Sportswear tends to be pushed aside when we discuss fashion. What else is there to say about an attire that has to follow the strict rules of a particular game or sport, such as golf, right? Well, maybe there are some things we can address when it comes to style on the course. Joanne Chin and Jacqueline Lau established the women’s golf apparel brand Fairmonde in 2021 to fill gap in the industry.
“We noticed this lack of options. When I started to golf, I went to shop for clothes and there were only one or two designs in the women’s section. So, I normally got a few colours in the same style because that was all that was available,” Chin says.
As golf is said to be a male-dominated sport, brands are more inclined to develop products for men. “During tournaments, I often receive goodie bags containing men’s shirts since female participants are typically lower. I end up giving them to my dad because even the S size is too big for me,” says Lau, a professional golfer who is also a former national player.
Their year-long research that looked into the business models of more than 100 sports labels showed there was a gap they could fill. From these numbers, there were fewer than 10 brands that focused on women’s sportswear. “Mostly, they cater to men and women or are multi-sports stores that are not golf-centred. Eighty-five percent of them, including Adidas, target the mass market, so we cannot compete with these big brands. That’s the reason we position our brand in the premium segment,” Chin says.
Its current offerings include mock neck tees, arm sleeves, bucket hats and other accessories. Instead of focusing entirely on natural fabrics, they source for materials with special features to ensure the clothes are durable and long-lasting.
In its debut collection called Birdiessential, the brand uses Italian-made warp-knit fabrics, produced using advanced weaving technology that allows for protection against the damaging effects of ultraviolet rays. It is also anti-odour, which promotes sustainable laundry because it does not need to be washed as frequently.
They partner suppliers who share the same commitment when it comes to looking after the environment, as well as those who prioritise ethical manufacturing practices. “Our suppliers work towards reducing water and carbon footprints across their supply chains,” Chin says.
“Sustainability is something we want to work on. We are not there yet, but we are definitely going in that direction. We also engaged a consultant — who has been working with Lululemon — to guide us along this journey,” says Lau. In the future, the duo wants to explore materials made using recycled fishing nets and banana skin.
When choosing colours for each collection, Chin and Lau pay attention to what the consumer wants, besides incorporating shades that are not widely seen on and off the course. The Birdiessential collection offers five choices: Serene Green, Blushing Rose, Tamarillo, Sky High Blue and Aqua Marine.
“We try to create a series of colours that looks elegant, mature but also fun. Professional golfers tend to gravitate towards light pink and blue because these are not commonly found on the market. Asians, however, prefer darker colours,” says Chin.
One of the partners’ objectives with Fairmonde is to champion inclusivity for women from all walks of life. They take into account different measurements, from petite to plus-sized, as they understand the difficulty faced by people of these sizes when looking for golf wear. “A friend in the US who is bigger than me told me we should do larger sizes because, sometimes, she ends up wearing men’s clothing because of the lack of options,” says Lau. Keeping that in mind, the brand offers nine sizes, ranging from 2XS to 4XL.
While there is only so much that can be done to elevate sportswear and make it stylish, the brand aims to produce sophisticated clothing that can be worn on and off the course. Even though polo shirts are more popular among golfers, Chin and Lau choose to make mock necks the brand’s signature style, moving away from traditional collared shirts.
“We want to make it fun and modern so we can encourage non-sporty people to try golf. Our clothes are not the typical golf wear you normally see. We can get dressed in it for a meeting and still look smart and presentable,” says Lau. The dress code on the course used to be strict and rigid, Chin notes. But the restrictions have loosened over time because “more millennials and youngsters are joining the game”.
Fairmonde worked with sportswear designers from Italy to come up with its first collection. Collaborating with talents from overseas is a way for them to understand the global market better. “If we were to design it, it might not suit the wider audience — we need to know what they want,” Lau says.
“Besides consumers, marketing a global brand is also challenging because you need different strategies in different countries. We started off in the US because the customers are more adventurous, while Asians tend to purchase brands they are more familiar with,” says Chin.
Fairmonde, a portmanteau of the words “fair” and “monde” (French for “world”), aims to make women shine on the fairway by offering a platform for them to engage in meaningful connections with other players. Apparel is just a starting point for the label.
Certified as a professional golfer in late 2021, Lau was introduced to golf when she was five and has been an instructor for five years, coaching children and adults in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, where Chin and Lau are based. It is hard to turn a blind eye to issues faced by her students.
“Based on my experience, they are clueless about many things when they start playing and they don’t know who or where they can turn to for information. They are concerned about where to find clothes and clubs or how to play. Some even feel lonely from having no friends to play with.
“This is why we designed this platform. The first stage is to solve your lack of clothing options. The next part will feature profiles of golf coaches from different regions; we have already talked to coaches in the US, Japan and Korea. If a beginner wants to join classes or find coaches near them, they can just browse through the website. Our plan, essentially, is to grow the game.”
The programme will encourage coaches to host clinics for free to motivate new golfers or encourage non-golfers to give the sport a try. In return, they will receive store credit. Fairmonde will also set up a variety of programmes for players of different experience levels, including beginners, athletes, ambassadors and professionals.
Chin and Lau are from different backgrounds — the former in creative, branding and business; and the latter in banking, finance and sports. What do they bring to the table with their respective expertise? With eight years of experience in the creative industry, Chin is in charge of branding and driving growth for Fairmonde.
“Creating a brand is not hard for us because it is what I do,” she says. “It’s building a global brand that is challenging because we have to understand the audience from different markets, which includes learning their culture and behaviour. We also have to do a lot of research on things like international delivery services; it’s not easy, as we want to reduce the impact on the environment.”
On the other hand, Lau has been active in sports from a young age. She received a golf scholarship to study in Texas and eventually worked in the banking industry, both in the US and Malaysia. After a while, it struck her that this was not what she was interested in. “I met Joanne and decided to give this business a try,” she says.
Lau’s experience with gender inequality while playing the game all those years was the driving force behind her determination to build a safe and fun space for women in this field. She is now responsible for the brand’s business development.
At the heart of it all, Fairmonde wants to ensure top-notch quality clothes for its customers, without compromising on style and fashion. “We believe we have more flexibility to play around with the design instead of sticking to tradition. As businesswomen ourselves, we always have to juggle between playing golf and attending meetings. So, we want our apparel to be both high-performance and versatile. We can wear the tee with a skirt, and it will still look good,” Chin says.
While Fairmonde’s debut collection is more colourful, its upcoming one will incorporate shades of autumn. Working with manufacturers from Germany and Italy, the brand plans to bring in more options for clothes such as long-sleeve shirts, jackets and shorts for its next collection.
This article first appeared on Mar 6, 2023 in The Edge Malaysia.