Fashion has long been used as a vehicle for shining a light on social issues, and one Lasalle College of the Arts graduand has done precisely that with her Final Year Project (FYP).
Meet Nicolette Ow, a 24-year-old creative who’s now enrolled in Lasalle’s Fashion Media degree programme, and also holds a diploma in Temasek Polytechnic’s Apparel Design & Merchandising course.
For her project, she embarked on the conception of In Plain Sight, a publication that delves into the stories and struggles of marginalised and oft-forgotten communities in Singapore through a series of styled fashion photoshoots.
Among them are elderly cleaners and migrant workers as well as foreign domestic workers who are also volunteers with Singapore-based charity, the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (H.O.M.E).
And in case you’re wondering, yes the publication will be on sale.
“Pre-orders (for the first issue) have not launched yet as I am still in the process of working out all the logistics. While I can’t provide the price now, I am intending to price it affordably so it will be accessible to as many people as possible. I also plan to donate a portion of sales to volunteer organisations ,” Nicolette shares.
Below, she tells the Weekly more about In Plain Sight, its conceptualisation and what inspired the styling of the fashion shoot, and how she hopes to spark more conversations about those who have fallen through the cracks.
Could you tell us more about In Plain Sight?
Nicolette Ow (NO): In Plain Sight is a publication that gives visibility to unseen and undervalued communities in Singapore through the lens of fashion. Issue One focuses on essential yet low-wage workers, in particular migrant workers, foreign domestic workers and elderly cleaners.
A narration of their stories and dreams, it is an invitation to see things from their perspective, to see them in a different light and to start conversations about how they are treated in society.
How did the idea for the publication start and what spurred you to work on this for your Final Year Project?
NO: I went into my final year wanting to do something revolving around social issues and exploring ways for fashion media to be a meaningful medium for social commentary.
When this project was first coming together, there was a lot of discussion in mainstream media about what jobs are deemed essential during the pandemic, and what defines "essential".
A key issue was that despite being seen as essential by Singaporeans, the salaries and stigmas associated with low-wage workers such as cleaners, migrant workers, and security officers, for instance, do not reflect the importance of their work.
How did you decide who you wanted to speak to?
NO: I reached out to several organisations, such as HOME, which work with these workers, asked for contacts among my social circle, and approached those working around my home and school.
From there, I interviewed people who were comfortable with sharing their stories, and eventually narrowed it down to the six individuals featured in the final work.
Was there a theme behind the styling, or did their personalities influence the way they're outfitted?
NO: Yes, I think the styling plays a crucial role in communicating the intended message of the images. I wanted the overall mood to be elevated, poised, and with a dreamlike quality (as the images are a space for them to be whoever they want to be).
Their dreams, personalities, and the roles they hold in their families were used as inspiration for the wardrobe and styling of the set.
The styling is also informed by a decolonial narrative as the power imbalances and social stratification that affect these workers are, in a way, a byproduct of our history.
Their poses and attitudes are referenced from colonial portraits as well as fashion editorials from Grace Wales Bonner, Simone Rocha, and others. Ultimately, fashion is used as a way for them to reclaim feelings of power.
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Was there a particular story that hit you the most?
NO: I can't pick one in particular, but one thing that stuck with me from the interviews was the sacrifices these people have made to work to give their loved ones a better life.
Although we come across essential workers on an almost daily basis, we don't really interact with them beyond the usual greetings of "hello" or "good morning", and we don't really get to know them as individuals.
Just by talking to them, I've gotten to know some of the hidden emotional struggles they go through, especially when they are away from their families or are of an older age.
What do you hope to achieve with this project?
NO: In Plain Sight strives to be an authentic voice in our local fashion media that aims to create a real and positive impact for the individuals featured and the communities they represent.
I hope the project will prompt audiences to start conversations about these essential yet often forgotten groups of people in our society.
It's important that these conversations aren't just one-off but can continue to trigger a ripple effect of change where it is needed.
Pre-orders will be available soon. Follow In Plain Sight's website or follow its Instagram page for updates on pre-orders and more information.
This article was first published in The Singapore Women's Weekly.