Gender diversity advocate, entrepreneur, and creative designer, Leonard Cheong embarked on a journey of free expression when he established his all-inclusive athleisure fashion label, Finix Wear.
Leonard Cheong is the founder and creative mind behind the groundbreaking genderless lifestyle athleisure label based in Singapore, Finix Wear. Trailblazing in the gender-inclusive movement in Asian fashion, the label aims to inspire a community of conscious and mindful movers. With the launch of their newest line, the Freedom Collection, Finix incorporates all-inclusive elements in their innovative genderless design, bringing forth a beautiful, free-flowing selection of fluid athleisure wear, that appeals to all.
Having taken up various roles in life, as a yoga instructor, dancer, creative, and more, the Singaporean queer designer decided to fill a gap he identified in modern athleisure fashion, initiating an important conversation on diversity and representation of the gender-fluid/non-conforming community in a traditionally binary fashion world.
Founder Leonard gets candid with Hive Life on his inspirations, his personal experiences that drive his ambition, and how he is revolutionising the gender-fluid movement in Asia with his unique fashion essentials.
Can you share Finix’s origin story with us?
From a personal pain point to finding my passion, the journey has been exceptional.
I led an active, cosmopolitan lifestyle, however, often felt restricted in my limited choice of athleisure and fashion wear. Walking into a store’s menswear section was rather restrictive, and eventually, it got repetitive- with the same designs, colours, and run-of-the-mill silhouettes. It stirred strong emotions in me, and a desire to bring forth innovation with my own clothing line.
Around that time, I was working in a multinational public relations agency and had been contemplating switching up my career. After much reflection, and in a soul-searching moment, I decided to build a brand that resonated with my ideologies of freedom, and what I wanted to see in fashion. The urge to transform and innovate in this space became a means of navigating my brand and design direction.
I then went on to complete an advanced diploma in apparel design and fashion business, from where I began my path of discovering myself and my true passion, and my fashion aesthetic.
Why athleisure? Being a dancer in the past and currently a yoga instructor, I aspired to create a style that was reflective of my lifestyle and environment and represented my identity, art and movement.
Finix is a culmination of all these worlds and my personal experiences.
Can you tell us about your first genderless collection, Freedom, and the inspiration behind it?
It was inspired by the notion of letting go and being (truly) free.
Growing up in a fairly conservative society like Singapore, I often felt I could not fully express and be myself, due to certain societal expectations and constraints. Growing up in a Catholic household as well, also made it challenging to fully embrace myself. But being slightly rebellious by nature, these experiences actually emboldened me to express myself through other means like fashion, art and dance – and you can say in some way this actually led to the genesis of my brand and new collection.
Freedom is something I hold very close to my heart. As a creative, dancer, yoga instructor, and someone who has had to suppress his identity most of his life, I fully embraced this emotion with my brand and designs by creating a silhouette that is more free-flowing and unconfined to fashion boundaries and social constraints.
What was the process like for you tapping into a new market?
It can be quite unsettling and filled with a lot of uncertainties, however, I continued to push forward because I believed deep in my heart that going the genderless route for my brand will only make the world a more expansive and better place.
Not only are you expanding the vocabulary of what binary fashion (i.e. menswear and womenswear) can offer but you are also helping society break free from their fixed notions of what men and women can and cannot wear. I think as a human race we can get too caught up with labels. Clothes have no gender until you give them one.
I recall, when I started, receiving quite a bit of pushback and hesitance from society. People would tell me “I don’t know where you’re going with this,” or “are you trying to erase gender?” The creation of something doesn’t mean the death and destruction of another. Life is not always a zero-sum game like that.
Personally, I think there’s a lot of education that needs to be done about what the genderless market is. I always say, “People don’t know what they don’t know.” And change is actually a very scary thing for humanity. So it’s only natural for humans to fear what they don’t know or have not seen. But keeping an open mind and being receptive only makes us stronger as a human race. So I invite everyone to keep an open mind because it can only make us stronger for the better.
How was the response to the new collection?
I would say it has been pretty good so far. Although, as a relatively new concept in a nascent market, Finix has quite the journey ahead.
We recently participated for the first time in Singapore’s largest and longest-running pop-up fashion and lifestyle events- Boutique Fairs. The fair had been on a hiatus for the past two years because of the pandemic and returned for the first time again this year.
Interestingly enough, as a new brand, we received quite a bit of love and support from the community. Being a pure e-commerce business before this, it was refreshing to see our customers enjoy and appreciate our collection and brand concept, with some (I recall) calling it “a breath of fresh air.”
The experience at the fair certainly reinforced and gave me a lot of validation that a brand like mine was much needed in this world.
