^ Ren, Co-Founder of MATTER (Photo Creds: Creative Mornings Singapore)
Hello guys! I’m Renyung! I was trained in sociology, graduated from the London School of Economics with a thesis in social entrepreneurship; worked in the travel industry and eventually, after starting and closing a co-working space and crowdfunding platform, am now working towards making textile artisanship in Asia sustainable and relevant in the form of MATTER.
Someone once told me that I’m a visual poet, and I feel like that’s the best label I’ve ever been given. I take it to mean that I create meaning and expression through visual mediums, and that seems to be the red thread that has run through all my work, personal and professional.
Describe MATTER in a sentence!
We’re a socially motivated business focusing on affordable luxury, thoughtful design and provenance to create travel wear with stories to tell – the first edition is pants to see the world in.
Sweet! We love the pants! How did MATTER came to be?
MATTER was sparked by the excitement of travel and the human connection that comes with it. The feeling of anything is possible, the richness of a life that is open to global inspiration. I met my co-founder, Yvonne, on the beaches of Mexico, and we were inspired to combine our love for travel, cultural stories, and unique travel wear into a business catering to the global nomad.
Practically, it kicked off when I drove a tuktuk covering 3000km from North to South India for a charity drive – I fell in love with the country, met some key people I work with now, and was inspired as to how something small can really go a long way.
The message is to find out the where and why something is made – we will make better choices when we know those stories, for ourselves and the world. Also, that we are all connected – that’s why it’s called MATTER – going back to the basics that connect us.
That is so inspiring! How has MATTER help the community in India?
I think they have helped us more than we have helped them, given their expertise, and I like to see it as a partnership rather than a one way form of helping. In terms of artisan employment generated, in 2014 we created about 519 days of employment which is towards our goal of raising the amount of artisan work in textiles. I think our partnership also helps to innovate in terms of technique and aesthetics.
What have you guys been up to lately?
Then&There is a project seeking to encapsulate stories of a certain time, and place. What happened, where, and when? We approached four designers in Asia from Singapore, Philippines, Indonesia and India to design a print around their country’s heritage.
When designing our prints, we look back to original heritage motifs that carry a story, to explore tradition’s relevance through the lens of modernity. With this collaboration we want to celebrate the connectedness in Asia’s multicultural, ever changing scenery. We want to provoke questions of identity, origins, and roots. We want to build on the common ground we have in our histories, but also unite in our diversity. Blockprinting emerged as the first medium by which we translated oral history and created the written word, and so it is apt that we return to its origins as a cross-cultural, multi-lingual medium of translation.
Our goal is to collaborate with a variety of designers who appreciate the roots of craftsmanship and align with our values, as we work to make rural textile artisanship sustainable.
It’ll launch in Q4, so stay tuned! We are in the middle of sampling now and the blocks have been carved, so we’re very excited.
We’re excited already! Well what advise would you give to people who wants to start their own business geared towards community?
Take a mutually respectful approach and remember to learn something from everyone, and listen closely to understand what people’s true motivations are.
What were some of the challenges/setbacks you faced when you first started MATTER?
So many… it is such a steep learning curve that I am still facing now, but I think one definite one was not being familiar with the production process and especially the unpredictable variance in product and timeline that can come with artisan textiles. Now I’m able to put in buffers and parameters to counter that. Another one was decision fatigue, but having mentors who weigh in is super important.
What would be your mantra behind what you do?
Wheresoever you go, go with all your heart. – Confucius
It has been this quote for the last 10 years for me.
What would be the best part about what you do?
So many things. The fact that I get to do this is already the best part. Combining what I’m good at with what I love, with a positive impact of the world – that’s my version of success.
What would be your dream for our local creative industry?
That people could be free to explore, fail and succeed on their own terms.
What do you think we need to do as a community to grow?
Start valuing our own creatives in market value, and seek out collaborators with a common vision to work together.
What is one thing that you are proud of about our local creative industry?
At least from my experience, that it is more collaborative than competitive, and there is a sense of a common uniting goal of cultivating the industry in general.
What can we expect from MATTER in the future?
We just launched 4 new unisex styles and ikat prints, and will be revealing new techniques from India, Indonesia and Laos. There’ll also be an exciting collaboration with designers in Asia for the later part of the year!