional experience; it has a social aspect to it which digital interfaces cannot deliver.
Hence, our physical stores have been redesigned to reflect our new branding, complement our online stores and create a memorable experience for customers. We seek to enhance in-store experience by creating a welcoming environment where customers can genuinely feel as if this is a place where they can take their time to try on our clothes, which they cannot do so online, and chat with our friendly staff.
We also aim to make shopping as seamless as possible for our customers by offering flexible fulfilment where customers can choose to have their items delivered to them or collect them at a store most convenient to them if they are working or running errands nearby.
The retail stores are also a unique way for us to build a community with our loyal customers. Through intimate experiential events, we get to build personal connections and relationships with our customers.
RiA: What’s next for Y21?
Ho: The flagship store at Suntec City is the first of our three stores to undergo a revamp. The rest will follow suit in the next year, completing our rebranding. We are also exploring potential partnerships, with plans to expand overseas in the future.
The industry is fast-changing and we are constantly evolving to meet our customers’ needs, whether it is to suit their changing lifestyles or preference for conscious shopping. Our aim is to design well-made clothes for the modern women that last them across different seasons and trends. Hence, we are always sourcing for better quality fabrics, improving our workmanship, creating versatile designs, building unique partnerships and innovating ideas that capture and retain their loyalty.