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[INTERVIEW] Sufian Hussein: A fashion designer’s struggle to obtain a spot in Fashion Week

The glitz and glam of seeing models donning your brand on the runway is, of course, the ultimate goal of a fashion designer. While everyone thinks it’s all about making the outfit, showcasing it, and being in the limelight of publications, the struggles of obtaining a spot in fashion week remain untold.

For fashion designer Sufian Hussein (also referred to as Yan) who owns the brand Feayn, the setbacks to step foot into the fashion industry itself almost had him giving up on his goals. Below he shares how he even got an invitation to London Fashion Week but fell into the trap of Singapore’s unsupportive arts scene.

Stitching back in time

Image: Sufian Hussein

When there was the announcement on plans to build Singapore’s first university of the arts, it got the 31-year-old  reminiscing when he was a millennial with dreams of being a fashion designer.

Unlike many out there who perhaps entered the fashion industry to carry on their family’s business, Sufian was the only one in the family that was keen on being a designer.

Essentially, what made him interested to be a designer was to diversify the traditional outfits sold in the market. “The outfits marketed at Hari Raya bazaars were getting predictable and boring so I told myself, someday, I’d want to give consumers more options,” Yan mentioned.

Translation: “Benefits of WSQ Scheme to gain knowledge on fashion design.”

Image: Sufian Hussein

Upon graduating from the Institute of Technical Education (ITE) with a Digital Audio and Video Production certificate, he intended to kickstart his dreams. Thus, he applied for a spot in Temasek Polytechnic’s (TP) Diploma in Apparel Design and Merchandising.

Unfortunately, the four-pointer student landed himself a spot in Visual Communications instead as he could not meet the fashion course’s requirements.

Along the way, he then learned the basics of sewing and clothes making from back-lane tailors. While that seemed like a head start, he found himself not learning pedagogically as the aunties often went “you see then you follow lah boy.”

Going from Sufian Hussein to Feayn

Female singer donning Feayn’s custom dress on I-Sing World Stage in Yangon, Myanmar.

Image: @feayn

With the skills acquired from TP, Yan then went on to label himself as a graphic designer while designing outfits. To top it off, he even took up an advanced diploma in bridal makeup to be an all-rounder in the industry — graphic designer, make-up artist and wedding planner, all under the brand ‘Sufian Hussein’.

Talking about the time when he started designing outfits, he shares: “I started getting invitations, and I [wanted] my brand to reflect simplicity and [be] easily remembered like Chanel”. Inspired by his nickname, Yan then renamed his brand to ‘Feayn’ which best reflected his true self and ultimately fit in with his target audience — millenials and working adults.

Feayn’s designs for #ProjekGlamWay, a project to promote the textiles from Arab Street. His designs were also inspired by the Kampong Glam precinct.

Image: Sufian Hussein

Yan recalls the early days of the brand, when he depended solely on his outsourced tailors as he only knew the basics of stitching. “Sadly, what I [designed] and what they [sewed] [turned] out to be completely different. The nerves and frustration got to me. So, I decided to take up classes at Textile Association Federation to upgrade my skills,” Yan expressed.

He added: “There was once [when] this lady customised an outfit with me, but the stitching wasn’t up to her standards, and she started raising her voice at me. I was helpless as I didn’t understand anything she was talking about as I could only design.” He recalls then needing to make a full refund and told himself that to prevent anything of that sort from reoccurring, he’d certainly need to step up his competency as a fashion designer.

 

Today, Feayn designs outfits for weddings, special events (including red carpets), and sponsorships for local television channel Suria.

Image: @feayn

“I get my inspirations in the toilet (laughs), it’s a spot that is calm and allows me to think. I’m sure many people do that too,” he shares.

Yan also shared, “Apart from that, I take a stroll to Orchard after office hours to clear my mind. Occasionally, I’ll also jog around [the] Marina district to sink into the beautiful Singapore skyline whilst decluttering my mind.”

A designer’s dream

Image: Sufian Hussein

In 2017, Feayn landed a spot in Singapore International Fashion Week (SGFW) alongside top Asian designers such as Malaysia’s Jovian Mandagie.

“It was indeed stressful as designers only get a heads up of the fashion week a month before the event. If you can finish approximately eight pieces by then, you proceed, or else you’ll wait for another year,” Yan shares.

“In SGFW where international brands come together and share a runway, I envied at how intricate and detailed their works [were]. And, they obviously have reached the level where they get invited to showcase their designs overseas. So, one day I do intend to be on par with them,” the bubbly designer mentions. 

