For the March issue of Travel + Leisure South East Asia, Lauren shared her Slow Fashion philosophy that is the foundation of the W’menswear brand, as well as her favourite experiences around the region.  In light of today’s issue launch, we are giving you a big bite into what makes her tick with a very meaty interview by Travel + Leisure South East Asia’s assistant editor Veronica Inveen.

Please tell me a bit about yourself and relationship to Southeast Asia.

 I suppose the story starts before I was born, as my parents who both had careers in the aviation industry met in Hong Kong.  My mother worked for Cathay Pacific, as her father before her had a career with Air America in Taiwan during the 50s.  My sister and I were born in Hong Kong, and raised in Bangkok before I moved to Australia to study.  Thailand has always been a home to me.  It’s a base for me now that I have come back to live and run my business from Bangkok, and a special place where the land and spirit co-exist so peacefully.

What is Ponytail Journal and W’Menswear?

How were they born? Ponytail Journal is my brainchild of about 4 years, a site that breathes life into my passion for the arts and talented people behind great projects pertaining to food, garments, and our natural world.  I have a lot of fun running this project because it opens up so many conversations around how things are made, why they are made, and how they influence our lives.  It is inspiring to say the least.  We focus on cuisine, style, and experience, working with brands that are passionate about well-made product, and the ideologies that drive their work. 

So we are producing editorial, stories, and video pieces to communicate our niche world to the online community year round.  This brings me to W’menswear, a term I playfully coined for my own sense of style, that of which drives the direction and editorial focus of the site.  I mix vintage, new, menswear, womenswear, beautiful textiles, functionality, and ephemerality, all while questioning the value of beauty in bud and bloom.  It is a subject that I revisit time and time over.  I like the idea of a utilitarian lifestyle balanced by art, so I thought to create my own vocabulary for my niche sense of style.  The term, ‘w’menswear’ was my attempt to speak to a neat mix of these ideas coming together.  Our readership is interestingly a good mix of men and women, so I like to think my site promotes a seamlessness that blurs the distinction between what is conventionally categorised for ‘him’ and for ‘her’.  In no way is this concept politically driven, but just naturally fitting to my own context.  I started my brand ‘W’menswear’ three seasons ago now, where I started to materialise ideas into tangible items that the Ponytail Journal community could finally get a feeling for.  The brand started off selling by wholesale to like-minded stores who spoke the same language as Ponytail Journal.  Now we are selling online through the site too.  They are both very exciting projects to watch evolve, grow, and take on a life of their own.

Can you tell me about your slow food, slow fashion philosophy? How is it reflected in your line? 

I find so much beauty and wonderment in things that were created with purpose and good research.  I think I apply this thinking to everything I do in life, and often find myself questioning the ‘why’ over the ‘what’ and ‘how’.  I find that if you ask someone why they do something, you can learn a lot about their drive and motivation.  Unfortunately, it feels like less people today can answer this ‘why’ question, so I find it more important than ever to draw ourselves into a more meditative state, a slower state where we can produce things thoughtfully, and with great attention to the fine details that make it great. 

Understanding the provenance of your ingredients, whether it pertain to food or clothing, should be the starting point.  As I learned in French cooking school from a young age, you can’t make a great meal with sub-standard ingredients.  I suppose this idea has had a ripple effect on everything I do in life.  I am always questioning why I do things, even if they are the most menial task.  When we design and produce W’menswear, we do a heck of a lot of research into the history of clothing within the last 100 years.  We are inspired by great technology, garments, and people of the past.  Without this specialised research, and a bank of carefully sourced vintage pieces spanning from the early 20th century to the Vietnam war period, we would have nothing to push us towards the future.  We would have nothing to learn from.  A lot of development goes into the fabrics that we use as well, for example even our basic tees are Toki-sen knit fabric from Osaka in Japan – the best mill in the world for knit fabrics.  These are the key ingredients that make our clothing so rich in detail and in story.  Every season we push to look into better fabrics, and draw much inspiration from stylish people through history who truly achieved wonders for the world.

Do you think this way of thinking is catching on in the fashion realm?  

