Retail in Asia


Y21 founder Jarenis Ho on the evolution of womenswear

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.

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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.

Source: Y21
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. 

Source: 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.

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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.