Leslie Chia: Architecture Student Turned Fashion Designer

20 October 2015
<p>Leslie Chia</p>

Leslie Chia

How did he get into fashion design – and come to start PIMABS, the first fully bespoke brand in Singapore? Read on!


Leslie Chia of Haber

Sara Lyle Bow of The Finder and Leslie Chia of Haber and PIMABS


SLB: Tell me how you got into clothing design and tailoring?

LC: I am from Malaysia. When I was young, I was very much influenced by my sister. She’s a seamstress. Every day, I would see her cut the fabric and sew the pieces. I found it fascinating how she made the garments. But my dream was not to become a fashion designer or tailor. My dream was to become an architect. When you are an architecture, you are into forms and proportions. And that’s exactly what I do now! All of my clothes are very much influenced by an architectural feel.  


Then, what made you switch to clothing design from architecture?

In secondary school, I thought that to become an architect you were supposed to go polytechnic, instead of going to university. Only when I reached Singapore Polytechnic did I learn that to be an architect, you’re have to go to university. I was like, “Oh, I went the wrong way!” In the same year, I got to know about fashion designing by watching TV and reading magazines.


Any particular TV shows or magazines?

I remember watching a singing variety show. Dick Lee, a local composer and entertainer, was on it. When he appeared on TV, I asked my cousin, “What is he doing?” She told me, “He is actually a singer and fashion designer.” This term “fashion designer” interested me. I asked, “What is a fashion designer?” My cousin told me it’s someone who designs clothing. “You get to touch beautiful fabric, and after, you get to make beautiful things,” she said. It seemed like a very interesting career, but by then I’d already started architecture. Suddenly I had a total switch of mind, and wanted to be a fashion designer instead of an architect.


What did your family think?

They said, “No!”


So how did you make the transition?

My family rejected me, so I continued to study architecture. But since my interest was already lost, I didn’t get good grades. To become an architect, you have to go to a university. Because my grades weren’t very good, I can’t go into U. So my family had no choice but to let me try out art school. That’s how I went to LASALLE College of the Arts.


Oh, that’s a beautiful school!

Back then, the campus was very small. That was the 1980s, and designing wasn’t very popular in Singapore. Art school wasn’t very popular in Singapore either. LASALLE didn’t even have its own campus – it rented from a primary school, but the primary school was very run down, too. I still remember, on the first day that I went to the school, my heart sank. I was like, “How did I end up here?” But I went through all of my courses and eventually graduated with a diploma in fashion design.


After that?

I got a job designing women’s wear. I worked for a brand called Trend that’s no longer around. The line catered to oversize ladies – a lot of prints and soft fabrics. After about half a year, I had an opportunity to strike out on my own. By then, Singapore was trying to promote local designers. They actually have this location for us called Style Singapore in the ParkMall at Penang Road. I started off with one line called Haberdasher, the inspiration for Haber today. It took me about half a year to come up with the first range. At the same time – that was 1992 – I took part in a design competition. It’s a yearly thing, called the Singapore Young Fashion Designers Contest. I got the first prize. After I won that, I represented Singapore in the Asian Young Fashion Designers Contest, and won the first prize again. Because of the double winning, I became very famous overnight. I got to go into different department stores, like Tangs and Robinsons, to set up booths.


Then what?

In 10 years, I created two brands. The first one was Haberdasher and the second one was called the Clothes Publisher. Haberdasher was more work wear for men and women. The Clothes Publisher was more casual wear – T-shirts, jeans, cotton pants. After 10 years, I sold the Clothes Publisher away.


What was your style like growing up? Were you always the best dressed guy in the room?

When I was young, I didn’t like to dress up. I only shopped once a year – during Chinese New Year – and I wore the clothes for one year. Who changed my style was one of my friends from Hong Kong – he was one of my classmates in secondary school. He told me, “In order to impress people, you have to dress up. And you only have one chance to impress them – to get the first impression.” So from then on, I started to be more conscious of how I look and more aware of what I wear.


Anything else that’s important to tell The Finder’s readers?

PIMABS was actually the first brand to promote bespoke tailoring in Singapore. Since then, many brands have come up and called themselves “bespoke” but they’re just on the band wagon. Not many people can afford bespoke tailoring, and the process is much longer. In Singapore, people expect a fast pace: “Today I see it, tomorrow I get it.” So that’s why we came up with this Haber concept – to shorten the process without compromising quality. At the same time, we don’t just do custom clothing for guys at Haber. We also educate them about how you should wear clothes. What is the correct length for a shirt sleeve, or for pants? Learn that a jacket shouldn’t have too many creases.


Want to know the answers, fellas? Read Leslie’s four tips for making sure your clothes fit.


By Sara Lyle Bow, October 2015

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