Interview: A Look Inside the Origin and Process of MATTER Prints

I recently had the opportunity to interview Renyung Ho, co-founder of social enterprise, Matter, about the brand and its mission. I hope you enjoy reading about the process and inspiration behind some pretty groovy pants.

In one sentence or less, how would you describe MATTER? 

A socially motivated business focusing on affordable luxury, thoughtful design and provenance to create travel wear with stories to tell – the first edition is pants to see the world in.

Do you remember the moment or particular experience that motivated you live more ethically?

I don’t think there was a specific moment, but more a realisation that we’re all dealt with an uneven hand in life, and that I was incredibly privileged to be born where I am. I knew early on that I wanted to work to even out the opportunities available to people.  

How did MATTER start? Why pants? 

MATTER was sparked by the excitement of travel and the human connection that comes with it. The feeling of anything is possible, the richness of a life that is open to global inspiration. I met my co-founder, Yvonne, on the beaches of Mexico, and we were inspired to combine our love for travel, cultural stories, and unique travel wear into a business catering to the global nomad.  Practically, it kicked off last year when I drove a tuktuk covering 3000km from North to South India for a charity drive – I fell in love with the country, met some key people I work with now, and was inspired as to how something small can really go a long way.  

The message is to find out the where and why something is made – we will make better choices when we know those stories, for ourselves and the world. Also, that we are all connected – that’s why it’s called MATTER – going back to the basics that connect us. In terms of why pants, there is still something slightly rebellious about women wearing pants. It suggests a woman in control and living her life and having her adventures. Those are the women who inspire me in my life and inspire us in Matter. Pants are extremely comfortable whether you’re getting wandering around the back streets of Barcelona or in the aisles of your local supermarket. 

Plus, we believe in doing one thing really well and excelling in that. And so even though we want to eventually expand into other types of travel wear, pants will be our main focus for the near future.

What made you decide to source and work primarily within Singapore? What strengths and weaknesses does your location provide for the company? 

We actually work with artisans in Rajasthan, north India and Hyderabad, south India. HQ is in Singapore but we work in a ‘network’ form with people across geographies. For example, my co-founder is currently based in Shanghai. In terms of HQ being based in Singapore, what’s difficult is sampling, prototyping and finding good pattern makers; given we are such a small country the manufacturing base is very small and so those vital aspects of the business are hard to keep close to hand.

The main strength is that we are close to so many textile clusters in South east Asia and finding artisans and traveling to meet them is easy given our airport hub status. The cosmopolitan base of our city also means that there is a ready base of savvy, conscious consumers here as well.

Tell me a bit about the manufacturing process from start to finish. How does a pair of MATTER pants get made?

Primarily, Matter is about providing our customer with the best quality product out there. That’s why we personally visit each of our supply partners with a certain set of criteria that focuses on product integrity, social and environmental impact, business imperatives and management robustness. First things first, is the fabric and print. We focus on working with rural textile artisans who are experts in their respective crafts and have passed it down from generation to generation, and they are our main consultants when it comes to producing this phase. They are mostly small family businesses where everyone is involved in the making.

In terms of the print design, we invest a lot of time into learning the cultural histories and symbolic stories behind the prints. This wasn’t an easy task as much of this is being lost – we visited over 10 blockprinting workshops in Rajasthan and found one person who still knew those origins well. Our designers then reinterpret the motif by playing with size, colour, outlines and white space to bring out the essence of its story. From there on its an iterative process between the designer and artisan to achieve the final perfect balance. 

The fabric then goes to our factory partner in Delhi, also a family business who cuts and sews the final garments, before sending them to Singapore. For the style of the trousers, we reached out to the real women who Matter around us. We want our pants to be something that women can call upon not only when they’re travelling but when they are grounded back in their day to day. We curated a collection of styles from Asia and the rest of the world that were whittled down to 9 types. These were then road-tested by women of all ages, shapes and lifestyles who honed them to the 5 basic styles we now produce. 

What is the future of MATTER? Do you have plans to expand to other styles or products?

Well, sticking with the pants format, our next edition will be with men in mind – we feel they deserve to Matter as well! We’ve just launched scarves with a collaborative partner here in Singapore, as well as gift cards for the holiday season. I’m also planning to visit the Philippines for a sourcing trip next week, so expect more beautiful fabrics.

Thanks for the interview, Renyung!

Leah Wise

Leah Wise is the founder of StyleWise Blog. She has been writing, speaking, and consulting on sustainable fashion, the fair trade and secondhand supply chain, and digital marketing for over ten years. An Episcopal priest, Leah holds a B.A. in Religion from Florida State University and an M.Div. from Yale Divinity School. When not working, you can find her looking for treasures at the thrift store.

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  1. I know; I am impressed with the detail of her responses and appreciate that they're really trying to preserve textile and print traditions.

  2. Catherine Kowalik Harper

    This is a great interview and it's so interesting to learn about the meaning behind the designs.

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