Yes, I believe it has definitely started to triumph, especially in the luxury sector thanks to a very globalised marketplace.  We can now go to any mall in the world and see the same brands producing short lived, trend-based products in very similar ways – some of which the same factory even.  Not to mention online shopping now gives us access to whatever we want, whenever we want, at the click of a button.  The combination of these things make for a very boring marketplace in my opinion.  To me, product with true and beautiful stories behind them stand out more than ever before.  Why? Because we are bombarded with junk more than ever before and I believe people are looking for a spiritual experience, perhaps one that resonates to their unique selves.

What do we have to look forward to for W’Menswear?  

This season that we are currently showing in Tokyo, Autumn Winter 17, we are launching our first fully illustrated collectable comic book “Ponytail Parker and the Zombie Apocalypse”, appropriated from a WW2 era military comic called ‘Canteen Kate’.  We have put together an alternative narrative to a very prejudice story about women in the 50s and 60s – in effect, taking the heroine out of the kitchen and onto the battlefield in a post-apocalyptic context.  I am taking her spirit into the 21st century with my main character, ‘Ponytail Parker’ who fights authority, and explores the world with her W’menswear gear from each season.  This season we have also started a new relationship with Slowstitch Studio, a duo based in Chiang Mai who are passionate about revising the natural Indigo dyeing method in Thailand to stand with integrity, and without chemicals. 

I think supporting projects like these are integral to lifting the bar locally, and I have confidence that Slowstich Studio have the grit to do so  Founders Ann and Serge studied specialised shibori and indigo techniques at University in Japan where they then brought the knowledge back to Thailand and are working at developing purely fermented vats of indigo; no lime, and the richest deep indigo hue you’ve seen.  Moving forward to SS18 which we have already started working on, we will be introducing a line of basics like denim, tees, sweatshirts, and our signature shirts for year-round availability.  I think more and more of us are really hunting down good wardrobe staples that are made well, so we are using beautiful slow-made Japanese chambrays, knits, and denim for the line.  

Where are three places in Southeast Asia you get inspiration from?  

Thailand, as my home and heritage gives me a wealth of inspiration on a daily basis.  I find that the scene here is rich with talent and the ability to appropriate ideas into their own context.  I also get a great wealth of inspiration from Vietnam, as I visit often and buy a lot of vintage US military pieces as well as Vietcong infantry garments from the Vietnam war era.  These are essential in my research and development process.  I also gather a lot of spiritual inspiration from coastal life wherever I travel to, so port towns and fishing villages are always rich with energy for me.  I love fishing and surfing, so the idea of a train ride through southern Sri Lanka to look at another kind of coastal lifestyle (and to catch a few waves while I’m at it!) is really appealing to me. 

Where are three of your favorite places to shop in the region?

In Thailand I love going to the train market (dalat rot fai) and chatuchak weekend market for the vintage section.  There are always some interesting pieces to be found, and I love having a snack in one of the old time tea shops over at the train market – they’re adorned in old advertising and paraphernalia from the 50s and 60s.  In Hong Kong there are some exceptional stores that we have recently covered at Ponytail Journal, but a favourite would be the Armoury because they take such care into their curatorial process and the stories behind their wares.  It’s a space run by true gentlemen who are really excited about the experience that is their world.  Another fantastic place I love to visit is the Antiques street in Ho Chi Minh where you can find some really beautiful ceramic pieces and I’ve picked up a couple of mint cameras very reasonable price tags after a good bargain.

Please name three eateries you frequent.  

The Thai Lao Yeh Restaurant in the Cabochon Hotel, Kua Kling Pak Sod, and Nhà hàng Ngon restaurant in Saigon for their great atmosphere.

Where can we buy W’Menswear? 

Onion Bangkok | Industrial Shanghai | Ohkoos Seoul | 103 Tokyo | Desperado Osaka | Garret Aomori | Four Cups Co. Kamakura | Hillside Kyoto | Enn Store Okayama | Laha Hiroshima | Rose Bud Tokyo | Jeany Star Nagasaki | a Ma Facon Hemming Kyoto | BLUE BLUE Tokyo | Nigel Cabourn Womens Store Tokyu Plaza Ginza | Syndro Taipei | PTJ Supplies Online

Interview by Veronica Inveen / Images Ponytail Journal, Slowstitch Studio, W’menswear.