Homegrown heroes

One of the biggest challenges facing shoppers in Yangon hoping to buy authentic locally designed clothes is that there are few places where homegrown labels are showcased together. While international and well-established brands can afford the city’s lofty commercial rental prices, few options remain for newly emerging brands. The result is that much of Myanmar’s burgeoning fashion scene exists mainly online and country’s creativity often remains unrecognised.

Recently, a group of seniors at The International School Yangon (ISY), Sithu Kyaw Win, Thomas Aung, Albert Paing, Ye Khant Moe, Zwe Myo Aung and Dillon Kelly, came up with a unique idea to challenge this. The boys, aged between 17-18, saw the need for Myanmar brands to have the physical space to showcase their work and as a result, the pop-up Recess opened its doors on Baho Road on October 20th Thomas Aung, one of the student founders of Recess, explains that the concept for the pop-up originally grew out of the idea to create a unisex ready-to-wear label of their own. This in turn led the boys to discover other Myanmar brands trying to do the same thing and the idea to unite them all was born.

“People usually go to other counties to buy their clothes,” says Thomas. “But in the past few months we realised there has been a sudden increase in local labels, but they don’t have a platform, so it’s all online and all dispersed. We wanted to gather everything into a physical location.”

The space the boys have taken over is three floors of an empty office on Baho Road. Each floor has been developed into a specific section for the three aspects of the pop-up. On the ground floor is the café My Drinks, which serves coffees, juices and pastries, on the next level is the clothing outlet and the third floor is reserved for an art gallery.

Created in collaboration with ArtAnt, the gallery features works from local artists including Nyan Ye Naing and Aung Kyaw San, and all the pieces were especially selected by the Recess founders to be affordable. “We didn’t want the art to be super expensive,” Thomas says. “We wanted to show that art isn’t always an exclusive thing. Our art ranges from about $40 all the way up to $400.”

Finding the right pricing bracket was key for the founders, not just for the artwork but for the clothing too. As Thomas explains they intentionally kept it low; “There’s a misunderstanding here that good things come at high prices, so all our prices for clothes range from about 7,000Ks all the way up to 50,000Ks.”

As the boys worked to gather labels willing to be featured in their pop- up, they were overwhelmed by the positive reaction to their concept. “Every designer that we contacted was really hyped about the idea of a pop-up,” says Thomas.

As word of the pop-up spread, they even began to receive messages from local brands they hadn’t previously heard of, all clamouring to be included. As a result, there are a number of little- known or newly formed brands to discover at Recess, including clothing labels Fragment of Imagination and Youth of Burma. There are also some well-known local labels, like Her Alchemy and Rangoon Studios.

“With Her Alchemy, it’s cool to see that they’re doing more than t-shirts, they’re doing jackets and dresses, and really creating something entirely new and more daring,” says Dillon Kelly, another founder. “It’s great to have a space where we can show that and help encourage it.”

Her Alchemy founder Nida Taylor has a mutual appreciation for the concept. “Her Alchemy loves pop-ups, we always do our own and we are very unique about it,” she says. “I heard about Recess from a senior at ISY and I was so happy to support the idea. My whole family attended ISY and so joining Recess was not about sales for me, I’m just very happy to support the kids from ISY and their cool concept.”

As well as being a place to come check out local designers and artwork, for the founders and many of the designers themselves, the pop-up represents the growing confidence in Myanmar design and creation. All the brands featured at Recess were purposefully chosen as they are original concepts, not rip-offs of other brands.

“I think the store is a representation of how Myanmar is coming up,” adds Dillon. “In places like Bangkok, you would see this kind of thing a lot but it’s new here. Now we can show that there is actually good, original clothing labels in Myanmar.”

Currently Recess is confirmed to run until November 20th but there is a hope to extend the pop-up until December. Check the Facebook page for more information.

Baho Shop House 1 address: Baho Road, Sanchaung Township.

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