Joe Chia is The Biggest Catch in Town

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The year has barely started, and already our homegrown glory Joe Chia has been making his mark around the world. The Kelantan-born fashion designer has taken the giant leap of faith with his international showcases of his upcoming Chapter06: Raised by Wolves FW15 collection at the Milan Fashion Week and the Paris Fashion Week back in January. Despite his busy schedule, we managed to catch his big fish for a quick chat on his latest venture, before he swims off again!

How was the reception for your brand and the FW15 collection from the international audience? 
Chapter06 was a great start to the year for us, without a doubt. Already, this collection will be retailing alongside renowned labels, such as Rick Owens, Yohji Yamamoto and Comme des Garcons in 16 stores over nine countries worldwide from August onwards. Some of these stores are our long-time favourite and well-respected, like DAAD DANTONE in Milan, SPRMRT in Amsterdam and OUKAN 71 in Berlin – it’s quite a great honour, indeed!

How was the response in these foreign countries different, compared to the ones you have gotten thus far locally?
We are very humbled that the overseas market has shown us as much grace as the local fashion industry. There were a lot of exchange of positive vibes, shared experiences, encouraging words and valuable advices from our customers and even neighbouring designers at the trade shows! We are very thankful for that.

Any valuable lessons you have picked up while you were away?
Work hard and be nice to people. I think the best part of the trip was the positivity and encouragement from our neighbouring designers of different backgrounds and cultures. Conversations were always great because we got to exchange thoughts and share our experiences and stories – there is always something to learn from one another. And it is through conversations like these that we got to meet one of our respected storeowners from London, right in the heart of Milan. It’s always inspiring to meet people who share the same passion and appreciation towards fashion, and that is also how we grow as individual designers.

You pretty much threw yourself in the deep end here, when you bring your label to international height, but from the looks of it, you’ve benefited from this giant leap of faith.
Was there ever a time when you planned to take things abroad, but you feel that you are not quite ready yet? 
Oh yes, definitely. I think there was hardly a time when we were able to say that “we are ready” truly, as there will always be room for improvement. It takes years to explore, learn, research and build our experiences and understanding towards clothing itself, as well as our direction and the target market. Not to mention, a lot of polishing to shape up our team and our collection pieces. As a young and independent designer and label, there are many things that both my team and I need to learn, that we are still learning.

How do you overcome those moments of self-insufficiency?
There have never been particular moments that have to be overcome, but instead down periods we see as time to firm up the groundwork that helps prepare us for when we regain momentum for moments like these. I mean, after I graduate in 2010, I interned as a promoter at a local boutique for two years. The owner was kind enough to give me a space to sell some of my pieces, and during those two years, I would spend the night cutting and sewing in the store, so that the morning after, I can sell them at the store. It was definitely the toughest two years of my life thus far; I was living on a minimum allowance, and most nights I would sleep in the boutique, and sometimes in my car! But eventually, I managed to save up enough from the clothes I sold, and rent a little space to call my workshop. But that doesn’t end there: I still spend days and nights at my workshop researching and creating pieces, initially on my own, before I got my first teammate, then the second, then the third… Yet, there is still so much to do and learn, and we’re still spending sleepless nights at the workshop till this day. I guess, the important thing is to keep going no matter what. Even during down periods we should strive to minimise those duration so that we can keep going in the same speed.

Speaking from personal experience, when and how do you think a designer will know that they are “ready” for such international exposure?
Different people have different definitions of being “ready”. There’s a saying that goes: luck is when preparation meets opportunity. There are a million and one things that could go wrong at any given time or day, so the only thing we can do that’s in our control is to be as prepared as possible, and make sure that we cover all grounds and steer away from making as many mistakes as we can think of. I believe that everyone and anyone can make it. Rome wasn’t built in a day, so they say, so have faith in yourself, be passionate and faithful in your work, and work hard for it.

Besides an international status for your fashion label, what else is different when you return from this trip around the world?
There is still more work to do (laughs)! Times are definitely getting more challenging now, but fortunately, we love challenges! As creators, I believe that we should never cease to come up with ideas, and we should never stop polishing and refining the work of our past.

“Small fish in a big pond” or “big fish in a small pond”?
Hmm. “Big fish in a small pond” does sound very packed to me (laughs). Besides, “the big pond” is always a good place to explore and to meet different people of different talents. It’s always good to feel inspired, and I believe that “the big pond” has the limitless amount of inspiration to go around for everyone.

This article was featured in the HANGER SS15 issue.

www.joechia.com