PUBLISHED August 23rd, 2019 06:00 am
Clothing designed for men will never look perfect on a female body, which is why Sheryl Yeo wants to make one for anyone who wants to wear shirts, suits, and trousers that fit well regardless of gender and sexuality. After all, she recently got married in matching floral suits with her husband. In an industry that’s largely dominated by males, she’s set out on her own to found custom garment label, 3EIGHTH. And the thing is? She only started her foray into tailoring just three years ago in 2016. Here’s what she has to say.
Hi Sheryl! First up, what does style and dressing up mean for you?
Hi! Thanks for having me. These days I try to go by the motto, “dance like no one’s watching” and I’d like to live that out when it comes to my clothes too. When it comes to dressing up – it really depends a lot on the moment, and the mood actually! Even the sort of music I’m listening to.
I love experimentation, and one day I could be inspired to wear heavy chain necklaces and baggy silhouettes, and the next day I’m back to suits with a clean, masculine cut. Even my hair goes through phases. I really think dressing up can be a form of empowerment and self-expression, and it’s been my medium for a long, long time.
Do you believe in power dressing?
I do. Power dressing has come a long way and for most females it tends to be an assertion of sorts. I always think back about women in the past having to lend from masculine silhouettes to make a point or be a figure of authority — hence the idea of a power suit. But it’s nice that in modern times, the idea of power doesn’t just stem from being masculine, but also embracing your feminine side in dresses and glitter. Despite my roots in menswear tailoring, I embrace all of that and find that as long as you feel comfortable and confident, whether in a suit or dress, that’s true power dressing. I think it’s important that we don’t have to dress for the gaze of others.
What does the concept of a suit mean to you?
What I love about suits is that there is uniformity to it. It’s so charming because the look tends to be slightly ambiguous and androgynous. And honestly, it’s the ideal outfit for just about any formal setting. In traditional menswear, there are so many rules of thumbs to follow through on what makes a classic suit. But I love tearing down what it means to wear a “classic suit” over and over again. And more so for females now, whether you come out in a print that’s too quirky, a length that’s too short or long, it almost never goes out of line. And that’s what I love about it. It’s everything.
Recently, I teamed up with another local designer, De Han who specialises in womenswear with Asian influences, and we worked on a suit for Becca D’Bus (the drag queen) for her Pink Dot get up. We built the look with tonnes of tulle stacked on a suit and it ended up looked nothing like a suit after that. I love that it just looks like it could be anything, and I love that there’s this possibility of things turning out like so.
You wore a suit for your wedding, designed by yourself, no less. I can imagine some people would have looked at you with a bit of skepticism.
Oddly and nicely enough, I’ve only gotten (at least people who told me in person) positive comments abut wearing a suit to my wedding more than anything else. Although that being said, not many would follow through to actually wear a suit at their own weddings hah. But I respect everyone’s choices and ideals. Do whatever works – after all you’re getting married, not them!
What inspired you to start 3EIGHTH? Did you have a mission on the outset?
I’ve always loved mens’ clothing. The Uniqlo menswear department was my favourite. But the frustration of the sizing, and also colour wheels for females really got to me. Why can’t women rock an olive pants or a nice camel coloured suit? Surely there had to be something out there.
At the heart of it, 3EIGHTH actually represents 3/8 of an inch, which also equates to the allowance we use when drafting clothes. And akin to that allowance, I hope for our label to give an allowance for people to be themselves, regardless of your gender, your sexuality or preferences, and body type. It was really to create a safe space for people to actually have clothes made and not be judged for their choices and preferences.
How’s the reception been so far? Any particularly interesting projects?
I think we’ve been doing well enough – and we’re lucky that we have wonderful customers have been nothing but supportive of our journey. At 3EIGHTH, I do my best to also use the brand’s platforms to represent the things I believe in – inclusivity, women’s rights and empowerment, and most of all, standing up for what’s right. I enjoy the fact that my clients understand my efforts and are in favour too.
We’ve been working on #3EIGHTHConversations, which is basically a feature project that brings on personalities who I think are highly underrated. We help to tell their stories through our journal section, and of course customise some clothes through our lenses for these people after getting to know them. This has been a mainstay for us, and I thoroughly enjoy this process. Jean and Xener’s love story were one of the those we shared through this platform.
In the next few months, we’re looking to celebrate our first year anniversary soon actually, and perhaps venture out into a more multi-label concept so we can allow people to shop and explore options that aren’t in the market. If time allows, we’re also hoping to launch a small capsule collection of shirts with some fun design elements too. Fingers crossed!
Do you abide by any rules in your clothes, and why?
I think for most tailors, our role is to bring out your best assets and hide your flaws. So for me, the only rules I keep in mind are mainly the comfort of a customer and balancing the proportions for them. I tend to be supportive of most ideas my customers bring in, because I think that’s what coming for something personalised is about – it should be fun and expresses some parts of yourself. Whether you wanted a cropped jacket or oversized one, I’m all good by that.
But at the end of the run, I’ll always remind them of the possible outcomes and show them options so they can make an informed decision and we can work on delivering a garment they would wear and love.
Have you ever had to turn down a client?
I rarely do – and when it happens, it tends to be a timeline issue or rushed delivery that is hard for us to commit to, and we wouldn’t want to disappoint, of course!
What advice would you give anyone looking to start a similar business or concept?
Well, to be fair, I don’t think I’m equipped enough to be giving advice. But if I had to advise someone who was in a similar state as I am, or even to myself when I first started, I’d definitely say “Run a business from the heart.” I think that’s when people can truly be touched by your outreach and understand the core of your brand and purpose. With that, half the battle is won when they already appreciate my work before even commissioning a piece. It really fosters a respect and understanding both ways when people are interested and willing to listen.
What question did you wish we had asked?
If there were any interesting interactions I had with clients. Because most of those I’ve served are from communities that were always “excluded” or a “minority”, I’ve met so many people across the board. From same-sex couples who were looking to get married and suited out, to women who felt their bodies were forgotten about in the market and having options now. It’s really heartening to see that I can help in one way or another.
These stories are so prevalent in our society, but often forgotten. I’m so glad to be able to be of service and help. That to me is the fuel for running the brand even on my worst days for sure. In fact, I hope this will set a precedent for other businesses so that there are more options for everyone to explore.
Make your next set of clothing with Sheryl at 3EIGHTH. Prices start at $120 for shirts, $150 for trousers, and $650 for suits.