Local designer Jo Soh joins Laura Ashley

Local designer Jo Soh joins Laura Ashley
Singapore designer Jo Soh.
PHOTO: The Straits Times

One is a quirky Singaporean designer known for prints inspired by HDB flats and colourful designs while the other is an international brand known for its traditional country floral patterns. Will their partnership work?

Home-grown designer Jo Soh, who will discontinue her label Hansel now that she has taken on a new job as Laura Ashley's head of fashion in Asia, thinks that it will.

"I've been doing Hansel on my own for the past 12 years and I feel that I took it as far as I could with my own resources," she says.

"Laura Ashley has more resources and the brand has such a long history. Professionally, for me, it is a leap upwards and a great opportunity."

The 39-year-old single designer said the Welsh company had approached her in May this year after reading about her in a local newspaper.

She says: "When they first contacted me, I thought they wanted me to help them with uniform designs, which I've done before. It was only during the meeting that I found out about the bigger role."

Soh has previously consulted on other design projects such as commissioned orders for uniforms for companies such as DBS Bank and the concierge at malls Ion Orchard and 313@Somerset.

"It was all part of my business income. When you have your own business, you always need multiple channels of income," she says.

Hansel, which started in 2003, had been releasing regular collections every season and although the retail market has not been doing well, she says she managed to build up a loyal following of fans and this helped to keep the revenue quite stable.

So why drop Hansel and give up being her own boss?

"I just could not do both," she says. "So I had to make a decision. As things progressed, we talked about it more and agreed that it would be better for me to come on board full time."

The Singaporean designer, though sad to give up Hansel, an outlet which she used for her creative expression, says she wants to give her best to her new company and put her full focus on her new role.

"In this role, of course the regular income is great, but more important is the fact that this is a much larger company than what I had. It is offering me more opportunities and exposure that on my own I would not have gotten."

She declines to say how much Laura Ashley would be paying her or what her role there would entail.

Customers can still buy apparel from Hansel while stock remains at its store in Mandarin Gallery. The brand started a closing down sale last Thursday that will last to the end of next month.

Soh's collaboration with childrenswear online shop Baby Style Icon is the last collection for Hansel. The 17-piece range includes baby onesies, baby T-shirts and adult T-shirts and can be found at the Hansel store in Mandarin Gallery and online at www.babystyle icon.com.

Though some might be surprised by the decision, Soh says she has no regrets and is looking forward to the hurdles and lessons she will learn moving forward.

"To me, being a designer is being a problem solver and that in itself challenges and stimulates me," she says.

"When I make a decision, I always think it through carefully and I make sure I'm clear. Once I make the decision, I don't look back."

This article was first published on Nov 16, 2015.
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