Singapore International Fashion Week (SGFW) 2017’s new designers. Image: Sufian Hussein

Soon after, he was also given a spot in London Fashion Week, something he had always been eyeing since day one. Unfortunately, fate wasn’t on his side: “I paid a deposit of $4,000, but the organisers vanished with no updates, [and] especially since they are on the other end of the world, there was no way I could track [them] down.”

He also exposed how his dream was crushed by the National Arts Council (NAC) endlessly: “There wasn’t enough local representation to go to such inaugural fashion [weeks], so I ended up not being able to participate.” 

“This is the reality of Singapore’s fashion industry. We grow up in a culture that is reserved and that imposes as a challenge to all ‘artists’. But, you just have to prove yourself to the public or else you may just end up closing down like many businesses out there,” Yan says.

 

The pandemic struggles

Like any other profession, Feayn was undoubtedly affected by COVID-19. Apart from postponed weddings and events, Yan was also disappointed that the pandemic added to another year without a fashion week.

Image: Sufian Hussein

As his assistant is an Indonesian, the lockdown forced him to work independently then. “I had my designs sent to my overseas printing company, but due to the travel restrictions, many couriers stopped functioning, and they even charged me $80 for shipping per outfit. I charged my customers $80 for the ready-to-wear collection, so I basically [earned] nothing. I decided to scrape everything and hit the pause button from selling Hari Raya outfits last year,” Sufian utters in disappointment. 

Image: Sufian Hussein

“I had to then think of my next move because creatives are essentially supposed to be recession-proof,” he adds. “If I cannot do this, then I’ll do that. Especially since I have a background in video and graphic design, I divert myself to alternatives.”

With that, he decided to pursue his alternative career plan of being a fashion design trainer. He shares his future plans as an individual: “I want to slow down a little as a designer and concentrate on becoming a full-fledged fashion design trainer to the next generation. Of course, post-COVID, if an international fashion week or showcase comes by, I’ll still want to be involved.”

“When you want to do something, you don’t have to think of others, just go with your gut feelings and what you feel is best for you,” he utters.

Quit planning, go with the flow

“I don’t like to plan. I prefer to go with the flow. If you plan and it doesn’t happen, it’ll be disappointing,” Yan shares.

Image: Sufian Hussein

Today, Feayn is situated within the relocated premise of Children Little Museum. “My partner and I did intend to double up this museum into a cafe where diners could sip a cup of tea while glancing at the items exhibited,” Yan reveals. “It did seem like a good plan as I like to hop around things, so my mind doesn’t get too cluttered.”

Unfortunately, due to shophouse regulations, the cafe was denied approval from the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA). Indeed, Yan expresses how he is upset things don’t always go his way. But he affirms, “For now, there are still orders coming in for Feayn, and weddings that were postponed last year [are] slowly [being] replanned, so I’m good with what I have now.” 

“Don’t need to be so hard on yourself, there are alternative ways to generate income if something fails. It really depends on how you pick yourself back up and not give up,” Yan says.

The key to success is to be contented with what you have

“A lot of the older generation are still skeptical over one’s decision to pursue a career in the arts [including fashion], and I’m not surprised because honestly, sometimes you don’t make money,” Sufian claims. He also shares: ”Actually, every day I feel like I want to close down the brand because it’s really tiring to work on your own.” 

One of Feayn’s designs for a Game of Thrones-themed wedding.

Image: Sufian Hussein

“What perseveres me on is because there are new orders every day, [so] it feels like no one day is the same,” he mentions. Undeniably, being a fashion designer requires one to constantly churn out new designs and experiment with new and upcoming trends. “I always look back at my past works and get amazed at how much I’ve done and achieved over the years. It’s a great achievement, but there’s always room for improvement,” he expresses.

Translation: “Modern Festive season (Hari Raya) outfit reflects upon nostalgic P.Ramlee films and The Matrix.”

Image: Sufian Hussein

Being in a competitive industry within a small market, Yan iterates, “Actually I don’t care if Feayn [doesn’t] get more likes or following, but at the end of the day, I make each of my customer like my friend. It’s all about building rapport along the way. If a customer loves your designs, they’ll tell their friends till it becomes a snowball effect.”

A final note from Yan:

“Dont be arrogant, always be humble because you don’t know when it’s fated for you to achieve something. Ultimately, if you want something, work hard for it instead of being envious of someone else — if they can do it, why can’t you?”

 

Feayn’s 2021 Hari Raya Collection Image: @feayn

 

Customisations:

Do drop @feayn a DM on Instagram for outfit customisations for commercial events, private functions and weddings.

Feature image by Sufian Hussein

About Author /

A funsize explorer with an endless adventure list around the red dot. Heritage trails, quaint cafes, you name it; she'll take you on an adventure to make your weekends less mehhhh!

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