In the world’s most dynamic industry, where individualism can either define – or destroy – your brand, one young Macau designer dares to literally weave a path into unchartered territory. Her pioneering work in the fashion industry makes her creations truly unique in the world. She is Nicole Tam, though she prefers to remain low key, and instead, grow her clothing brand, ANtitled.
Recently, CLOSER caught up with Nicole at this year's MGS Entertainment Show, at the Venetian Macao, where she was presenting some of her latest designs.
Presently in her thirties, Nicole could be perceived as a late starter in the fashion field. That, however, couldn’t be further from the truth; Nicole was exposed to the business at a very young age, eventually finding herself permanently entwined in the industry.
“My family business is in the textile industry, so when I was little I always heard all these fabric terms like textile, woven, knit; all that,” Nicole reveals. “My father started his own business, which was importing and exporting fabric textile from Taiwan to China through Macau back in the 1980s. Whenever the stock shipped through Macau, we would be in the office or the little boutique, the shop, with all these beautiful fabrics. Then my mom would mix something very cute for us and I was so happy; the feeling it gave me when I was little was like, ‘Oh, this is so cute’ and I’d be happy because this beautiful dress, no one else had the same thing. This is how I came to like fashion, though I didn’t know what exactly fashion was before,” she added.
“I liked drawing, so when I was young I sort of developed my artistic side. I was very focused on art and when I was in high school, I studied at Sam Yuk Middle School, where at the time, they were already focusing on professions; they actually had a major in Fashion! And also CPTTM; I studied there as well to test if I really wanted to get into fashion. After high school, I went to the US and continued my Fashion major. My professor in my second year told me, ‘When you graduate, give me your resume, I will help you out’, so I was quick to get a job. You know, in the US it’s very difficult to find a job, so I was very lucky!”
Very lucky, indeed. And driven, too. Nicole would eventually find herself working for a Fortune 500-listed clothing company – a comfortable, secure job by any measure – designing uniforms and learning how to recycle fabrics. But Nicole wanted to do something different. She recalls, “I didn’t want to sit in the office and do the same thing over and over again. Because, I think, when you work for a company you can’t make your own decisions.”
Nicole followed her inner voice, took a risk and went out on her own, armed only with her education, experience, and the hope that she would be supported by the local government.
“The Macau government supports local artists; I actually got subsidized by the Macau Cultural Centre, so I applied at the Hong Kong Poly U, the best fashion school in Asia, they have the highest-level technology”.
Clearly, Nicole had what it took for the local government to support her endeavor. But the best was yet to come, as she soon found her groove as an entrepreneur/designer/manufacturer.
“Now I make my own decisions, like if I want to go for this one, or this one. Of course there’s a lot of risk, right? But then I think you have to find the right resources to help you, we have a lot of resources in Macau.”
Those resources were put to good use later, particularly when Nicole began to adapt an environmentally-friendly approach to the fashion industry.
“The fashion industry is the second most polluting industry in the world”, she factually reveals. “As a designer, I thought, ‘I can do something’. Twenty or 30 years ago, I would always hear my father say, ‘All these chemicals for the dyeing process have to be shipped from either Japan or Taiwan’, because in China at the time, the technology was not up to that standard yet; everything had to be outsourced to make sure when the water came out, it wouldn’t harm the environment. Because of my textile background when I was younger, I had an idea, and when I went to do my grant, I wanted my customers to have a better knowledge of what else we have to offer besides fashion, garments, silk, and fabric. Things like up-cycling material, recycled material; now we have more new-technology fabric that I am bringing here from Taiwan, so we can make use of that,” she continues.
As she took on the challenge of cleaning up the Fashion industry, Nicole drew upon all her acquired knowledge to create fabrics that are functional - such as heavy-to-the-touch hydrophilic blends (which drape the wearer’s body attractively, yet draw sweat or moisture away) - and more importantly, sustainable, such as her raw fabrics made with recycled plastic bottles!
Yes, you read that right. Plastic bottles that would otherwise have ended up in the ocean, harming a vital ecosystem, are recycled into fibers that have found a practical use in textile fabrics.
“I want to educate my consumer by having the knowledge of what’s harmful to the environment. It’s like food, everyone is thinking of being healthy now,” Nicole explains.
While it isn’t an overnight solution to the pollution the Fashion industry generates, it is definitely a step in the right direction. Nicole is undeterred, assuring us that: “it may take time for the consumer to adapt to it, but garments, just like the food industry, have to follow a standard, all the procedures and testing. Just because there weren’t standards before doesn’t mean we can’t have them now.”
Nicole may be one of the first to integrate this new technology into the fashion industry, but she hopes it will catch on and become less costly as the process is adopted by other manufacturers.
“It’s about volume and also time, because if you want to develop something like recycled material, there’s a longer timeframe because we have to do a lot of testing before we put this into fabric. So for example, recycled bottle textiles, the resources are from the US. It’s now expensive, I think in Macau it’s very new, but in Hong Kong, everyone is talking about it,” she points out.
Looking to the future, Nicole foresees ANtitled becoming a global brand in five to ten years. She has already broken into the China market, with clients in upscale Beijing “because all my fabric is actually technology. I want to provide something for consumers to have a different type of user-experience of the garments,” she offers.
But Nicole isn’t about to exploit the low labor cost in China. “My garments for example, the process, everything is ethical. That means I also visit the factory. In some factories, the workers’ conditions are not very good, which means the standard is very low because the owner doesn’t take care of the workers, all they want is money. But in China the whole economic system is changing, everything has to be upgraded. No bad environment for the workers, so I can be transparent with my consumers.”
Helping her industry isn’t the only goal Nicole has set her sights on. “I want to help humanity,” she proudly confesses. “I think this is how I want to position myself. Focus on sustainability and help the environment and people. It’s about going global. It’s not about yourself, but what you can give back to the community”.
With this sentiment, Nicole Tam proves that she is not just a visionary, but a Fashion Crusader, set on saving the planet, one dress at a time!
*Bella Lopez is Macau-based Fashion writer. Find her on Instagram @bombshellinthisdress