Come with us as we go on a journey to the past, the 60s to be precise. The 60s was a pivotal time in history. From the Vietnam War, to the fight for civil rights and student rebels, up to colored television. And one cannot simply miss the Beatles. The Beatles were arguably one of the most iconic musical figures of all times. Their lives were heavily documented and their legacy lives on today, influencing people from all walks of life. One of those people inspired by the 60s is none other than upcoming, local designer Aurelia Santoso, who also happens to be one of our favorite designers.
A few days back, we got the chance to visit this designer and her label, LAISON, whom she manages with partner (and best friend) Sharonne, in their workshop. It was a rather funny and daunting experience, if I could say so myself. Time had not been on our side as of late and we had a busy morning, so when we went to visit LAISON, which was a good hour away from us (excluding traffic), to say we were overwhelmed was an understatement.
There was a flurry of movements when we arrived and before I knew it, we were rushing out of the car and running towards this very corporate looking building, and getting on to the elevator as fast as we could. We had a hard time looking for the workshop as the floor was shared with several different offices, but upon finding the space, we were completely blown away.
It was what you would call organized chaos. There were clothes all over the place, sewing machines at work, people talking on the phone, people working on their laptops, people actually talking to each other, and looking back, our morning rush paled in comparison to the scene unfolding before us. Stepping out of the commotion were founders, Aurelia and Sharonne, who were respectively donning LAISON apparels.
They were dressed down in a cardigan and jacket, and looked completely at ease among the clutter surrounding them. Sharonne ushered us into a stock room with rows and rows of intricately designed clothes adorning the racks. We admit we were completely excited to be in a room filled with LAISON’s clothes. It was akin to being a child in a candy store. As we were going through their new collection, Sharrone chimed in, “These are actually mushrooms. People mistook it for orchids”.
LAISON’s newest collection debuted on the 17th of October and is named after the controversial figure, Yoko Ono. Related to the Beatles, Yoko is arguably the personification of the 60s whose impact is still felt today. The label not only took inspiration from an artistic side, but took hints of music as well, so who better to have as a muse than Yoko Ono, who is a combination of both.
The newest Fall/Winter collection from this distinct brand stayed true to its origin with full-on digital prints, edgy silhouettes, and heavy layering. When asked why she chose the 60s to be her inspiration, she contemplates, “I think the idea of freedom. I don’t want this representation of the 60s to be like other representations with a lot of bohemian elements, hippies, and so on. We want to stick with the ideals of what makes the 60s an important time: the focus on freedom. We relate to it so much and as a LAISON woman, we want them to be free to express themselves”.
What impresses us the most is how original and creative LAISON is. There is no other brand that can replicate what LAISON has achieved with its designs. At this, Aurelia notes that it is never a Eureka moment. “The creative process is actually very systematic.” As with any designer, it’s very important to note what’s going on around us in society (an advice she also strongly advocates to aspiring designers). For her, she takes notes of the things she likes and gathers it all together to see what she can do with it.
“Don’t just focus on fashion alone; you have to travel, you have to watch movies”.
However, she’s also stern in cutting losses. “When it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. You can’t be too attached with what you make”. There are designs which looks good on paper but don’t quite cut it after production and rather than being attached to these artwork, she knows when to call it quits. At this, Aurelia admits that she has thrown away dozens of designs because, “it just [didn’t] work”.
Regardless of how much LAISON has grown over the past year (it sure doesn’t feel like they’re a year-old brand with its impressive repertoire); this label is still very humble with its roots. “I think until now, I’m still looking for that breakthrough moment.” It’s always a pleasure for designers to see people wearing it and seeing that there’s actually demand for it, more so if it’s coming from people they respect. “When influencers come to us, it’s quite comforting”.
When you think of LAISON, you immediately think of Aurelia and Sharonne. Without the other, it just doesn’t make sense, and stepping into the office, we can feel the dependency and mutual respect between these two important figures. We hear it all the time: friends starting a business together because they know each other so well. And it’s a tale as old as time that businesses started by friends have high risks of breaking up. Like peas in a pod, they gave us identical answers on balancing between friendship and business.
