SINGAPORE (Oct 29): When Swiss watchmaker Corum wanted to introduce its very first friend of the brand in Singapore, it did so in an unconventional way. Instead of a cocktail party, the media and invited guests were made to weave. Yes, weave! Not with string or yarn, but with tape from discarded cassettes and video tapes, to produce a unique material that has been trademarked as MusicCloth.
The appointment of J J Chuan, founder of rehyphen and creator of MusicCloth, in 2016, underlines Corum’s commitment to and support for women entrepreneurs since 2017 when the brand became the official timepiece for the Women Entrepreneur Awards.
Chuan taught the motley crew of journalists how to weave a MusicCloth the size of an A1 envelope, which took us a good part of the morning to complete. Thin strips of cassette tape were laid out vertically side by side. With the help of a curved needle, more tape was threaded horizontally through the vertical ones. The finished piece looked like a flat piece of woven basket.
After that, Chuan coated our MusicCloth with a protective layer to prevent the tape from peeling and placed it underneath a cardboard cutout of our profile. It was then neatly sealed in a picture frame for us to take home.
Chuan, an alumna of Parsons, The New School of Design in New York, says she named her company rehyphen because she wanted it to stand for “resources, reveal, rethink”. “Re” is a prefix used to mean “again”, indicating repetition, or “backward”, indicating backward motion. “Hyphen” is a symbol used to join words to indicate that they have a combined meaning or are linked. rehyphen was created with the aim of solving real-life problems.
Recently at her HDB flat in the western part of Singapore, where she does all her work, Chuan spoke to Options over tea. “When Corum approached me, I thought it was a good match because of the brand’s tag line, which is ‘Craft your dreams’. I do craft work, but it is more like craft that is meaningful to the environment. My dream is to create a better world,” she says.
She also sees a strong synergy between the two brands. In an earlier released statement, she said, “In [an] era of true individuality, Corum and rehyphen strongly believe in a new way of mass personalisation. Our products are not just a one-size-fits-all [type], but we both own a beautiful and touching story behind each product in a holistic approach. It is a great honour to collaborate with Corum and I believe there will be more exciting ideas coming soon.”
Locally made items and sustainability products have always been on Chuan’s mind. A recipient of the Yeoh lee fellowship programme in New York, she learnt from and worked with luxury designer Yeohlee Teng, who advocates locally made, zero-waste and sustainable practices. Chuan was also deeply influenced by Safia Minney’s book, Naked Fashion, which she read in 2011. In 2014, she participated in the People’s Climate March in New York, the largest such march in history, determined to sell the world “a better world”
Who would have thought that cassette or video tape could be fashioned into tote bags and even a dress? Chuan shows us an A-line spaghetti strap dress she made entirely out of tape — her imagination knows no bounds. She recalls, “It all started out quite organically. Cassette tapes have been a part of my memories growing up. Before smartphones and social media, my friend who was living in Australia and I would record our thoughts and songs and send them to each other.” This was, in a way, Chuan’s tribute to her past.
Chuan says that while studying in New York, her lecturer brought her to the Material ConneXion Library, a place that stores more than 8,000 reference materials for companies looking for sustainable materials. She was inspired by what she saw and decided weave tape into a piece of fabric measuring 8in by 8in. “I sent one sample to the Library and they asked me to send 20 more pieces for them to display in their libraries all over the world. Our material was selected as one of the most innovative woven materials.”
Chuan’s innovative material caught the attention of Kevin McCloud, designer, writer and presenter of Grand Designs since 1999. McCloud was thumbing through a magazine and saw the MusicCloth. He selected Chuan as one of the top five green heroes and her MusicCloth tote bag was put under the spotlight. Even as we speak, Chuan is constantly getting calls requesting collaboration projects.
Thanks to the media — social and traditional — Chuan has received enough tape to see her through many more future projects. “After a radio show, many uncles and aunties contacted me and donated all their old music tapes. United International Pictures, who found us on Facebook, said they had more than 500 video tapes to donate. A lorry was sent to my house and my storeroom is now filled with tapes,” she says with a laugh.
For more information, log on to www.interiordesign.net/videos/13611-material-insight-music-cloth.
This article appeared in Issue 854 (Oct 29) of The Edge Singapore.