An impeccably tailored white shirt is a style staple for many reasons. The ultimate in simplicity and versatility, this multi-tasker is easily dressed up or down, works for any occasion from professional to formal and even casual, and is an all-round smart style choice. Although designer Adam Liew’s objective for his eponymous label was to establish a work-wear brand for women that better encapsulated modern trends, even he admits his white shirts are a staple. “There’s nothing quite as stylish as a well-fitted shirt, and it really does go with everything,” he agrees.
A Shirt by Adam Liew is a diffusion line created by the Kampar-born designer, who already runs a successful prêt-à-porter brand based in Melbourne, Australia. “The Adam Liew main label mostly consists of occasional premium wear with very feminine silhouettes. But I wanted to explore the idea of professional womenswear, because the codes for this have changed. You don’t have to be as formal anymore, and women are taking more liberties with personalising their ensemble, infusing it with their own style. I did a bit of corridor research, and I found that the cut and designs of workwear for women weren’t very inspiring or flattering. My idea was to create statement pieces that could really update someone’s professional wardrobe.”
Liew took three years to come up with A Shirt by Adam Liew, in which time he researched the history of professional womenswear and spoke to stylists and corporate groomers to properly understand what he was getting into. “My brand positioning is a range of workwear that is flawlessly crafted and versatile enough to go from day to night, workday to weekend. Can a shirt give you so much value? Yes, it can, and that’s what I wanted to prove.”
At present, A Shirt by Adam Liew comprises four shirts boasting unique styles: Charlotte and Cassandra adopt a distinctive qipao profile, with the latter incorporating French lace on the collar and cuffs; Nyonya gets its silhouette from the flattering shape of a kebaya; and Monica pairs a high-collared style with cotton-embroidered lace. Liew has also designed pants and two skirts to accompany these items. “I like the idea of fusing Western and Asian style traditions. I believe that many women feel the same way,” he observes. “I really enjoy introducing elements like the qipao collar or the kebaya neckline to my shirts because I think it’s very important to me, as a designer, to never forget my roots and where I came from.”
Aside from style, major considerations for A Shirt by Adam Liew are fit, fabric and construction. The shirts are made from Japanese Tencel cotton, wood pulp that is naturally processed to form cellulose fibres. The wood pulp used to make Tencel comes from sustainably grown trees in areas unsuitable for crop growth and grazing. Aside from being sustainably sourced, Tencel cotton is breathable and soft to the touch, as well as wrinkle-free. “I have four shirts in this fabric, and it’s really creaseless and comfortable — I would never make my shirts from material I don’t like myself,” he shares.
To ensure the perfect fit for all his shirts, Liew models them on mannequins as well as real people so that it works for as many body types as possible. Every piece is handmade in Malaysia and undergoes stringent checks before they leave his atelier.
High standards indeed, but it is also the source of some of his major challenges at present — the availability of quality craftsmanship. “I am very particular about construction. So, finding seamstresses and training them have taken up a lot of resources. It’s an investment I am more than happy to make, though, because quality is very important. How can I promise maximum value from my shirts if they aren’t made well?” This dovetails into his second major challenge, which is supply. “Right now, each piece is made to order because of capacity issues. I do hope that at some point, I can scale my production so I have readily available stock, which allows me to get into the retail game. At present, I operate solely online.”
He also hopes to expand A Shirt by Adam Liew overseas, but wants to make sure he is successful here first. “I am a proud Malaysian,” he laughs. “I am maintaining my other brand in Australia, as that is where I started it, but this diffusion label means different things and I want it to be successful in my home country before I start selling it abroad. My immediate focus is scaling production and increasing the portfolio of designs.”
Liew relies on feedback as well as his own research to expand his designs; the Nyonya was actually in response to women who preferred shorter sleeves and lower necklines. “This is not a syok sendiri brand for me to make only what I like,” Liew says. “A Shirt by Adam Liew is all about style in the service of practicality, and about what women really want to wear.”
The initial plan was for Liew to split his time between Melbourne and Kuala Lumpur, but recent travel restrictions have kept him at home in Malaysia. The demand for shirts being quite low at present, he used his resources to stitch face masks and distribute them for free to frontliners at a public hospital. He is confident that things will improve.
As we emerge from this crisis with a more conscious approach to consumption, the prospect of value and quality will have more meaning than ever — a time when small, boutique brands such as A Shirt by Adam Liew are sure to shine.
This article first appeared on June 1 in The Edge Malaysia.