Arete Goods: Pioneering Ethical Fashion

It can be a challenge to find a brand that has a story to tell, and is interesting beyond the trendy clothes they churn out. That’s why Arete Goods, a pioneer in ethical fashion production in Singapore, are a rarity as they produce the majority of their clothing line at local ateliers with seasoned tailors. With knowhow of international textile mills and the distinct qualities of different materials, Arete Goods is out to educate their customers about what makes a product good. That kind of dedication to quality is bound to generate interesting stories and capture the attention of a discerning clientele. As they pave the way for introducing tailoring back into the local fashion scene, they stand for such values as craftsmanship and excellence or ‘arete’. Arete, or ‘fulfillment of purpose’ is a concept from Greek mythology that encompasses effectiveness, moral virtue and the extent of human ability. We were lucky enough to meet the lovely Geraldine, the other half of Arete Goods who together with Diana have created a premise for sustainable fashion to thrive in Singapore.

I’m interested in talking about the scene in Singapore and your place in it. How is it producing in Singapore, how did you first decide to get local tailors to do it?

One of the main reasons we decided to do it here is because Singapore used to be a tailoring hub in the 1960s, but that was before all the industrialisation became big. All these family run tailoring workshops, they are still working today in a very small, neat places. So nothing big’s going down, we’re talking to them about how we like our clothes to be done you know instead of skyping here and there with all our factories. We went to Spain to meet with the leather factories prior to our production, but it’s just not cost effective for us to keep flying here and there when there’s hiccups and all. Whereas with the workshops here in Singapore it’s a lot easier for us to go and have a chat with them. We can show that the environment is sustainable and optimal for the workers. Typically on clothing they use overlocking stitches, but for our construction we use mainly french seams, which requires a lot more work. With overlocking they just put two fabrics together and they stitch it, and that’s very fast. Whereas the french seam, they have to put it together, stitch, and then flip to the other side and stitch again. So it’s very durable, but also time consuming and expensive. Because we want our clothes to be durable and of fine quality, we insist on using this method. Most factories, they don’t do this kind of construction because it’s so time consuming, so we are very lucky to have found tailoring workshops that can do it for us. Little details like these are very important to us and to be able to meet them face to face, to make sure that they follow the specifications we want and they’re happy doing it with the high quality they can offer.


Where there any challenges in starting tailoring here?

Yes in Singapore generally our generation, they’re more into trends and not really the quality. So whatever is in trend they want to buy and they want to buy it cheap. What we’re trying to do in the market is to change that mentality and it was quite a challenge because that was the norm and we are putting it out across saying quality matters over quantity and that it’s better to buy a few but good quality stuff that can last you a long time. Our designs are not trendy, but they are classic and all of them are natural materials. We try to educate the consumer in terms of how we make the clothes and how we get the fabrics.

How about the sustainable fashion scene here, what are your thoughts on it?

It’s definitely growing, and more brands are becoming more transparent. In the past it used to be ‘these are the designs we have, use this promo code to shop with a discount’, but right now because there are so many brands out there and consumers are starting to look for more authentic brands, so brands that are not afraid to say ‘this is where we make our stuff’ or how they’re made and consumers are interested to know. It’s becoming more prominent in Singapore right now. Especially with the leather makers.


Yeah I’ve heard of that, just recently found some Singapore made shoes and I was really surprised. It was very positive because before I haven’t seen it much but now I see it’s definitely becoming a thing.

I think because there is so much mass produced stuff of low quality, people want something better, that’s why we have more attention going forward.


How and why did you end up starting your own brand?

Actually the idea of our retail started with shoes, I have quite large feet in terms of Singapore standards and Diana makes neck ties here so she has to stand almost all day long. We couldn’t find good, well made, simple design ballet flats in the market. It was either fabric lining or inferior materials, or super expensive leather shoes, there wasn’t an in between price range. It was a good place to start with the spanish made quality, and good leathers in Spain. So with that we started looking for shoe factories, and after that we thought ‘who is the woman wearing our shoes’ and since Diana has dressmaking skills we thought why not we launch a full series of clothes and then it wound to accessories like bags. So our full range from clothes to shoes to bags launched.

What are some of your business core values that you stand by?

Core values are definitely quality craftsmanship and natural materials. There’s a lot of talk in the industry right now about sustainability and environmentally friendly materials. We avoid synthetics because they are harmful to the environment. I’m pretty sure you’ve seen some articles about synthetics in the washing machine and synthetic fibres going into the ocean, so we try to stay away from that. And then also because the breathability of natural fabrics is very important in Singapore at least. Our customers appreciate that we use natural materials and with our neat construction they like our clothes so they keep coming back for more. Other than that I think simplicity and functionality. Our designs are very simple, but the details are very functional. So it’s not just maybe a metallic accent just for a nice touch, more like why is it designed this way or why do we add something to the item, it’s all for a reason.


there's this form of transparency, so what you see online is the same as what you see here

How did you get to sourcing textiles made in Japan, Italy and India?

Diana, her husband Gerald is the the one who does the sourcing in our company so we know how to look for the fabrics with his sourcing skills. We also attend textile fairs. We’re always on the lookout for new suppliers who work with new, interesting fabrics. Recently we found an Indian textile supplier, he has handloom and organic GOTS dyed fabrics that have a very nice touch. So we’re gonna get some of the fabrics for our clothes. It’s very distinct actually if you look at for example our chambray cotton dress, it’s a very distinct Japanese fabric. The selvedge you see is actually the edge of the fabrics that most brands cut out but we thought it was very unique so we kept it in our designs. You know selvedge jeans they always have that selvedge, so we keep the design simple but always bring out the best and the beauty of the natural materials.


Is it important for you to inform your customers about the processes of making, and why?

Definitely, because of authenticity. So when we say we do this, this and this, we have to adhere to our words and show our customers how we do it. That’s very important and that’s why we showcase each of our makers on our web store as well to show them how the factory looks like and also with social media we have behind the scenes while Diana is cutting the pattern or the different fabrics that we use. They like the story behind the products.

I thinks it’s an important part of brands these days, to create this relationship of trust and honesty with their customers, to get them to keep coming back.

Also because our price point is not cheap but it is not expensive either. So if it’s not cheap the consumers wanna know why it’s that price point. Especially as a new brand it’s got to be something reasonable and something that attracts them.


What’s the purpose of the showroom, is it for the made to order customers to come in?

Yeah, that’s one of the reasons, another one is also for the size because our ballet flats are cut quite wide so some of our customers prefer to try on the shoe first before making the decision to purchase. As you know our showroom is not very accessible so 90% of the customers who come already have the intent to purchase, they’re just figuring out the size. So it’s more convenient for them to have peace of mind instead of just buying online, not sure whether it fits or no

It’s a really good way of doing it because through boutiques there’s that markup, so it’s good to have a showroom.

Yeah, and if they wanna look at the patterns we have that at the back or when Diana is doing the design they can see how Diana does it. So there’s this form of transparency, the omni channel experience, so what you see online is the same as what you see here.


What about natural dyes, do you use them at all?

The chambray is so far the only natural dye fabric we have. It kind of works like denim, so there more you wear it the more the colour will run and it will become very soft over time. We’re definitely looking at things like indigo cloth. It’s not a well known thing for the women in the industry, at least in Singapore most women think it’s an inferior product if the colour runs. We’re trying to educate and explain natural dyed things are like that. For example our vegetable tanned leather card holder, the leather will change in colour over time and it’s the natural characteristic of a vegetable tanned item. Some even appreciate that, some don’t, it really depends on preference.  

I think because there is so much mass produced stuff of low quality, people want something better

Written and photographed by Jennie Barck