Vanda Fine Clothing holds a special place in our hearts as we witnessed the business take shape right here on the forum. It started with a few pieces sold on the Buy & Sell section, where Gerald timidly presented his first batch of handmade pocket squares. Soon enough, it dawned on him that he could turn this passion into a real business.
Today, Vanda's ties (as well as their pocket squares, scarves, etc.) are handmade by Gerald and his wife Diana and they personally source the fabrics for their creations from all over the world.
Most tie-wearers on the forum are familiar with Vanda and consider their ties the pinnacle of quality and craftsmanship.
We had a chat with Gerald to reminisce about the story of Vanda Fine Clothing and to ask him what's in store for them in 2023 and beyond.

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Styleforum: How did you hear about Styleforum, and in what capacity did you start here as a member?

Gerald Shen:
I joined Styleforum in 2007 (I had to check!) after lurking for some time on the Streetwear & Denim side of the forum. Back then I think the only two active forums for streetwear were Superfuture and Styleforum, and I stuck around SF more because of the community.

SF: When did you realize that you were interested in fashion?

In Singapore where I live, we wear uniforms to school and during our two years of enlisted national service at around 18 years old - I served mine in the Singapore Police Force. So there was really not much opportunity to wear anything else until I got into university as a freshman. I get geeky about things like most guys, and while researching denim options, my perception of $300 jeans went from absolutely ridiculous to totally reasonable within the short span of weeks.

Studying business management, eventually I had to figure out getting dressed for internships and presentations, and I soon fell deep into the the rabbit hole of classic menswear. It certainly helped that tailored clothing is relatively affordable in Singapore, so I could afford to experiment and figure out things I liked or didn’t like.

SF: When and how did you start your career in the clothing industry?

While on vacation in Japan in 2008, I chanced upon a roll of vintage kimono silk, and purchased it with the intention of using it as the lining of a suit. It turned out that the kimono bolt was too narrow (14” vs 60” for most fabrics), and my tailor refused to work with it. It sat unused for months, until it dawned on me that the kimono silk was just about the perfect size for a pocket square.

My then-girlfriend Diana (now wife and partner of Vanda Fine Clothing) had an interest in sewing, and she agreed to figure out hand rolling a pocket square for me. Kimono silk is special both in terms of texture and design, and it makes for really unique pocket squares - so with the extra fabric we had on hand, we decided to put them up for sale on Styleforum in the classified section. They turned out to be a hit with fellow members, and we soon found ourselves stuck at home during the weekends sewing pocket squares instead of going on dates. It did pay for more holidays, though!

Since we had already figured out the hand rolling technique, we wanted to try our hand at making neckties, mostly because I couldn’t afford the really nice ones I wanted. We took apart vintage finds, and after a year or so, we were ready to offer our neckties for sale - again on the classified section with Fok’s approval.

Again, our neckties were popular with SF members, who were really supportive, providing plenty of helpful feedback and suggestions for our products. This happened around 2011, just before I graduated from university.

While on a graduation trip to Portland, Oregon in 2011, Diana and I were really inspired by the DIY style small business culture there. We figured that since we loved sewing anyway, we should give this a go as a full time business. Otherwise, several years down the road we’d likely wonder if we could have made it. And so we bit the bullet - in 2011, right after I graduated from university, Diana quit her job in a fancy hotel, and we started Vanda Fine Clothing.

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SF: What is the best part of the job?

It’s a tossup between the actual process of turning cloth into a necktie that drapes well and feels alive, and the hunt for new fabrics. We try and visit our suppliers regularly to see what their designers come up with, but also to go through their extensive archives which we often build our collections on, and this always gives me a real rush.

SF: What is your least favorite part?

If I’m honest, it’s usually dealing with difficult clients. We’re just a two-person operation, and often times the sense of self-entitlement and unrealistic expectations can really be off-putting.

SF: How do you stay up to date with the clothing industry and current trends?

