Aqilah Zailan is the founder of Studio Gypsied. A fourth generation Singaporean-Javanese, she has shaped the studio to become unapologetic in their representation of Malay-Nusantara heritage.
She weaves age-old batik stories with fresh narratives for today's women who are thoughtful, confident and open to new experiences.
Her designs are inspired by traditional garments of the women before her, combined with a sense of contemporary simplicity and functionality.
Discovering heritage textiles, telling their stories, and meeting the women who make them are the biggest components of what Studio Gypsied does. Aqilah believes in designing timeless pieces that honour the messages contained in these textiles that can be enjoyed for many years and passed down through families.
What woman (real or fictional) inspires you?
Women inspire me all the time, and I've met and read about many wonderful women. But who comes to mind quickly , are several from Singapore who were at the forefront of activism in Singapore in the early 1900s, including Che Zahara and Shirin Fozdar, both activists pioneering women's and children's rights. Another individual that comes to mind is Hajjah Fatimah Binte Sulaiman, who has a mosque built and named after her here (Hajjah Fatimah Mosque). She was a successful businesswoman who was also a philantrophist.
Studies have shown that 80% of women do not feel comfortable discussing finances with family and friends. Is this true in your experience?
This is very true. Perhaps because the state of our finances are reflective of, or related to how much autonomy we have at driving our lives in the "right" direction or the path we want, it can be uncomfortable to talk about with family or friends. The vulnerability involved can lead to feelings of shame, embarrassment, and more. This is why I appreciate instagram accounts run by women for women around the discussion of money and work. Two accounts I follow are @her.duit and @gofundyourself. While their contexts are in Malaysian and UK respectively, there's still so much to takeaway from their posts. These posts can help to facilitate conversations with family and friends too.
What is the biggest risk you have taken?
Running my fashion business has been the single biggest risk I have taken for my career. When I started Studio Gypsied in 2013, the concept of sustainability and advocacy for transparency in fashion's supply chain was not what we see today in Singapore. It has taken a lot of educating, community building and seeding new ideas to make this work.
Have you ever felt imposter syndrome? If so, how have you dealt with this?
Every day. As a minority Singaporean, I feel the imposter syndrome very keenly. Are our designs good enough? Is there space for my voice within the fashion industry? Can my brand be a force for real good, and not just token representation for diversity? The answer is yes, I can take up space. And if there isn't, then I will create the seat at the table. Tiny steps make big strides.
What achievement or experience are you most proud of?
I am proud for the small everyday things. To date, I have had three minority designers intern at my studio, and to be able to guide them, and be a part of their growth and self-discovery as fashion designers and/or merchandisers is something I'm really proud of. Because the power of change is also in their hands.
What is a cause that you are passionate about?
There are many causes I am passionate about. But if I have to pick one that has been on my mind for a long time, it is period poverty.
What advice would you give to your 12 year old self?
At this point in my life, when I have the best and most stable relationships around me, I have two messages for her.
Dear Aqilah, always trust your gut. It will take you through. And remember that the family you create is just as important as the one you're born into.
What are you most looking forward to year 2024?
I look forward to traveling a lot more in 2024 for new experiences and opportunities.