Hi there, this is kenghow. Together with my brother Kage, we run the Singapore based, Made in Japan, menswear label.
This September marks the 5th anniversary of the brand and we would like to take this chance to recap, re-introduce the story and spirit behind it. What kind of a brand is biro?
Courtesy of Monocle
“We have spent 3 years on R&D, before founding the brand.”
Maybe Singapore is not exactly the best spot to start a fashion label, but what to do when we simply want to see a change in the industry? Since 2010, when we first decided to start a label, we have travelled across Asia, visiting 10 over factories and fabric mills to do our research. However, the outcome wasn’t satisfactory.
After many disappointments, we had our sights turned towards Japan, emailed more than 20 factories and eventually knocking on their doors. This is when we finally come to know of a few smaller factories located in suburban Japan. Despite their size, their clients include Comme Des Garcons, Vivienne Westwood Japan, Levis Vintage Clothing Japan and so on. Back then, we have little knowledge how the industry work. But before we can allow another dejection or failure to put us off, we knew we had to at least give it a shot. We have never looked back or elsewhere since then. That was how we opened doors to Japanese manufacturing.
And of course, not all Made In Japan products are guaranteed excellent. The first sample we received was far from our expectation. This is when kage took from his collection, a pair of high quality Japanese made denim to show it to the factory and expecting more out of them; “Although I am a designer from Singapore, but I demand the products made to match up to the quality of other Japanese fashion labels.”
Hence, we continue to search, trial and erred. Spending 3 years on this research and development journey. If you do not have your own insistence, no matter what good tools you possess, they are useless.
“MADE IN JAPAN, the touch of quality always takes precedence over cost and efficiency”
Our mum used to be a seamstress. From young, we enjoyed following her to get fabrics and materials, watching her create a piece of dress from scratch. Perhaps, this is how we developed a critical eye in the fashion sense. We understand the importance of how small details contribute to the overall aesthetics of the clothing and nurtured the value of craftsmanship deep in our heart since then.
Many people do ask, there are several convenient ways to produce clothing at a much cheaper and effective way, why choose Japan that is known for its high cost and slow manufacturing?
It's not hard to find the answer to that question. The key would be - human touch. The development and perfection of craftsmanship is of paramount importance in all age-old traditions of Japan. For example, we use one of the world’s rarest fabric - Tsuriami (Loopwheel), which is produced in only 2-3 factories in the southeastern coast of Japan; Wakayama. The vintage machineries, rotate around cylinders to create layers and layers of cotton at an rate of 24 times per minute, producing only 1 meter of fabric per one hour. This results in a fabric thats remarkably soft, durable and with a sturdy texture of the forties and fifties. The craftsmen pay close attention to the entire supply chain, and the touch of quality always takes precedence over cost and efficiency.
Natural Indigo Cotton
The work atmosphere in Japan is incredible. Always enjoying the long discussions, pattern making sessions, and going through bouts of setbacks together with the different factories accompanied by their family and friends over some drinks. This not only builds our relationship but throughout the process, it also let us understand better what kind of products we are actually looking for and to obtain the best solution out of it.
Our intention was to communicate such experiences and culture to our customers and friends through our products.
“Brand interpretation of Simple Elegance”
It didn’t take us very long to set the brand name biro, inspired by the Hungarian László József Bíró. The ballpoint pen, also called biro pen, was invented in the 1930s. The birth of the ballpoint pen greatly promoted the efficiency of human noting down our first inspiration. Perhaps people have forgotten how long and tedious any development process could be, so this is where one of the directions of biro lies. Spending a lot of time to constantly source for world-class materials and production processes, so that consumers can more intuitively resonate with our design inspiration.
All efforts can only be regarded after the brand is launched. We have held events over the years, and as we communicate more with our guests, we had a understanding, our values are truly resonating with individuals that appreciate and understand what we do. This in turn, strengthen our belief of satisfying more discerning consumers who have a requirement for product quality, details and craftsmanship with excellent quality.
The style of biro is never changing - understated elegance, a minimalist approach in design that keeps the focus of the brand on quality, combining carefully sourced premium materials from around the globe with precise tailoring from artisans in Japan.
We hope that the products can stand the test of time, not the trend of the moment. After five seasons, whenever you pick up the pieces from the first, it is still refreshing and not outdated.
Being 5 years old, we have made close to 10 collections till date. Still wearing some of the early pieces and passionate about the future.
Straight Coat With Kasuri Detailing
F. Classic - Tsuriami Tee
“Being recognised is a form of affirmation”
One of the joy in running the label; slowly getting discovered along the journey. Throughout the years, we have won credible acknowledgments from fashion industry leaders both locally and internationally. (e.g. blueprint awards, SFW program and CFDA NYC). Apart from doing some notable collaborations such as STARWARS (Lucasfilm), we have also made our way to be stocked on farfetch.com, one of the most sought after U.K based & international online portal. This year, we have also been selected to represent Singapore to develop a capsule collection with farfetch alongside 6-7 other international designers for its Russia 2018 Worldcup BFFI programme.
We are also always grateful to the various local and international media such as “MONOCLE”, “CEREAL”, “GQ”, HYPEBEAST, “Esquire”, etc, that help spread the word of the brand to more people.
“Have a look outside, biro is a world language”
After firming our foothold in Singapore, we start to make plans to bring biro to the world. We went to New York, Tokyo, Paris and Shanghai to participate in shows and was able to meet several like minded individuals that share the same values and views. Biro became our language and communication tool with these people from different parts of the world. Something we have not expected nor planned, and it just grew into a experience that is wonderful and truly priceless. This commit us to create products that combine the skills of master artisan from heritage Japan with an international perspective to meet the desires of a new community that seeks a deeper experience.
Pop-up At Japan Festival, Singapore
NY, Storm Jonas
“Realised that we have missed too much after going to China”
Originated as a land of immigrants, our ancestors were from the Hainan province of China. Even though we have gone to trace our roots back in Hainan, we have never set foot in Shanghai before. At the beginning of 2017, after doing our first show in Shanghai, we realised that we have missed out too much.
It may look cold, harsh and dull during March / April, but it was easily one of the most vibrant and energetic city I have visited in Asia (In terms of the fashion industry). Changes happen quickly too, from digital age to ideas of integrated retail experience in merely 6 months.
These come with immerse competition as well; especially from the perspective of a brand coming from a much smaller market with slower pace. An average of more than 1000 designers participate in their fashion week every season.
Luckily, we have a bunch of close knitted friends there that bear the same enthusiasm for the fashion industry. Over in China, the work atmosphere can be regarded as open, limitless, passionate and vibrant. Although the experience differ from those of Japan, we could derive a different kind of joy from the work there. It was totally different from what we had expected before going to Shanghai. We are convinced that this city will develop into another global fashion center in no time and we are glad to be building the presence there for biro.
It has been a 5 years relentless pursuit of a quality and craft focused menswear label. As we continue to embark on this wonderful journey to push boundaries and to get the brand to more places, we appreciate your support all this while. So, thank you! and look forward to more news coming from us!