Social media really helps us understand our clients’ needs and lifestyles, but it is equally important for us to visit our suppliers regularly to be in touch with the new innovations on their end be it refreshing colour ways or the use of new yarns and such.

SF: Whats the single item from any collection you are most proud of?

I’d have to say our ‘Simply Shiok' series of food-based pocket square designs. Shiok [ʃiːɒk ] of course means very enjoyable or pleasing in the local Singapore-English (Singlish), and was added to the Oxford dictionary in 2016.

As a proper Singaporean, food is a topic very close to our hearts, and I think this series depicting simple, yet delicious comfort foods really resonates with many around the world, and they’re really quite fun to wear. It’s a great conversation starter!



The Simply Shiok collection of pocket squares

SF: What product did you make that you thought would be a hit, but bombed?

In our first year of business, our necktie collection was still small, so there were many requests for designs/colours that we didn’t have at that time. One of them was to stock a colour that we were led to thinking would be popular, and so we ordered plenty of the fabric.

Till this day, we still have some of this fabric left…of course, we’re not going to reveal what this is and bomb it any further, but if you’ve been a follower from the early beginnings of Vanda, you’d know!

SF: If movie characters were real, who would shop at your store?

Bruce Banner, because he seems like a nice and smart dude, but more practically because The Hulk probably isn’t going to fit any ties off the rack, and he’d rip through his tie collection really quickly, which makes him an ideal client for us.

SF: I still have the Vanda for Styleforum ties that we did a few years ago. Grenadine is not that common outside of of a small menswear niche. Can you explain the appeal outside of our little circle?

Grenadine fabric is special because looks like a simple, plain fabric from a distance, but has such an interesting texture up close that even non-menswear geeks can’t help but notice. The fact that it is only woven by two mills in Como, Italy, adds to the rarity and uniqueness of course.

The version we did for Styleforum was woven with raw silk/bourette yarns which gave it an even more slubby texture!


The limited edition Styleforum x Vanda Grenadine tie

SF: Tell me what are your best sellers? Do different types of people like different things? Can you predict who will connect with what? Are there color people, texture people, etc…? Me, I like textures.

Yes, we certainly have some customers who only buy navy ties or grenadine ties. Post Covid, it’s a little more tricky trying to predict what fabrics will be popular, but thankfully we have a huge range so there’s something for everyone.

SF: What are three pieces of advice you would give to your younger self?

Trust your instincts. Eat healthier. Exercise more.

SF: What did you wear to your first ever job interview?

I’m quite privileged in that Vanda is my first job and I am my own boss!

SF: Describe yourself using only 5 words.

Resolute, forthright, curious, thirsty (in an alcoholic beverages kind of way), and hungry (in a food kind of way).

SF: Tell us about your hobbies outside of fashion.

For the last 6 years, I’ve been learning pottery as a hobby. After our dear mini schnauzer Flannel passed away in Jan 2022, we thought long and hard about how we could put this skill to good use.

In Sep 2022, Diana and I started selling my pots and functional wares on @UnderdogCeramics on Instagram. 100% of the sales (not profits) go towards the care of abandoned, neglected, abused dogs that have come under the care of a Singapore-based animal rescue group called @HopeDogRescue.

This cause is close to our hearts because Flannel was also once a neglected and abused dog who went through 4 ex-owners before we found him. We hope the dogs under Hope Dog Rescue would be able to get the medical care that they desperately need in order to get their health back on track so they can have another shot at life.

Besides pottery, I also cook a fair bit - and exercise just to ensure I continue to fit into my bespoke trousers.

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SF: What is making you happy today?

After a few months of hard work leading up to Christmas which is our busy season, we are finally taking a short break and are flying off to Japan in just 8 hours!

If you have any questions for Gerald, visit Vanda Fine Clothing's Official Affiliate Vendor thread and join the conversation with other Vanda fans!
Shop Vanda Fine Clothing on their official website.