Local Designers: Kanoe Wear, On Fashioning Ethics Into Ethnic Wear

Fashion

August 21, 2017 | BY Jessica Liew

Guided by passions and causes close to her heart, designer Noelle Kan has created a conscious label celebrating her favourite places, styles and memories.

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Founder Noelle Kan, in a green dress from her Rainbow Girl collection (Photo: Shaffiq Farhan)

The context of fashion goes beyond face value. Take a closer look and you’ll find that the designer’s life story is interwoven within threads and patterns. Noelle Kan’s tale behind the boho-ethnic Kanoe begins on that note – a tribute to the diverse places, cultures and memories that shaped her.

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From Malaysia to Australia, from Italy to Philippines, the Masters in Fashion graduate has always kindled intimate connections to places she spent her formative years in. These inspirations eventually materialised in a fashion line christened Kanoe, as an outlet to express the sentiments and causes close to her heart.

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Noelle models a skirt from her Klassik Batik collection 

“My whole life journey has shaped my taste in fashion,” shared the delicate, cheerful Noelle, whom we met at the Merdeka Edition of the Sunny Side Up artisan market at The Row. “From my mother who dressed me as a child to my aunt Mae who’s always glamourous and classy, coupled with the countries I lived in and its culture, those influenced and shaped my taste in fashion.”

A seen on her Instagram, Noelle’s whimsical designs may speak volumes in inspiration, but the heart of Kanoe is at a conscious place. Each collection delves beyond aesthetic values to support various underprivileged communities who helped materialise them.

“It brings a meaning to what I do as well as for the customers, knowing that their purchase goes beyond fashion” 

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In a scarlet dress from the Shekinah Glory collection - Khadi collection (Photo: Shaffiq Farhan)

“I Studied Fashion Design in Whitehouse Institute of Design, Sydney. My father gave in to my passion and persistence. In my second year, I started winning design competitions in Australia, and in my third year, a scholarship for a Master’s Program in Fashion as Art at Accadamia Italia in Florence, Italy. 

Sydney brought me back to the basics of art and design and purified my taste. It taught me to see the luxury of natural fiber, which my garments are made from. Italy’s passion, charm and timeless beauty showed me the strength of simplicity, quality and great workmanship. Our vibrant, tropical city Kuala Lumpur has brought the rainbow into my clothing’s happy and comfortable ethos.”

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The Rainbow Girl collection, inspired by Kuala Lumpur's vibrant culture 

“My friends describe my style as ‘wanderluster’ but I call it ‘wonderlover’. My style is either classic, simple and timeless, thrown in with something ethnic, a handcrafted element, colours or textures – with a polished form. I like bringing two extremes together.”

 An ethical mission
“I spent two years in Boracay doing mission work and that sparked the carefree, resort feel of my designs. I also developed the heart to provide hope and livelihood to those in poverty, by training and giving them the opportunity to hone their artistic skills into profit making.” 

Finding honourable partnerships
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Hand-woven scarves from the Luxurious Basics range in charitable partnership with Women's Weave, India

“For the first collection, I worked with single mothers, training them to sew my garments. I also partnered with a charitable organisation in India, Women’s Weave, that supports women with jobs and sustainable income through their hand-woven craft that makes up my luxurious basics range. It’s beautiful being able to support those in poverty, to inculcate their skills and talents to ensure they are paid fairly and to support their family. Knowing I can create job avenues for them or partner with an organisation, that is already doing an honorable cause.” 

Homage to heritage and ethnic art

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The Dolce Far Niente collection that recalls the art of Italian living

“My first collection, Dolce Far Niente, was inspired by summer in Italy. I fell in love with a bunch of striped linens imported from Italy whilst fabric shopping in Indonesia. They brought me back to my time in Italy and the art of enjoying life and its simple pleasures. At times I get excited about a place and their fabrics and textile, like that time I visited Jaipur, India. Sometimes it’s that random photograph I stumble upon where I start to build on and create a collection out of. Then there was the cheerful and fresh batik colors that inspired the Rainbow Girl collection.” 

The challenge of being a young, ethical fashion brand
“Mass production using synthetic fabrics may be a profit-making model but ethical fashion can be too. It puts me at peace in what I do, and it’s something I am passionate about and see myself doing in the long haul. I would like to see each part of my production process benefiting others and the environment. Then there’s the growing trend of people who care about these things, who want to shop and wear things that contribute to a greater purpose.”

“A preacher once told me, ‘Noelle, fashion is glory, not vanity,’ which shifted my perspectives.” 

To be a designer, you have to…
“Listen to your heart and believe in yourself. You can edit a bad page, but you can’t edit a blank page. Always give things a go because you’ll never know when the odds may be at your favour. Be humble enough to learn and bold enough to tread new territories. Along the way, you’ll discover yourself as a designer, your identity, your passion and your strengths.” 

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Bright and ethnic colours from the Rainbow Girl collection

“I’m brainstorming a festive range now for the year-end season that’s going to be fresh, fun and cheerful! I’m also looking forward to collaborate with local batik artists next year to create Kanoe’s very own prints, to kickstart more partnerships to come and plan on expanding Kanoe overseas.”

Photo credits: Noelle Kan / Kanoe and Shaffiq Farhan / Malaysia Tatler @ The Row

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