I oftentimes get asked “why genderless?” or “what’s the difference between genderless and unisex?” I always say genderless is everything and more. Genderless is about having the freedom to wear what you want rather than what the world wants you to wear.
What inspired the sustainable fabric selection behind the collection?
Sustainability has always been at the core of my business and design philosophy since I founded the brand. Seeing fast fashion giants and current consumerism trends was disheartening. I firmly believe every business has a responsibility to society and our planet.
As a business and brand, Finix pushes toward sustainability with the eco-sustainable fabrics we use in our production, such as TENCEL™ and Odell ice cotton. We recently also made a switch to biodegradable packaging for our mailers. Looking ahead, we hope to work with the industry to create a more closed-loop manufacturing process so that customers can recycle their old clothes and make them into new ones.
However, these production methods are still in their early stages and also quite expensive to implement- especially for a young startup like mine. However, we believe every little step towards sustainability counts and choosing wisely and responsibly right from the start as business matters.
How is Finix taking the initiative to educate the community on gender fluidity in Singapore?
Since I launched my latest Freedom collection, conversations around gender fluidity in fashion have started to grow in Singapore. There has been much interest among the fashion and lifestyle media about what genderless fashion is and why the emergence of this movement [is happening].
What started out as conversations around genderless fashion soon moved towards also spotlighting the gender fluid/non-conforming community. It’s great that these conversations are happening because it brings awareness and representation to these individuals and also the need for more compassion and understanding around diversity and inclusion issues in our society.
Later in June this year, we’re also looking to get involved in Pink Dot, Singapore’s annual LGBTQ+ rally at Hong Lim Park.
Were you faced with any stigma as a gender-fluid business in Asia?
Yes, there is certainly a social stigma that comes with being a gender-fluid business and brand. When people think genderless or gender fluid they automatically think avant-garde and/or the LGBTQ+ community and immediately assume the clothes aren’t for them- which is far from the truth. I’ve also sometimes seen people get visibly uncomfortable – some even offended – when I mention the word genderless.
I think there’s still a lot of education that needs to be done around the genderless/fluid movement. In fact, being a genderless brand empowers you as an individual and consumer to decide what the clothes mean to you. It opens up a space for self-expression and actualisation.
What influenced your drive to raise awareness and support the LGBTQIA+ community in Singapore?
It stemmed from my own personal life experience growing up queer in Asia and the discrimination I had to face – and currently still do – in society.
Looking back, my journey to self-acceptance was not an easy one, and I know there are a lot of young individuals out there experiencing the same struggles.
Through my business, I hope to be able to share my personal journey towards self-acceptance and love; and to know that your difference is what makes you unique – and is actually your superpower.
How does your athleisure label advocate for diversity and inclusion in the community?
Diversity and inclusion are at the heart of what we do at Finix. In our latest campaign, we decided to feature a diverse group of models. From gender-fluid and trans individuals from the LGBTQ+ community to people of colour and plus-size models. We wanted to show that wellness comes in all genders, sizes, colours and sexual orientations and that there is no one type of man or woman in wellness.
Our lead model, Kevin Tristan, for example, is a gender-fluid TikTok dance sensation in Singapore and Camelia Natasha recently came in the second runner up at the 2021 Miss Equality World Singapore, a beauty pageant for transgender women.
What advice would you offer emerging businesses and startups advocating for a cause in the community?
I would say, first and foremost, know your “why.” Why are you advocating for this cause? What does it mean to you and your business? I say once you know your “why,” everything will start to flow from there.
It is also important to be authentic and true in your advocacy efforts. If you’re not authentic, it is only a matter of time before people see right through you. Authenticity shines through all the noise and clutter. It’s what sets you and your business apart from the rest.
What does the future hold for Finix?
We hope to grow our Finix community by sharing more mindfulness and wellness concepts in fashion and lifestyle that our customers can access and enjoy.
We also hope to continue and expand the gender-fluid conversation in Singapore and the region to bring greater awareness and representation to our community and deepen our society’s understanding of diversity and inclusion.
Finally, we also aim to incorporate more sustainable practices within our business model, reduce our overall carbon footprint, and introduce regenerative solutions for the fashion world.
Are there any exciting new collaborations coming up?
Yes, there are. We’re looking to get involved in more fashion, mindfulness and wellness events, LGBTQ+ spaces, and advocacy projects. Our recent participation in Boutique Fairs Singapore in April is one such example.
In the immediate months ahead, we’re looking to get involved in Pink Dot and some of the Pride month festivities in Singapore in support of the LGBTQ+ community. We also plan to be at some of the wellness events as part of Singapore’s first Wellness Festival, organised by the Singapore Tourism Board.
As travel also opens up, to strengthen sustainability in our label, we will potentially be visiting manufacturers and suppliers in the region to build relationships and shared responsibilities to drive a more sustainable business model.