By Joseph Cheng

Thread Talk With The Pioneering Trio Behind Nor Neither on Embracing Uncertainty

Navigating through the uncertainties, they are the vanguards, certainly.

Thread Talk is a series venturing into a designer’s inner workings and thoughts. Introducing the creative minds of Hailey Lim, Charlotte Lew, and Shin, the innovative trio behind the independent designer brand Nor Neither

At the Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Kuala Lumpur 2022, Nor Neither entered the public eye with their collection “Labyrinth”. With subdued colours and asymmetrical ruffles, the collection looks into the uncertainty and “lost souls”. Their next release, “La-Di-Da”, is comparably bolder, serving as a sequel to the debut collection with an echoing concept that looks inwardly, on self-expression and self-doubt. While “Labyrinth” murmurs into our souls, “La-Di-Da” screams into our ears. Two collections in and we are drawn not just to their quirky cuts and designs but also the idea behind each collection: a conversation with your inner self. 

Friends turned business partners, the trio—Hailey, Charlotte and Shin—are high school friends who pursued and specialised in varied fields. Despite the diversity of their academic pursuits—Fashion Design, Fashion Marketing and Management and Visual Communication respectively—they found a way to entwine their skills to defy conventions and carve their path in the fashion industry. “I have zero fashion background, but now I’m hooked. I’m that person who’s all about throwing spaghetti at the wall and seeing what sticks, creatively speaking. Fashion wasn’t on my radar before, but now it’s become my favourite playground,” Shin explained. So, how did the brand come about? We asked the trio what went behind their creation process. 

What is the story behind the inception of Nor Neither and how the three of you, with distinct voices, came together to form the brand?

Nor Neither was inspired by our shared vision and passion for creativity. Hailey first introduced the idea during the pandemic, as we transitioned into full-time work after completing our studies in the U.K. Motivated by the desire to pursue our creative aspirations and create something truly unique, the three of us collaborated to establish the brand. Over about a year, we brainstormed and planned every detail before finally launching Nor Neither.

Each of you brings a set of specialised skills to Nor Neither. How do you navigate between different perspectives?

Although we all operate within the realms of fashion and art, each of us brings a unique professional background to the table. Hailey serves as the creative director, overseeing design, pattern, and production; Charlotte takes on the role of marketing director, managing PR, marketing, content creation, and business development; while Shin assumes the role of an art director, responsible for visual and conceptual design. Despite our distinct roles, we share a common philosophy: embrace the uncertainty. This ethos guides our approach to ideas and designs, fostering open-mindedness and encouraging collaborative discussions where we integrate the perspectives of all three individuals into our designs, concepts, and brand direction.

Redefining notions of femininity through structured, layered, and voluminous silhouettes, how do you execute that? 

You can see that we like to incorporate asymmetric and irregular designs or cut-outs into feminine silhouettes; blending romantic and cute elements with a touch of dark aesthetic. We also use experimental techniques to create seemingly ordinary everyday designs, breaking away from traditional female stereotypes or fashion norms. Women are multifaceted. Our cute designs can look edgy with a few tweaks to the details.

Given the evolving landscape of fashion, how does Nor Neither approach gender-fluid whilst standing out from the vast brands that tap into said topic?

We prioritise expressing a concept or emotions. The garments are not bound by traditional styling constraints. Instead, they serve as a means of self-expression, embodying both the id and the ego. In this way, gender becomes inconsequential as we honour individuality.

We view it as a crucial aspect of our brand’s future collections, as it aligns with our core values “embrace the uncertainty” of breaking boundaries and celebrating individuality.

What sets our approach apart is our commitment to brand authenticity and innovation. Rather than simply following trends, we strive to create gender-fluid designs in the future that challenge norms and inspire confidence in all individuals by maintaining our design identity “romance”. As we continue to evolve, we remain dedicated to pushing boundaries and empowering individuals to express themselves authentically through fashion.

