An online fashion destination for girls who embrace femininity in all shapes and sizes, at the heart of Twenty3 is ambition and strength. Registering the name when she was, you guessed it, 23 years old, founder Sherlyn Tan did so to remind herself of her dreams of creating her own company, even when she didn’t know what type it would be yet.
She says, “I just wanted something that could financially support my dream of being a performing artist. I had sold pre-loved clothing through my old blog and had a good eye for what Malaysian girls liked, so I decided to turn Twenty3 into a blogshop selling the latest trends. It’s since grown to become one of the largest omnichannel fashion brands in the country!”
And grown it has as the label is set to showcase its latest collection at Kuala Lumpur Ready To Wear Fashion Week this August 2016. To contain our excitement for her show, we caught up with Sherlyn and got her talking about the story behind Twenty3, the brand’s aesthetic and ideals, and of course, what to expect at her runway show at KLFW!
How did your love for fashion come about? Was it always a dream for you to start your own label?
I registered the name Twenty3 at the age of 23 to remind myself of my ambition of creating my own company, without even knowing what sort of business it would be. I just wanted something that could financially support my dream of being a performing artist. I had sold pre-loved clothing through my old blog and had a good eye for what Malaysian girls liked, so I decided to turn Twenty3 into a blogshop selling the latest trends. It’s since grown to become one of the largest omnichannel fashion brands in the country!
Can you share the story behind Twenty3? How did the idea for the label first come about?
With only RM5000, I began by reselling stocks purchased from Bangkok, before trying my hand at simple designs. I quickly realised that the brand wouldn’t grow very far with just my limited technical fashion knowledge, so I hired young, hungry fashion designers with the aim of turning Twenty3 into a platform to merge their creativity with our fast fashion efficiency. Sher by Twenty3 and Lin by Twenty3 are just two brands that were created by our talented design team.
How would you describe the brand’s aesthetic? Is there a certain style you stick to, or do you aim to cater to a wide variety of styles?
Drawing on the designers’ combined experience from their time at Khoon Hooi with Rick Owens, Sher by Twenty3 offers a sleek, dark minimalist look with strong, sharp edges outlining structured garments that are embellished with modern beadings, giving the illusion of a stunning flash of lightning against a dark stormcloud.
Lin by Twenty3, on the other hand, is inspired by the designers’ training with Mary Katrantzou and Leonardo Salinas – digital prints, bright colors, feminine lace, and layered ruffles. [It’s] a visual representation of the eternal optimist; the belle of the ball.
You aim to “embrace femininity in all shapes and sizes,” which is a great step in this industry. Can you elaborate on your story behind wanting that particular ideal to shape your brand? Why do you think it’s important to embrace all shapes and sizes in fashion?
The ugliest dress will shine if accessorised with a smile and a healthy dose of confidence in one’s own skin. The first step comes from acceptance of oneself. I still struggle with this on my bad days, and my mind gets muddied by thoughts of how I’m not good enough, or not pretty enough, etc. But society’s chase for perfectionism breeds homogeneity – not only does that imply that we have to agree on a common ideal, but it’s also boring from a creative standpoint! Beauty comes from within, not from standards set from without.
What has been the best part about launching Twenty3, and what has been the most challenging? How has the brand changed since its launch two years ago?
My biggest success is winning the Alliance Bank SME Innovation Challenge 2015, the biggest entrepreneurial award for SMEs in the country. Seeing my colleagues go out of their way to come up with creative ways to canvass for votes, all fighting for the same goal, was very rewarding. Building a business from scratch is a long, lonely, and thankless road, so it was very encouraging to receive that recognition from senior business leaders such as Tan Sri Liew Kee Sin of EcoWorld. It’s given me the drive to push Twenty3 even further in 2016.
[My biggest challenge happened in] early 2015: I faced a barrage of social media bashings, falsely accusing me of reselling stocks I’d purchased through Taobao. It was a big blow not just to me – I was suffering from depression and low self-esteem – but also to the reputation of the brand, which is the most important thing in retail. It was then that I decided to accelerate my plan to convert Twenty3 into a local designer label. Thankfully, we were then given the opportunity to present our first designer collection from Sher by Twenty3 at KLFW 2015, and the subsequent media coverage really helped elevate the branding.
Looking back, two years ago I was a naïve girl with a dream, slogging away as a one-woman show. Today, I’m the proud leader of a talented team of nearly 30 dreamers, all fighting together to create the next big Malaysian fashion brand!
Our design philosophy conveys strength in femininity. We explored that theme in our debut show for Sher by Twenty3 last year, and we’ll further explore that theme this year, with a deeper reflection on the feminine identity within a hyper-masculine world. On the other hand, Lin by Twenty3 will envision the polar opposite: an ethereal world ruled by women, where demureness and ultra-femininity are virtues to be flaunted and celebrated as symbols of strength.
What else can we expect from Twenty3 in the coming months or years. Where do you see your brand headed?
The fashion industry will move more towards sustainability, so that’s something that we will explore in the near future. We’d also like to push the brand abroad: our online store has shipped to 40,000 customers from across 20 countries already, but we’d like to establish a physical foothold in some of those markets.
Don't miss out on Twenty3 at KL Fashion Week Ready To Wear 17 - 21 August at Pavilion, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia!