Lark & Peony founder Junie Yeo on modern Asian style

Lark and Peony was founded in 2012 by Junie Yeo. Their cheongsam designs are an interpretation of the modern Asian style. We spoke to Junie to find out how her move to Japan inspired her to start the label. We also learn a little about the difference in wellness approach between people in Japan and South East Asia. 

Tell us a little bit about yourself. What got you started on designing cheongsam?

I was born and raised in Singapore. Lived in Manila and Brunei as a child and then Melbourne and Tokyo as an adult. I was trained in adverting and my goal was to work in an ad agency but you never quite end up doing what you studied.

I began designing or rather conceptualising modern cheongsams when I first moved Japan in 2012 with my husband who was posted there for work. A friend complained about how expensive cheongsams were and we all wondered how it was possible that women in the past wore it quite regularly to work and events but it didn’t seem as much of a luxury item back then. 

I was inspired by kimonos and the contemporary take on them and wondered why we couldn’t do the same with cheongsams.

Fashion is a competitive market. How did you get the business started? Could you take us through your journey and were there any interesting milestones?

I founded and ran the business remotely while living Tokyo and relied on my mom and another employee to organise deliveries for me. On hindsight, the trust customers placed in us was incredible because as much as online shopping was already quite established back in 2012, we were selling products that were made in small batches at a higher price point than most stores. 

I moved back to Singapore in 2015 and we had good demand for our unique pieces. It was a blessing because I had the good contacts for Japanese cottons which we use predominantly and I was surrounded by friends and family who were extremely supportive of my business.

There isn’t one particular milestone in our whole existence because I view every year we stay in business as a huge milestone for us. The fact that we’re still in business after almost 8 years still surprises me.

Naysayers used to tease about how I went to university to run a blogshop and they label my business a hobby. It’s mildly frustrating but I love what I do so it’s water off a duck’s back. Every year, new brands come onto the market with their innovative ideas and it serves to spur us on to stay competitive while staying true to the brand.

Your brand is an interpretation of modern Asian style. What is the modern Asian style to you? 

Modern Asian style to me is revisiting what our grandmothers or great grandmothers used to commonly wear before Singapore was introduced to Western fashion.

We’ve taken cheongsams and infused them with modern prints of local icons printed on sustainable fabric and that to me is modernising Asian style.

We live in a modern world with every convenience imaginable and being a citizen of modern Asia, where so many of the world population now live, we cannot produce recklessly and unsustainably without sparing a thought for future generations and how the impact our consumption and production patterns will affect them.

How do you think the design industry has evolved in Singapore over the years? How do you think it will change further in the next 5 years?

We’ve come a long way. I’m so proud to see so many local brands sprouting up, inspired by gaps in the market and also the pioneer local brands that paved the way.

Before we were quite limited to imported brands and a lot of fast fashion but thanks to the ability to sell online, it’s been such a blessing to smaller local businesses with beautiful concepts and their take on fashion.

I think Singapore will see more designers and artists in the next 5 years. With this new shift to working from home or remote working, we might see designers being able to work from a remote island in the Philippines or from a ski resort in Japan. With 5G and trailblazers like Elon Musk’s Starlink satellites, getting connected anywhere in the world, remote working would be an absolute dream and reality! Being able to be travel, explore, interact with people (masks on of course) might just bring a little more to a designer’s end product.

You used to stay in Japan. How has Japan’s fashion or culture impacted your sense of style and also your works? 

I’m immensely thankful for my time in Japan and all that I was able to absorb. It was wonderful to see how old and new thrived side by side.

Despite always being cutting edge in so many ways, Japan never forgets tradition. In fashion, in prints and even in their modern kimonos, there’s always homage paid to tradition and there’s always a story to tell behind every print.

In my own little way, every time I design something, I try to involve or include something uniquely Singaporean or Asian into the print or silhouette and when we tell people a story behind the print, we’re thrilled when it resonates with them.

Is there an age-old Asian beauty or wellness tip that you got from your parents or an  older person?

Sleep as much as you can. It’s not an Asian beauty tip but it makes so much sense in this world constantly buzzing with information. Put your devices away, unwind and relax before bed and get much undisturbed sleep as you can. It truly is a luxury!And the ones I always ALWAYS hear from older aunts and my acupuncturist

  1. No ice in your drinks
  2. No fried foods (Too heaty)
  3. No scalding hot showers

I argue that all these apply only to Singapore or South East Asia because in Japan, there was always ice in the water served in restaurants, tempura was a staple to me and if you don’t take scalding hot showers to acclimatize, how will you even get your pinky toe into the boiling hot onsen water?

It’s all to do with the climate, we don’t have four seasons so it’s understandable why TCM would suggest these wellness tips.

Is there a quote or life motto that you live by?

“I can accept failure but I cannot accept not trying” by Michael Jordan

Lastly, what’s the future plans for Lark & Peony?
My plan is to stay small and lean. This pandemic has been such a wake up call for so many and because we’re a tiny outfit, we didn’t have to lay-off staff and we became a tighter-knit team. Together with our local production team we managed to create value while weathering through the toughest parts of the pandemic which included closing our physical store.

I don’t have future plans to conquer or gain bigger market share. Ultimately, I want to look after my customers, old and new, year in year out for as long as a I possibly can.

It’s so wonderful growing up and growing wiser (not older) with them, my customers are like a family that chose me and so I choose to serve them with my best undiluted effort.

Hop on to Lark & Peony to check out their beautiful cheongsams

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