Singapore-based MATTER Prints fashion enterprise advances textile heritage and imbues meaning to the collective weight of social responsibility. By rooting out waste and the passing waves of the Zeitgeist, MATTER's versatile prints are tied to the principle of provenance, each hailing from an existing heritage motif reinterpreting the rich Asian cultural customs. Through its timeless textile artisanship, the slow label pays tribute to bridging the gap between the hybrid model of rural artisanship and modern urban markets. For the label, helping the artisanal textile craft thrive today and inspiring the future meaningful makers is all that matters.
Words: Hanna-Amanda Pant
How did the unique Matter brand start out?
MATTER started as an idea between Ren and Yvonne, while they were both working in Mexico a few years ago. They were inspired to combine their love for travel, and cultural stories into a business. They felt that through design interpretation, textile artisanship would be a sustainable means of living, and thought that there must be many more people like them who value products made in this way.
Would you say it has been a difficult journey to encourage change within the global fashion industry? Why do you think it might be difficult for all brands to opt for the sustainable path?
The sustainable fashion industry has definitely grown over time, with more ethically-minded brands emerging and more opinion leaders becoming excited about championing ethical brands and their process. Ground-up initiatives, like Fashion Revolution, are testament to this growing movement. It’s just a matter of time.
You are focusing on prints and the artisanal textiles industry, and traditions and heritage also play a huge role in your brand's core value system. Where are the artisans you work with based?
Most of the artisans we work with are based in India, working with textile crafts, like Blockprinting in Jaipur, Ikat in Koyyalagudem, Chambray in Hyderabad, Jamdani in Habibpur and Jacquard in Lunkaransar. We also recently expanded to Batik in Java, Indonesia, a wax-resist dyeing technique that marked a significant milestone for us, as it was the first textile craft outside of India that we worked with.
"Our production process is hybrid because we work to bridge the gap between traditional, rural artisanship and modern, urban markets and design principles."
What is the model of urban-rural production? How does it challenge sustainability?
Our production process is hybrid because we work to bridge the gap between traditional, rural artisanship and modern, urban markets and design principles. We believe that sustainable progress requires change in this sector. We incorporate elements of digital and mechanical processes, where it is more efficient, and handmade processes, when we see that they have immeasurable human value.
You work with slow-approach textiles and print techniques. How are your artisanal textiles created, could you talk us through the process?
The textiles we work with can be classified into two groups: one where our artisans weave the fabric, and another where our fabric are sourced from our other partners then printed on to create the base of our products. Ikat, Chambray, Jamdani, and Jacquard are techniques used by our artisan partners in India to weave the fabric on the loom. For example, with Ikat is a tie and dye technique, where yarns are resist-dyed to achieve the final textile pattern in weaving. Only when the yarns are woven together does the final pattern emerge in a tapestry of meaning.
"The longer design process comes from our inherent design principle of provenance – all prints hail from an existing heritage motif tied to a place and time, with a cultural story of its own."
What other principles make Matter a slow label and why should the slow approach be particularly appreciated by the wearer of your garments?
The three principles that make Matter a slow label are in our style, production, and design. To stay committed to producing seasonless classics, quality over quantity and hold intentionality in process.
You revise the timeless items and styles already created and suggest improvements accordingly. Why is it perhaps difficult to push forward this cycle rather than just following trends, e.g. seasonal catwalk trends and changes in the Zeitgeist?
The origin story of MATTER is rooted in two main motivations: the proclivity to create beautiful products that celebrate the rich Asian cultural heritage and textiles in our region, and to build a social business that enables the textile craft to continue as a viable industry while kindling positive impact. We wanted to pay tribute to the vibrant cultural heritage in our region by celebrating Asian styles and garments and with these core values in mind, we sought to create pants that carried the stories passed down from its heritage.
"Incorporating natural time cycles of printing and weaving of the artisans means having a longer buffer period to take into account serendipities of weather, festivities, and harvest cycles. And it is these human elements that matter."
Your design-to-product cycle is no shorter than 6 months to guarantee exceptional quality. What processes fit into this cycle and what makes the wait worth it?
The longer design process comes from our inherent design principle of provenance – all prints hail from an existing heritage motif tied to a place and time, with a cultural story of its own. Our work is to retell and translate that story in a way that resonates still with a modern audience. Working collaboratively with artisans, where the final print is a result from their feedback and design input also extends the sampling process. Incorporating natural time cycles of printing and weaving of the artisans means having a longer buffer period to take into account serendipities of weather, festivities, and harvest cycles. And it is these human elements that matter.
What is the 'hybrid supply chain model' you have also incorporated within the business?
Hybrid supply chain model is the urban-rural production model (as discussed above). We work to bridge the gap between traditional, rural artisanship and modern, urban markets and design principles.
As a socially driven label and key innovator in the Asian market, you want to be the catalyst for change. What can other brands learn from you, say, when planning their transformation from a fast fashion label into a more socially oriented label?
I think it depends on what their non-negotiables are in this commitment towards becoming a more socially oriented label, and what impact they want to achieve. For us, the hope is that textile artisanship will become sustainable when more designers want to work with it, and more consumers see the value in its processes. Our work is to make buying and designing an artisan product as easy and attractive as possible. Knowing this guides all of our communications and also validates our starting hypothesis that people will make the better consumption choice when armed with the right information. Hence, we focus on provenance – where something comes from – and transparency as fundamental brand values.
MATTER Prints: Unfolding Textile Heritage Through Provenance and Process
Image: MATTER Prints
What are some of the azo free dyes you work with?
Dystar. There are also other selected products dyed naturally with the indigo plant.
What can we look forward to at your latest pop-up / launch in London this November curated by Naiise UK?
We created our first outerwear item - the Chenelle Jacket. Inspired by the kepenek, a traditional coat worn by shepherds in Iran in the mountains, the Chenelle Jacket is our modern reinterpretation of this traditional silhouette. Designed exclusively for the UK, we created the Koa print as a tribute to William Morris’ legacy. As the leading influence of the Arts and Crafts Movement, William Morris advocated for traditional craftsmanship and brought art back to people. The Jasmine Trellis was the first woodblock print he did on paper and it was our inspiration for this pattern.