“From the beginning, we’ve stated what happens in the office won’t affect our friendship. You have to draw a line between your personal life and career”.
Both of them are dedicated in building the brand as best as they can, so when they quarrel, they both know it’s because they want what’s best for their brainchild. Sharonne advises those starting a venture with their friends, “Me and Aurel do not do the same things. We can’t weigh in on who’s more important. I can’t do the job without her, and she can’t do the job without me. A brand won’t work if both partners are doing the same thing”.
As managing director, Sharonne does everything you can imagine when it comes to running a business. When she first comes in the morning, her first job is to assign tasks to everybody (that’s 9 schedules to set for the day). She then moves on to her own duties like administration, finance, and customer service. Not to forget she has to liaise with suppliers, stockists, outsourced manpower, and so forth. “And marketing!” she exclaims, revealing that it’s something the label has been neglecting for a while. This took us as a surprise since LAISON has been doing so well on its own. It reminded me of what our co-founder always says,
“A brand, if it’s good, will sell regardless of its following”,
and the same can be said for LAISON. Their social media does not have a staggering hundred thousand followers, but celebrities on an international level are wearing their clothes, and influencers are asking for endorsements left and right. They don’t approach people, Sharonne stresses. It’s always stockists and influencers who come to them for collaborations.
On the hardest part of her job, Sharonne admits that the load gets to her. Sometimes she misses important tasks because there are just too many things to do. “Unless I have to do math, because I hate math. Usually we outsource, but the person quit so I’m having trouble”, she jokes (or was it not a joke? She wasn’t laughing).
Like her counterpart, Sharonne believes in being systematic. She believes that all entrepreneurs need to have a plan. “In fashion in particular, you need to have passion or else you’ll just stop along the way”. It’s always important to know your brand and what you want out of it. You can adapt later once you learn, but there are some things that you cannot do, like rebranding, without planning it first. Additionally, you have to present your brand in a way that “It’s more than who you are now”. At this, she brings out LAISON’s media kit, which I have to say had my knees weak when I first saw it. Flipping through the pages, she explains that it’s not required to have a media kit as good or as tidy as this, but this is what LAISON is. It doesn’t matter whether other brands are doing it because this is who LAISON is and this is what they do.
Speaking of who LAISON is, remember when I said a few paragraphs back that no other brand can make what this label makes? With distinguishable designs, people will definitely turn heads when they see something so different. So it comes as no surprise that another brand copy pasted LAISON’s design and made it their own (although it was a blow to us that an international brand was the one plagiarizing them).
“Because it was the first time so we were surprised. We’re pretty sure we’ll get more of it in the future. We tried contacting the owner and the stores but there was no response. Yet, at the same time, we don’t want to announce to people there’s a duplicate. As a brand, you still have to maintain your own image. You have to ignore it and focus on the future.”
It’s a tough spot to be in. LAISON focuses on the art of perfecting their clothes, but sometimes, that effort doesn’t get through to customers. Viewers can’t tell how beautifully embroidered the patterns are, or how difficult it is to secure these delicate fabrics and get them stitched together. In the era of fast-fashion, business models like LAISON are in hot waters because people want something fast and cheap, and they don’t want to invest in something as expensive and long lasting as high-end clothes. “They’re kind of in a blogger mentality. They see something and they want to wear it so they don’t invest in quality. They focus in quantity.” So for them, one of their biggest mission to date is to educate customers on what they’re getting when they buy LAISON’s products (trust me when I say this guys, invest in a piece or two. You’ll love it forever).
Over the past year, LAISON has bloomed into a beautiful flower. There has been a lot of obstacles on the way from logistics to opinion clashes, and even plagiarism cases. In their pursue to become a bigger and better fashion label, they’re going to face a lot more problems in the years to come. But we have faith in them; after all, for a label to have made it this far without a marketing strategy deserves a standing ovation as it is. We have faith they’re going to be a label that’s going to make Indonesia proud, and we genuinely believe they’re going to be a household name in the future. Here’s to many more LAISON converts in the years to come.
Aurelia’s Book Recommendations for Designers:
- Pattern Magic
- Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty
- The whole series of Basics Fashion Design
- Making It Up As We Go Along