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The first thing you notice when meeting Ms. Ku are her hands - undeniably misshapen by age and ailment, a tangible testament of the woman’s passion for her craft. “I burnt myself,” she shyly traces at the scabs on her hands and further shares arthritis as the reason for its poignant yet inspiring form. A normal person would have retired for a very obvious reason. She still works to this day with her hands.
Hearing about Ms. Ku for the first time, one would imagine a rather intimidating figure with a booming voice and uncompromising stance. So seeing her in real life, a petite woman with a warm smile and gentle demeanor, makes one feel disarmed and surprisingly eager to know more about her.
Ms. Ku is the formidable owner of a garment factory, Singapore’s last few independent ones. At the age of 18, she started her career as a seamstress. It was mostly sewing work at the beginning, but she soon moved on to drafting paper patterns. After gathering enough experience and with the advice of her brother, she eventually started her own company called Dior Garments in 1978. As with any small start-up, she was thrown into the deep end, having to manage all aspects of the business. She shares stories of sleeping on her factory floor and even having to wash the toilets on some days.
But having to wear multiple hats did not slow her down her; if anything, it drove her passion further. Ms. Ku works an astounding 17 hours a day. While her hunger for craft is unmistakable, she shares how she doesn’t even feel the need to eat or drink whenever she’s immersed in the sea of fabrics and threads. Intense would be an understatement when it comes to describing her work habits, which overtakes any health issues she might be experiencing. Even when she was diagnosed with cancer, she continued to work, knowing that there’s nothing more important than honing her skills and keeping herself mentally sharp. Thankfully the illness has long rescinded. They say ‘happiness is the key to good health’ and Ms. Ku seems to be the living testament to that.
She has worked with Wykidd Song during the Song+Kelly years, producing parts of his collection. She enjoys the collaborative aspect of working with designers. Although the job is fast-paced, she finds it fulfilling, anticipating the moment she gets to send off each piece upon completion.
Now well into her 70's, she joins Wykidd once again in his newest venture: AKINN. “When I told her that I had an idea to do a new womenswear collection, she leapt up and started pulling out all the Song+Kelly pieces from her archive! But it still took a copious amount of time to convince her to collaborate with me on AKINN, taking her out of her comfort zone. We worked very closely together, thinking of how we can reimagine these pieces and make them relevant to today’s women. She has not slowed down despite her age. I still wonder at her spiritedness and her astute sense of proportion and finishing” It’s not difficult for fashion designers to lose their verve in such a fast-paced industry, but it is people like Ms. Ku that keeps the fire burning for these individuals. Her commitment to craft is not only an inspiration to behold, but it is a contagious spirit that carries through every person she works with and every piece of clothing that she does.
“Design is one thing - but translating that design from paper sketches to fabrics and stitches is another. Ms. Ku’s dedication to quality has always challenged and inspired me, to create designs that stand the test of time. She truly represents what commitment and passion is all about." Wykidd admiringly states.
For someone who's churned out innumerable pieces of clothing throughout her years, she has a surprisingly simple fashion advice: focus on the details. She says that even the simplest outfits can be most outstanding when you look closer. Now that’s something that AKINN definitely embodies.