When I first thought about creating a fashion start-up, I had a dream of creating a brand that supports others making a difference in the world.
Creating products that support the modern lifestyle, with functionality and style while also developing a positive community of like-minded people. People working hard to achieve their goals and make a difference in the world.
"The name Utoppii comes from the word Utopia"
I believe that by working hard and supporting each other every one of us can make a big difference, no matter how big or small.
When I graduated from high school, I had a conversation with my mum about what would be my next step. The choice was between arts and design, or business.
She encouraged me to go into business, as it was considered a more respectable and lucrative career path, particularly in Singapore.
So I got a business degree, majoring in marketing and human resources and began my career in the high-flying corporate world. As a woman, particularly being so young, I had to work really hard to prove my capabilities in some of the male dominated industries I have worked in. I persevered, and the last role I held was as the Regional Vice-President for a multinational consulting company.
“Despite my success, I reached a point where I felt unfulfilled”
I’d pursued this lucrative career path and I wanted do something that was more personal and meaningful. I was a little unsure what to do next when a friend inspired me to start my own business. It was something that I had never dreamt of doing but decided to take some time to reflect. I thought back to my original passion for arts and design and that early conversation I’d had with my mum.
I went back to the drawing board and asked myself, “What can I create? What do I need?” It had to be something that I felt close to and my mind went to fashion, and specifically, a bag.
I needed a bag that could transition from the gym, to the office, one that could come with me on my travels. And that’s how the whole thing got started.
“And that’s how the whole thing got started”
Utoppii was launched in Australia because I had travelled here a lot with my previous roles and I was really drawn to the culture here. Australia has proven to be open to creativity and innovation and the people here have been particularly open to lifestyle startups, so I felt we’d have much more opportunity to get started here, than just in Singapore.
I decided to launch with a backpack because I’ve found, on certain days, I have to carry multiple bags. A handbag, a gym bag and maybe a laptop bag or suitcase, something I feel most women can relate to. I believed that a well-designed backpack could be all of these things at the same time, as long as it was also practical, comfortable and stylish. So that’s what I set out to create.
“To me, bag are more than just a sack for carrying things”
They signify milestones, new beginnings and are a faithful companion on a life journey. A woman can have many bags for many different occasions - but - there will always be that one main bag she takes along for the day-to-day journey.
Utoppii’s flagship backpack is designed to be functional yet stylish. You could take this ONE bag to many different occasions and look good too.
From the gym to the office, to boarding a plane and then exploring a new city. Even a mum taking her toddler out for the day.
I’ve always been drawn to classic and timeless styles, with the occasional quirky element. I want my products to have a timeless appearance, while still providing the option to inject a little personality and self-expression. That’s where the Collage idea came into my mind. A lot of thoughts have gone into making a bag that is not only functional, stylish yet customisable everyday of the week with removable patches using the iconic pegboard front. The concept of a Collage Bag was birthed.
“Utoppii is not fast-fashion”
When I began to seriously pursue creating the Collage Bag, sourcing a good manufacturer was very important to me.
I wanted to make sure the quality would be high and that we could maintain our values, in particular the belief that all living beings are equal and that we must respect the environment. It was important to me that the bag be made from vegan leather, using processes that keep the environment in mind.
It took several months, but eventually I settled on a manufacturer who had the skill, ethical outlook and passion to create my products. The thrill and challenge of entering unknown territories has always appealed to me, but being able to convince these bag suppliers to work with me, accepting the crazy ideas of a woman who has no experience in making bags was very rewarding.
It showed that they believed in the product and saw its potential, as I did. The first prototype did not work out that well, at all! But it was a defining moment for me. After countless refinement and 8 prototypes, the Collage Bag came to life.
“I realised that it was possible for my dream to become my reality”
Giving back is very personal to me. I grew up in a family who believed in helping others.
My parents have always gone out of their way to help others in need. They passed on their values to me that we should help others as much as we can. Back in Singapore, I volunteered with a wildlife rescue.
Most people would happily help out at a dog and cat shelter where the animals are cute and cuddly. Not many would think of caring for the rescued snakes, broken shell turtles, squirrels, iguanas, and culled pigeons that also need help.
To me, all living beings have an equal chance on this world. So, I decided to help these less thought of animals. It was a hugely rewarding experience.
I’ve also spent some time volunteering with a tribal village in the mountains of Chiang Mai, Thailand. Living with the villagers, taking care of elephants, teaching in the local school, harvesting and re-building facilities throughout the village.
I’ve always been a very blessed recipient of support, in the form of helping hands, words of encouragement and acts of kindness from loved ones, and even strangers.
“I believe in giving back more than we receive”
I have greatly appreciated all of the support I have received in the past and I am very fortunate to live a comfortable life. I have travelled extensively in the past and come across many less-fortunate people. I realised these people needed a lot of help. So I felt it would be great if this brand I was creating could help give back to people and communities that may be struggling, helping support them to pursue their hopes and realise their dreams. I may not be able to make huge changes but being able to make a difference to one life is better than helping none.
“People who step out of their boundaries with the sole purpose of bettering the lives of others have always had my admiration and respect”
Their efforts are something I aspire to. So, as part of the Utoppii brand, I have committed to donating 10% of our net profits to support organisations and causes run by these inspiring people who work tirelessly to make a difference in the world.
My aspiration for Utoppii is to build a global brand, eventually expanding beyond bags and accessories to build a foundation so that I can continue supporting people and animals in need.
Some people may be cynical of these goals and say Utoppii is ‘just an accessory brand’. I strongly believe in the saying ‘we say what we do and we do what we say’ and this is something I feel is at the core of the Utoppii brand.
I have been very fortunate to have met many wonderful people in my journey who believe in this brand as strongly as I do. Together we’ve created a small but passionate team who are keen to work hard to see Utoppii grow to its full potential.
I hope you can join us in our vision. Alone we may cause ripples but together we can make waves.