Interview with DGA Threads founder Pino

As an independent, artisanal fashion brand, work is usually guided by passion, inspiration and teamwork. This is also true for Singapore based antique fashion collective DGA Threads. The upcycled vintage textile brand aims to breathe new life into old, good quality fabrics by turning them into collectible, one of a kind fashion pieces. Using textiles collected by founder Pino on his travels to Japan, India and Thailand, the brand works with local seamstresses and designers to create innovative silhouettes from exquisitely detailed fabrics for modern life. We met with Pino at his Tiong Bahru boutique to discuss about his journey to textiles and the value of upcycling.

Pino, the founder of DGA Threads comes from an unusual background in the slow fashion realm. Having been in banking for forty years and being exposed to Asian antiques and textiles, Pino left the organisation in 2010 to explore his passion for the arts further. What started as an art gallery transformed into a fashion atelier gradually and naturally. Pino had been collecting kimonos, vintage textiles and garments from India and Japan, and wanted to bring them to life again in some way. “Some of my pieces had this element which is not perfection, but what is perfect in life? My desire was also to demonstrate to myself that we don’t need to buy more, what we have is enough”. Pino believes strongly in the quality of production from the 50s and 60s and sees the preservation of these textiles as an important aspect of sustainability. 

Upcycling may sound easy, but with fragile and unique vintage textiles and garment it can be quite a challenge, especially when you are trying to handle a stained, ripped textile with care and not be wasteful.  “I didn’t want to throw away any of the pieces, so I came up with a number of ideas. The panels, which were not in perfect condition, we designed a number of belts and you’ll see that the belts are made up by patchwork. The rest of the panels which were in perfect condition, we started to study what to do with them. We soon came up with a number of ideas, trousers, blouses, little jackets…” explains Pino about the creation process. Some of the garments created by DGA Threads combine Indian sari fabric from the 50s with Japanese textile from the same time period. It has taken deep exploration and understanding of construction to get to where they are now, which all started with Pino’s collection: “It’s not only about acquisition, but it’s about understanding. My way of doing it is reading as much as possible but have the pieces in front of you so you can touch them, go back to them week after week and really capture in essence what the piece means, in terms of quality, design and aesthetics”.

When asked why Pino has gravitated towards vintage textiles from India and Japan, he explains: “because of the culture of these two countries, they really are pinnacles of understanding beauty, people used to spend money on them when they wanted the best of the best”. One of the reasons Pino has utilised vintage textiles is because there are a lot of elements in them that simply wouldn’t be done today. “It would be impossible now to make something like this because it would be extremely costly,” says Pino about an intricately embroidered silk number. Aspects such as symbols with deep cultural meanings or the coat of armour of a family being imprinted on a piece of fabric were also common in 50s and 60s Japan and something that makes DGA Threads garments truly special.

whenever there is a sale, it’s validation for the dream that we have in our minds

There is no doubt that the work of Pino and their small team at DGA Threads is one of pure passion. “For me it’s like when artists manage to sell one of their creations, it’s that somebody has validated you as an artist. So whenever there is a sale, it’s validation for the dream that we have in our minds, the team that works here”. It is a slow journey to find your niche and customer base, but the satisfaction they see in customers and people who return to the shop is so rewarding that it is worth the effort. An important aspect of keeping the brand’s prestigious quality and workmanship was to work with local Singaporean seamstresses. Pino decided on “a selection of two people who demonstrate interest and are happy to try to please us because we are very meticulous in what we do”. This ensures that there can be a lot of back and forth and teamwork between Pino, a designer and the seamstress to reach the best possible garment.

The designs for DGA Threads have strong references from styles of traditional dressing, for example, the belt derives from the obi from Japan: “the original obi would be around 4 meters, and it would be extremely uncomfortable. So we take inspiration from that, but we have come up with a much simpler way of wearing it. The idea is to make an ordinary dress or blouse to become a little bit more interesting” says Pino about the final product. The team has also been inspired by the neckline of the kimono and are always limited by the narrow nature of vintage Japanese textiles, which is around 35cm wide. What DGA Threads does shocks people because traditionally they wouldn’t make new garments out of the four panels. “Sometimes even the Japanese are surprised about what we do, they can’t even think that we would go to the extent of taking four panels and making a pair of trousers” explains Pino.

Because of the unique nature of the garments, they are made in a way that ensures maximum possible value for the garment. All of their clothing can be worn in a multitude of ways, with reversible garments. “A jacket like this we have studied for quite a while. People are quite attracted by this that they seem themselves with one item and it can be worn in four different ways. It requires a lot of work and sometimes I questions myself if we should keep making them, but you will never have more than one of each” says Pino. When buying a product from here, you can be assured that a lot of thought has gone into the creation of it: “it’s not the first idea that goes into production, we want to have several ideas before we decide what really is the best use of the material that we have” says Pino.

In future, DGA Threads would like to collaborate with more designers and share their passion and story with a wider group of people. Having come out of a successful collaboration with Lasalle, where bomber jackets were created from their vintage fabrics, Pino is keen to explore more. “Respect for nature, respect for what we have and giving honour to what was produced in the past that still can have wonderful scope and use in this current life” is what guides DGA Threads into the future. What a wonderful precedent to set for fashion brands.

I thought, what am I going to do with all the kimonos and how can I bring them back to life

Written and photographed by Jennie Barck

Find out more about DGA Threads here: https://www.dgathreads.com/

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