SINGAPORE (June 12): National figure skater Ava Soh spends about four times a week training whether on or off the ice. In between, she dabbles in arts and crafts like felting, watercolour and digital art which she does on her iPad; spends time with her grandmother, and, of course, there is school.
While that is enough to keep any 13-year-old busy, Soh has designed a line of jewellery with a purpose to empower women. She calls her collection Cinta Diri which is Malay for “love yourself”. The collection was inspired by the Peranakan snack love letters (crispy egg rolls) and her Peranakan heritage — all this done through her company Daughters of the Revolution (DOTR).
Soh explains, “I was eating a love letter last Lunar New Year and I wore it over my finger. Halfway eating it, I thought it looked like a ring. My research behind the giving of secret messages [that Peranakan girls would slip into the love letters for the boys], sparked the connection of giving a secret message to yourself and incorporating this into a design element with my jewellery.”
Every piece of jewellery has a secret message of Cinta Diri, hidden and hand-stamped onto it. Furthermore, the look of the jewellery pieces is influenced by actual designs from the patterns and moulds used to make the love letters.
While there are many ways to empower women, Soh has chosen this avenue to do so. To her, self-love is important because “before you love someone else, you have to love yourself first”, she says. She also adds that she wants to tell women that they do not need a Prince Charming to complete them.
She continues, “Only self-love breeds confidence, and you need to start from there before you can address anything else. I believe that is what we need in order to change the world for the better. I didn’t so much choose this, rather I think it chose me. I’m not Greta [Thunberg] who could start a protest that goes global. Not in Singapore, anyway.”
With Covid-19 still very much a part of our lives, Soh says Cinta Diri is more relevant now more than ever. The very matured teenager observes that female heads of state are proving themselves to be great leaders during these difficult times: The infection rates in their countries are drastically lower than that in other countries.
Soh says, “Some people say ‘it’s just because the countries they lead have smaller populations’, which, with the exception of Germany, is true. However, we don’t have the statistics to prove that this is correct, because we don’t have enough female representatives.”
Realising that uncertainties will still loom even after the “circuit breaker” measures are lifted, Soh believes even more women will need to believe in themselves and be confident. She explains, “If you’re insecure, the uncertainty will be terrifying. It starts with loving yourself for who you are and knowing your strengths and weaknesses. And that we’re not perfect and that’s ok.”
Soh also wants to highlight the next generation of 21st-century heroines. To her, that is important because many women right now are doing a great job at inspiring girls all around the world and making the world a better place. However, there is still much to be done.
“The thing about children is that we are born without fear. We aren’t afraid to question our society or to be questioned. We need our children to preserve these innate behaviours. Alongside these women, I’m on a never-ending journey of self-love too,” she confesses.
The making of Cinta Diri
A self-taught jewellery designer. Soh says her love for fashion goes back to the time she was a five-year-old watching her grandmother make scraps of fabric into bespoke bags and dresses. It was through this that she was inspired to create things that are meaningful to herself and to others.
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As with any teenager, she started watching American reality TV show Project Runway and the contestants’ creativity inspired her to design her own ice-skating outfits. So inspired was she that she even made a trip to Moods in New York, the store that was featured in the series.
From here, she stoked that fire in her to embark on her creative journey. “The idea of the [jewellery] collection started during the Lunar New Year festivities of 2019. In the beginning, I found it very difficult to encapsulate the essence of female empowerment and articulating it into a design.”
Although she would often see commercially-produced jewellery pieces emblazoned with words like “respect”, ‘love” and “make a change”, she found they lacked depth in concept and design. It took several attempts for Soh to figure out that to have confidence and believe in oneself and one’s passion, one has to love herself first.
One of the difficulties Soh faces when designing a collection are the many changes involved. Each design had to go through many changes that could not be done on CAD/CAM as the 3D software still has its limitations.
What Soh wanted to achieve was an organic look that was as close as possible to real love letters. This, she realised, could only be done through an experienced artisan’s eye and skills.
The part she likes about this process is that each love letter is individually rolled by hand, making every piece unique. “I couldn’t get these minute details articulated into the actual jewellery designs. In the end, I worked around my problems. I got in touch with a craftsman who was also well versed in CAD/CAM programming and he helped me get exactly what I wanted.”
While the process from design to manufacturing went smoothly, Covid-19 struck and she had to quickly work out all the details such as: Would people now even want to buy jewellery? Can I get supplies?
This was when her supportive parents stepped in and told her that there is never a perfect time and sometimes what is meant to be, will be. She adds, “They also reminded me that I’m not selling jewellery but a message to love yourself, that so happens to be jewellery. In times like these, don’t we all need to love ourselves more? And that was the big question I had to answer. And the only way to answer it was to try.”
On the whole, Soh admits it was a great learning experience and she has learnt to appreciate the people who helped her along the way. What kept her going was her mission, and knowing that all her hard work would pay off in the end — an exquisite collection any woman will be proud to own and wear.
And what is this plucky teenager up to these days? “I have already started designing a series of bandanas and some t-shirts to see if the idea can come to life there. I’m also designing a DOTR logo too.”
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