Most of the designs are black. Is there a specific reason why? What is the role of colours— especially since I started seeing vibrant colours like pink and lighter shades of blue in your latest release? 

We initially used black to interpret our garments because it aligned with the concept of our first collection, “Labyrinth,” which explores a glimpse of a lost soul. Our first four collections are interconnected, depicting the journey of an individual’s thoughts and emotions. The first NN01 “Labyrinth” narrates one’s confusion amidst adversity; the second NN02 “La-Di-Da” depicts one’s attempt to conceal inner loss with a glamorous facade; the third NN03 “Conundrum” portrays a fractured self, emphasising the need for self-healing and self-discovery; and lastly, the fourth NN04 illustrates how one finds harmony and acceptance amid self-awareness. 

Consequently, each collection’s design and colour scheme are connected to the previous one, with additional colours added based on the concept. In our latest series, we began incorporating more vibrant colours as a prelude to the next collection NN04, symbolising acceptance of diverse selves and life experiences.

As a debut collection, “Labyrinth” explores the glimpse of a lost soul. How did the concept for this collection come about?

The concept for the “Labyrinth” collection emerged from a deeply personal experience, reflecting the journey of a lost soul navigating through challenging circumstances. The inspiration behind this collection was rooted in the emotional aftermath of our collective experience navigating the unforeseen challenges brought about by the pandemic, which left us feeling adrift in terms of our careers and future prospects.

Due to the pandemic, Hailey missed out on her debut graduate fashion show, a culmination of years of hard work and dedication. Charlotte and Shin were previously employed at corporate firms where they found themselves unable to fully unleash their creativity and pursue work aligned with their true passions.

The collection delves into the perplexing emotions, capturing the essence of uncertainty, frustration, and the relentless pursuit of a path forward. The designs are not merely garments but artistic expressions that convey a powerful story of overcoming adversity. Through the “Labyrinth” collection, we aimed to evoke a sense of empathy and understanding, allowing the audience to connect with the profound emotions embedded in each piece.

How would you describe Nor Neither? 

Contradicting, experimental, and uncertain.

Can you walk us through the process of making a collection? Where do you draw inspiration from? 

Hailey: I usually find inspiration in tactile and the 3D aspects of fashion, choosing to design and develop garments directly on the mannequin. This allows me to engage with the fabrics and forms more organically and intuitively. When conceptualising a collection, such as our “Labyrinth” collection, I envision the overarching theme and narrative using keywords that encapsulate the emotions, themes, and visual elements to continue. I believe that inspiration can be drawn from everyday surroundings, from intricate details of a lamp stand or the play of light and shadow in the environment.

Meanwhile, Shin and Charlotte focus on expressing the concept through campaign videos, lookbook photos, social media content, storylines, and promotional strategies. 

Shin: For “Labyrinth”, I utilised silent films to convey the concept of “Lost” through the model’s eye contact, facial expressions, actions, echoes of inner thoughts; video transitions, and settings complemented by different looks to narrate the story. 

Charlotte: I then worked on styling to create diverse looks that best interpreted the designs and the concept. I’d laid out various marketing and social media plans targeted at both local and international audiences, drawing inspiration mostly from moments of relaxation or other artistic works and the way of expression.

I presume being sustainable is a part of the brand’s ethos judging how the business adopts the made-to-order approach and reuses fabric from past seasons to minimise wastage. 

Our commitment to sustainability is deeply ingrained in our made-to-order approach, which serves as the backbone of our entire business. The decision to craft our pieces in-house within our atelier is a strategic move to ensure every item is created with precision and care, aligning with our ethos of conscious production.

In a dedicated mini-project, we actively tackle the issue of overproduction and waste. Instead of discarding unsold pieces from previous collections, we embark on a transformative journey. By reworking these items, we breathe new life into them, turning them into one-of-a-kind, distinct pieces.

Any upcoming projects we can look forward to?

It’s a secret (laughs) Please look forward to our upcoming projects, stay tuned!