The man behind the woman – Meet the Israeli co-founder and co-designer of Singapore fashion brand GINLEE Studio

In more ways than one, Tamir Niv is a life partner to his wife of eight years, Gin Lee. With their days intertwined, Tamir and Gin juggle family and business, raising two young children while melding their cultures and expertise to build one of the most innovative fashion labels in Singapore.

By SGN | 8 Nov 2021

Gin and Tamir co-founded the fashion label GINLEE Studio in Israel in 2011.

Over six days in October, a pop-up retail space in the historic Marais district of Paris was taken over by a showcase of 12 Singapore brands and creators, led by shoe designer Mashizan Masjum. One of the proud participants was GINLEE Studio, a womenswear label known for its breezy, elegant cuts and signature pleats.

Although fronted by Gin Lee, the eponymous UK-educated fashion designer, the brand was in fact co-founded with her husband, Tamir Niv, 10 years ago in his home country of Israel.

Since day one, the couple has been managing and steering the business together. Some duties are split – she is better at numbers, he at IT – but it is by and large an equal partnership. “We think together. We strategise together,” Tamir says. “We are together all the time – from morning to next morning.”

As the brand grew in Israel, it was introduced to Singapore in 2015, gradually appearing in multi-label outfits like Keepers, Threadbare & Squirrel, TANGS, and Boutique Fairs. A standalone shop in Raffles City followed end-2018 and, a little over a year later, Gin and Tamir made their big move – relocating both family and business to Singapore.

GINLEE Studio recently participated in a showcase of Singapore designers and creators in Paris, where it presented its elegant cuts and signature pleats.

A Marriage of Disciplines

At GINLEE Studio, the design process is old-school and collaborative, with Gin and Tamir engaging in extensive research and exploration – sketching, modelling and iterating in their studio – before designs are sent for production.

Drawing inspiration from the colours of nature found in Israel and Singapore, their aesthetic seeks timelessness and shuns trendiness. They focus on crafting garments that flatter the shapes of real bodies, emphasising fit, feel and the freedom to move.

What also distinguishes the brand is its unique marriage of the couple’s professional backgrounds. Here, Tamir taps on his training as an industrial designer to add a modern, technological touch to Gin’s sleek, classy looks. Consequently, their designs frequently incorporate techniques of fabric manipulation such as pleating, embroidery, laser cutting and digital printing.

The designs at GINLEE Studio seek timelessness and shun trendiness.

GOOD Does It Better

Within an industry that is notoriously wasteful, GINLEE Studio has always believed in taking it slow, opting for smaller batches of higher quality, and resisting pressures to scale up. “When you grow and work with bigger retailers, there’s always demand to make more, to manufacture more,” Tamir says.

Even though slow fashion isn’t always commercially viable, he and Gin are innovating ways to do better. For instance, they devised a service called GOOD (Get Order On Demand) that turns the usual fashion cycle on its head. Instead of overproducing at the start of a season, slashing prices towards the end and creating lots of waste, customers are offered an upfront 15% discount if they are willing to receive their order in three to five weeks’ time.

“GOOD is about asking a very simple question: Can you wait?” Tamir explains. “This way, we can plan our manufacturing better, learn from the data, and produce according to demand. This makes it cheaper for everyone because there’s no waste.”

Aptly launched during the Circuit Breaker – when Singapore implemented strict lockdown measures, forcing inhabitants to slow down a typically breakneck pace of life – GOOD exceeded expectations and has grown to become a majority contributor to GINLEE Studio’s overall sales.

Besides womenswear, GINLEE Studio creates accessories like bags, scarves and masks.

A Workshop Within a Shop

Reaffirming their commitment to sustainability and reducing waste, Gin and Tamir next came up with MAKE, an in-store experience where pleated products are custom-made to order. The concept was developed at The Bridge Fashion Incubator (TBFI), a 14-week programme by the Textile and Fashion Federation (TaFF) that Tamir says broadened the business’s perspective of the future of fashion in terms of technology and sustainability.

Other than addressing overproduction, MAKE responds to the changing nature of retail by introducing an interactive experience to engage customers.

“We thought the retail experience should be a bit more educational. Through MAKE, our customers can see how our products are made and learn to appreciate them more,” Tamir says.

To house their new workshop-within-a-shop concept, the couple leased a unit in Great World before entering a rigorous development process – supported by DesignSingapore’s Good Design Research (GDR) programme – to design new products, new processes and new equipment.

Opened in October 2020, the GINLEE store at Great World has a soothing ambience and a faux courtyard with subtropical greenery – a slice of the Israel that Gin and Tamir left behind.

Within months, MAKE went through several iterations. Products offered evolved from simple bags and cushion covers to scarves and more elaborate tops; sample and product displays were reconfigured as the team observed users’ interactions with the workshop space.

The manufacturing of cardboard pleating moulds also underwent drastic changes. What used to take an entire day to score and make by hand is now produced in an hour using industrial processes such as laser cutting, Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machining and offset printing. And soon, Tamir will be debuting metal 3D-printed moulds he designed with SIMTech, a collaboration facilitated by the GDR programme.

MAKE is a retail experience where custom products are pleated, steamed and finished in-store.

Sustainability Will Disappear

Regarding the rise of sustainability in fashion, Tamir believes that every business brings something different to the table. “We need to welcome diverse solutions, because each company alone can never be fully sustainable,” he says. “One brand might be using recycled materials, another might be thinking about packaging or delivery.”

At the consumer end, Tamir thinks there is growing awareness but not necessarily a demand for sustainability, nor a willingness to pay more for it. Still, he says, this is not a cause for a concern.

“There is no real need to make sustainable more expensive. In a few years, sustainability is going to disappear because everything will be sustainable – you won’t be able to do something that is not sustainable.”

Family Comes First

When looking at Tamir and Gin’s life partnership, work forms only half the picture. Their hands are also kept full by two-year-old Adam and six-year-old Emma, who were both born in Israel.

As for the move to Singapore, Tamir reveals that it was led more by family than by business. “The main reason was Emma,” he says. “We wanted to give her a chance to explore Singapore, to live here and be a part of the local education system.”

While Adam is too young to remember leaving Israel, Emma is happily adapting to life in Singapore and enjoying school very much, even if some things require a bit of adjustment.

“In Israel, kids spend a lot of time with their friends outside of school, so I guess that she misses that and the warm Mediterranean vibes,” Tamir shares. “When she first came to Singapore, the students and teachers were quite puzzled by her frequent hugs.”

As the children get older, Tamir hopes that they will imbibe the richness of both their Israeli and Singaporean heritage. He looks forward to sending them to Hebrew lessons at some point and, when the pandemic subsides, connecting more as a family with the Israeli community in Singapore.

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About Tamir

Tamir Niv is the co-founder and co-designer of GINLEE Studio, a Singapore womenswear label that explores fabric manipulation techniques such as pleating and laser cutting. He holds a Master’s degree in industrial and product design from the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem, Israel.

Connect with him here.

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