“It’s the everyday man, how he lives, what he sees and how he transitions”; these are the very words that caught my attention while talking to Melissa Deng. She joined Joe Chia, the founder of his eponymous label, only after two seasons – or chapters, as they call them –, so she’s been with him since the beginning. And after those years, “we hate to say it, but it’s difficult to picture us apart”. This symbiosis between creativity and management has turned Joe Chia into one of the most interesting brands of the Asian scene.
Based in Kuala Lumpur, they invite people to dream through their fabrics, textiles and silhouettes. Their clothes tell the varied stories that surround them, full of different cultures, beliefs and backgrounds, which they’ve had to understand because of their diverse friends. As they say, they aspire to “represent possibilities”, because they’re endless; in their newest chapter, they’ve envisioned a group of soldiers gearing up to leave this absurd world.
Joe Chia Metalmagazine 8.jpg
To begin with, I think it would be quite helpful to our readers to have you introduce yourselves, possibly expanding on your backgrounds, and how did this journey begin.
We grew up in very different backgrounds. Joe was born and raised in a small town called Kelantan in the north of Malaysia. He was a curious soul and, when growing up, he was always at flea markets and surrounded by different cultures and traditions. He realized creativity could be expressed in so many different ways when he flipped through his first fashion magazine. He dropped his course in animation to pursue a career in fashion. Throughout his studying years, he won several fashion awards, so his talent was recognized. Upon graduating, he went on working in a local boutique for two years.
As for me, I was very quiet when growing up and found imagination in the form of books. I collected stacks of magazines and books, even when I was still studying science in college. I was born in London to a family of high achievers in science and numbers. I had always aspired to follow in their footsteps until I found expression in forms of art and design. And so, I decided to switch to a course in design.
Joe and I met when he first started his workshop in 2012. He was just starting Chapter 02 and, since then, we have been working together. With the little savings from his two years of work, we were only able to afford to rent a tiny space located in Kuala Lumpur, above a sewing supplies shop and a mamak food stall, next to the red-light district. We didn’t think that place would inspire us this much, watching and living around people who are of different cultures and living habits.
With limited resources and manufacturers in Malaysia, we took the first two years developing the label and surviving off the support of friends who liked what we did. Thinking of introducing our work to more people, we discovered the wholesales business and platforms that allow young designers to present their creations. Our first trade show was in White Milan in June 2014, marking our first Spring/Summer collection internationally.
How do you work in synergy with one another? Do you each have your own roles and responsibilities when it comes to the collections?
The label started with the both of us and we have been working with a very small team for the last couple of years. We’ve both graduated from design school but we’ve shifted into more of a left and right brain, with Joe managing the creatives and Melissa heading all operations. We hate to say it, but it’s difficult to picture us apart.
What does Joe Chia represent?
We want to represent possibilities.
Joe Chia Metalmagazine 11.jpg
What are the brand’s values?
I think it’s important to have a balance between expression and honouring the people, skills and time involved in the process.
How have you been able to project your heritage and roots into the brand?
Since we grew up amongst friends of diverse ethnicities, we had to understand their beliefs in order to communicate and understand them. I guess it’s only natural that this is something that will always be a part of us. You’ll find glimpses of our surroundings in the silhouettes, functionality and handwork details. We’ve always believed in the idea of bringing tradition into the present and crafting history into the contemporary.
Your collections are premised on being experimental, whilst embodying aspects of classicism and modernity. Could you tell us more about the main sources of inspirations? Are there any aspects of culture, or any particular artists that inspire you?
It’s the everyday man, how he lives, what he sees and how he transitions.
Joe Chia Metalmagazine 12.jpg
I am really interested by this idea of chapters and the different stories that have inspired each. Could you possibly explore this further in more detail?
Besides the dates, I think this idea of chapters carries a greater significance for people in remembering the stories that inspire the collections. Each chapter is a refining process and an extension of the previous one.
How are these stories reflected in the garments? Is it through the silhouettes? Textiles? Colours?
To us, it’s more important that the collection as a whole brings with it the essence of the story.
What is a signature element that is continuous in each chapter?
The excitement and passion of creating and constructing, as well as of experimenting different shapes and silhouettes, which are the elements you will see in every chapter.
Joe Chia Metalmagazine 2.jpg
Can you tell us the story for the current collection? The models are painted in green, does it have any relation to aliens or fantasy creatures?
Chapter 12 represents soldiers gearing up to leave this absurd world. So we invite you to come away with us and carry with you some imagination.
If we had a Joe Chia piece in front of us, what are the core elements we could recognize that essentially make it? What are we expecting to see in terms of silhouettes, colour-palettes, fabrics and technique?
A quiet piece with a little surprise in the details.
Who is the Joe Chia man/woman?
 All of us.
Joe Chia Metalmagazine 17.jpg
Recently, we have begun to see the blurring of lines between menswear and womenswear in the industry. What does it represent to both of you? How do you see this evolving?
We live in a time where people long for a more open, expressive and inclusive future. And perhaps this move leads us to take down the boundaries that limit us in what we choose to wear.
It seems that in the industry, time is one of the scarcest elements of them all, in the sense that fashion is perceived as ephemeral. I read that ‘timeless’ plays an important role in your collections, so I was wondering if you could perhaps expand on this.
One thing is that we have a deep reverence for the craft of garment making, the thoughts and skills built over the years to make a garment, which determines its story and its worth.
What are the next steps?
Keep on learning.
Joe Chia Metalmagazine 3.jpg
Joe Chia Metalmagazine 4.jpg
Joe Chia Metalmagazine 5.jpg
Joe Chia Metalmagazine 6.jpg
Joe Chia Metalmagazine 9.jpg
Joe Chia Metalmagazine 7.jpg
Joe Chia Metalmagazine 13.jpg
Joe Chia Metalmagazine 10.jpg
Joe Chia Metalmagazine 14.jpg
Joe Chia Metalmagazine 16.jpg