TINA MA blurs the line between streetwear and eveningwear by evoking provocative and rebellious statement silhouettes all the while preserving the refined and delicate. Founded on experimental apparel and accessory design, we are constantly reimagining the methodologies of tailoring and craftsmanship in the context of our ever-evolving modern-day technology including 3D modeling and laser cutting. With an emphasis on inclusivity and sustainability, we challenge the confines of “gendered clothing”, pre-existing production chains, and construction methodologies.
A Singaporean designer based in New York, Tina Ma studied Fashion Design at Parsons School of Design in New York City, Central St Martins in London, and LASALLE College of the Arts in Singapore. In 2020, Tina Ma was selected as a CFDA Design Scholar Award Finalist. Tina Ma has also worked for brands and projects such as Calvin Klein, Derek Lam, and the Ellen Degeneres Fund’s Merchandize. Having grown up in Singapore, Beijing, and Hong Kong, the designer takes inspiration from integrating her heritage and ancestral appreciation for craftsmanship with contemporary technology. Prior to her commitment to fashion design, Tina grew up painting portraitures and nude figures, developing a distinct eye for proportions, colour, and quality.
We had the chance to interview Tina, here's what she had to say...
Solstice: Tell us about yourself. What was it like growing up and living in different cities (Singapore, Beijing, and Hong Kong)? How do you think growing up there has formed your artistic side?
Tina: Growing up, relocating between Singapore, Beijing, and Hong Kong was difficult as I had to leave a lot of people and places behind. As I reflect back, the only constant in my life was painting. I grew up watching my dad draw, oil paint, and wood sculpt, so my interest in the visual arts was not at all unexpected. It was an emotional outlet and a way in which I could seek stability. As I grew up, painting became an anchor in which I could find myself. I was able to take these skills wherever I went and appreciated the experience that shaped who I am. Change and relocation slowly became a challenge I am excited by. This resulted in my move across the world to New York City to attend Parsons School of Design. During these four years, I’ve also studied abroad at Central Saint Martins in London and back home in Singapore at Lasalle.
Solstice: How did you get into fashion design? Can you tell us about your career? (How and where did you start?)
Tina: I’ve always been drawn to fashion design but did not begin charting a defined course until my sophomore year of college. After graduating high school, my 2D and 3D execution skills in the visual arts and design became evident but I was not sure which field I wanted to go into. Wanting to keep my options open and get as much exposure as possible, I applied to Parsons School of Design as an undeclared major and moved to New York City in 2017. Upon moving to New York City, I found that the previously abstract concept of fashion could be transformed into a tangible and rewarding career and formally selected Fashion Design as my major. It is an exciting and limitless field that encompasses everything I wanted to create.
Currently, I’m a freelance designer for various brands including Calvin Klein. I’ve also interned for brands such as Derek Lam and contributed to projects such as the Ellen Degeneres Fund Merchandize.
Solstice: Could you introduce your collections?
Tina: Phenotypic Plasticity 01 - The men and womenswear collections integrated the designer’s heritage and ancestral appreciation for craftsmanship with contemporary methodologies such as 3D virtual design, digital printing, and laser cutting. The designer transformed visual references of her great-great grandmother’s paper cuttings with modern technology to reflect the relationship between nature and nurture.
Ophelia - (CFDA Design Scholar Award Finalist 2020)
The womenswear collection explores the character, Ophelia, from Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The designer addresses the interpretation of femininity and therefore, expectations of women in three different realms, the Pre-Raphaelites, Art Nouveau, and the tradition of headdresses.
Solstice: Tell us about your inspiration. Do you draw inspiration from anything or anyone to aid creativity? Do you have, or ever had, a muse?
Tina: My muse is fictional in that she encompasses who I’d like to be when it comes to her strength, rebellion, and complexity. She is completely unconfined and free. My muse changes from time to time depending on the attitude I like to explore in my personal life.
My inspiration is quite metaphysical with my latest collection. My concept revolves around an exploration of nature versus nurture; nature being my great-great grandmother’s paper cuttings and, nurture being the technological transformations of these visual references. The final result was solidified by the collection’s own construction process.
Solstice: Describe the process from concept to final realised product? What is your favourite part of the process?
Tina: I begin by analysing the positive and negative spaces of my great-great grandmother’s paper cuttings. I then traced the imagery digitally and decided that laser cutting would be the most accurate way in which I could replicate these cutouts. It took three months of brainstorming, experimenting with fabrics of different weights, transparency, and how they react to laser cutting. After finalising my own invented methodology in the most sustainable and efficient way possible.
After numerous hand sketches, I committed to a 9 look collection. The process involves the back and forth of physical and digital pattern making. I then create digital surface designs illustrating the cutouts and placement prints according to the pattern pieces on 3D software such as CLO.
Once the 3D renders and patterns are finalised, I exported the 3D file to an illustrator file to begin the process of laser cutting. Once my pattern pieces were laser cut out, I then begin the construction and tailoring process of sewing them together.
Solstice: Which design of yours is your all-time favourite?
Tina: My favourite piece is the laser-cut puffer jacket. Quilted against the edges of the paper-cut birds, it is oversized and extremely warm. It has become a wardrobe essential during the cold winter in New York City.
Solstice: Which designers do you look up to/have influenced your work?
Tina: Alexander McQueen is the most influential designer for me. As a brand, designer, and individual, he was fearless and pushed the boundaries whether it came to silhouettes and proportions, social issues, or even bridging into performance art. I think that is the kind of courage and confidence you need to obtain regardless of your field and I aspire to him deeply.
Solstice: Tell us about your honours and awards. Can you tell us about your winning work? What was is it like taking part in the competitions?
Tina: In 2020, I was selected as a CFDA Design Scholar Award finalist for my collection, “Ophelia”. It was a collection I had started in 2019 during my study abroad at Central Saint Martins. Presenting to the CFDA panel was a very rewarding experience, I was delighted and honored to have spoken to the selection committee including the Steve Kolb and Sara Kozlowski of the CFDA, Zoe, and Mike of Eckhaus Latta, and many more inspiring figures in the industry.
In 2021, I was selected as a semi-finalist of the Harper’s Bazaar Singapore’s New Generation Award for my collection, “Phenotypic Plasticity 01”. Not only was it a great award but it offered an extraordinary mentorship program in partnership with Chanel. Unfortunately, due to COVID, I was unable to return to Singapore from New York City to physically partake in the next stages of the competition.
Solstice: What are the best and worst things about being a fashion designer?
Tina: The best part about being a fashion designer is that you get to merge artistry with problem-solving. Combining your design intentions with form, and function is an incredibly rewarding experience. The most fulfilling aspect of the entire process is when your theoretical ideas come to life after months of brainstorming, experiments, and finalisation. The feeling of having my creations worn and interpreted by other individuals is truly extraordinary.
The most challenging part about being a designer is the fashion industry's impact is on our mental health. There is a lot of pressure for all brands, let alone independent designers, to produce new ideas constantly. Because the majority of the industry is operating upon seasonal deliveries, there is a lot of pressure and toxicity to stay relevant and sell. But I believe as a lot of social and ethical issues of the industry come to light, the work culture will shift positively.
Solstice: What do you hope you’ll be doing in the future?
Tina: With my upcoming collections, I’d hope to integrate multimedia into the presentation of the collections. I’d like to host showrooms and exhibitions for my designs while promoting an ethical cause. I believe fashion is innately performative, whether that is showcased on a runway show, exhibition, or simply someone walking down the street. I’d like to create a way in which my designs are more accessible and I’d love to explore the possibilities through technology such as 3D renders and Augmented Reality.