MATTER: Travel Wear To See The World In
Words by Julia Eskins
Photo/Videos by Aleyah Solomon
It all started with a pair of pants designed for the modern nomad. Inspired by days on the road—when you want to look stylish but still be comfortable—MATTER catapulted onto the travel wear scene with prints worth talking about.
When we heard about MATTER, a socially motivated business focusing on affordable luxury, story-driven textiles and community-based collaborations, we were immediately intrigued.
The brand’s philosophy is built on the idea that consumers should value provenance – to ask of the where and why something is made, and explore alternative production models that give opportunities to artisans and designers.
Founded in 2014 by Singapore-based Renyung Ho and Shanghai-based Yvonne Suñer, the company has since expanded beyond pants to include other types of travel wear including jumpsuits and scarves. All the while, they’ve continued to work with rural textile artisans and incorporate heritage techniques and prints into their line.
Seeing as MATTER launched with pants, we decided to incorporate their ever-popular Swideswept Dhotis into our travel wardrobes. The signature unisex style is inspired by the multifold drapes of the Indian dhoti, yet reimaged for the modern traveller. We chose two vibrant colours for these statement bottoms: the bold red Mobi Pomegranate and the SINGAPORE print in Solar Yellow, which is made out of a breathable, handspun and handwoven khadi twill fabric. This particular print, designed by Yah Leng Yu from Foreign Policy Design Group, is reminiscent of Singapore’s sou-sou tile patterns that are often found in the nation's kopitiam coffeeshops.
Our first spin in the pants was a stroll down Toronto’s Queen West. Unsurprisingly, we had several strangers compliment us on our new Dhotis. It was one of the hottest days of summer so we decided to dip our feet in a fountain, putting MATTER’s fun and functional emphasis to the test. Wearing these pants mentally transports you to a faraway place and inspires you to embody the nomadic spirit—even when you’re in a giant metropolis. Curious to learn more about MATTER’s philosophy and background, we chatted with the company’s co-founder and creative director Renyung Ho. Read on for the full interview below!
Q&A with MATTER co-founder, Renyung Ho
Julia Eskins: How did the concept behind MATTER first unfold?
Renyung Ho: I've always loved connecting ideas and concepts, and creating a platform for opportunity. MATTER felt like a logical next step, a natural culmination of all my endeavours and experiences. While completing a 3500km road trip in an auto rickshaw fundraising trip across India, it opened my eyes to the beauty and chaos of India, helped me make connections and meet people that helped materialize the idea of MATTER. Connecting artisans with designers, heritage with modern design, creating a platform through clothing that connects the community. Ultimately, I am a storyteller, and believe that the world would be a better place if people asked where and why something is made, and by whom.. MATTER is about returning to those basics that connect us, stories, craft, and values.
JE: You and Yvonne are from different countries and enjoy exploring the world. How does travel play into your brand identity?
RH: Travel has always been a great part in our lives, it's how we met and become friends. When we met in 2009, we wanted to create something that combined our interest of travelling and do something for women. Long story short, we created pants that empower the modern nomadic women, to be able to travel and enjoy individual freedom. Travel is an important part of our identity because the love for it is what brings the #mattertribe together. It’s symbolic of the traveller’s mindset, of curiosity, connection, and community.
JE: Was there a specific moment or experience that inspired you to get involved with social entrepreneurship?
RH: In university, my thesis was on social entrepreneurship and shadowing social entrepreneurs in the UK showed me the impact of combining purpose and profit in a meaningful way. Entrepreneurship is all about solving problems and creating value, so what better vehicle to use for targeting social issues? One experience that did stand out to me was meeting two hilltribe girls selling embroidered bookmarks in Sapa Valley, Chiang Mai. Their mother had taught them how, and they were selling that to fund their education. That moved me.
JE: Why did you start with pants?
RH: We felt that pants were a symbol of the freedom that we enjoy and a symbol of empowerment; also, everyone needs a pair of amazing pants that take you from day to night and beach to bar! Another main reason was that we truly believe its important to start and focus with one thing, and become very good at that.
JE: What challenges have you faced so far?
RH: The pursuit of social responsibility has been difficult. We've had to give up one of our signature fabrics due to the uncertainty of their sourcing and their inability to provide reliable documentations. When things boil down to profit vs. purpose, we have had to refocus and remind ourselves why we started MATTER in the first place. Production timing is also an issue due to the long lead time of the fabrics which take up to 120 days. We overcome this by having a seasonless approach.
JE: Your Akin collection infuses stories from the forgotten past. In a world where traditions are often left behind, why is honouring cultural histories important to you?
RH: I feel that there is something important to learn from everyone everywhere. When we unite ourselves across culture, we can start to appreciate and respect both the differences and similarities amongst us. My background in sociology always enhanced my interest in cultural stories, I cannot visit a place without learning the culture and stories behind it.
JE: Describe MATTER in five words or less.
RH: Creating change with connected clothing. ■
Take a peek for more styles: matterprints.com
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