After a rich and varied career that included jewellery design, interior design and charity work in South African and Europe, entrepreneur Sonja Maingard took over local Singaporean fashion brand Foxtrot in 2013, relaunching it with a new line in 2014. We spoke to the designer about how the move has fulfilled her lifetime passion for fashion and what the future holds for Foxtrot.
When did you first become interested in fashion?
For as long as I can remember. As a toddler, I loved shoes so much, I was often tucked into bed at night still wearing them. As a teenager, my mom loved to tell the story of unfolding bed sheets from her linen cupboard and discovering large holes cut into them – the result of my creations. I experimented with shoes, dismantling and reassembling them to understand their construction and pattern before covering them in new fabric. During my time in London, I loved browsing second-hand clothing shops, buying vintage garments and recreating them into stylish new designs. Looking back, I’ve always had a passion for designing/creating but initially followed different careers. It was only three years ago, after relocating to Singapore, that I became a mid-forty-year-old-student, joining teenage students to chase a shared dream of becoming a fashion designer. Not long after, I saw my life-long passion unfold into a fast growing reality.
What is the story behind Foxtrot?
I was desperate to start a business in Singapore and continuously searched the internet for businesses up for sale. One evening, my husband passed me a pink slip – a ‘business for sale’. Without giving it further thought, I piled it on top of my other paperwork, to deal with at a later stage. A month later, when clearing my desk, I discovered it again and decided to make the call. I asked what type of business it was, not expecting anything exciting. “The business for sale was Foxtrot, a local Singaporean brand selling ladies shoes and bags. I immediately saw its potential and began negotiating to buy it…then, by early 2014, I began work on relaunching the Foxtrot line.
What has changed since you started working with the label?
Almost everything – I started from scratch with a clear mind and a blank drawing board. My exhilaration of taking Foxtrot to the next level started with new bag and shoe designs. With each new sketch, inspiration arrived and it spilled into redesigning the packaging, the storyline, and even introducing the very first women’s clothing line.
From there, I started travelling to explore different types of textiles and accessories to incorporate in my line. I also developed and implemented more effective manufacturing techniques and sourced reliable manufactures to support and realise my future vision. Three months later, after endless hours and long nights, Foxtrot was reborn.
What is the inspiration behind the label? What are your main priorities and goals?
My inspiration behind Foxtrot was to be a daredevil and break all the rules! I don’t believe in paying for a brand name but in paying for quality and comfort at affordable prices. I want Foxtrot to represent strong and adventurous women, like those of the past who defied the status quo, like the first female pilots – the aviatrixes like Amelia Earhart. Wearing classy leather boots and belts, they took to the skies. Each Foxtrot shoe and bag is named after a pioneer aviatrix and their accomplishments will be featured in my designs. I have spent a lot of time on minor details to complement the travel theme. I designed shipping crate-styled shoeboxes, leather Foxtrot garment labels, badge-like bronze buttons… even the price tags tell a story!
What lessons have you learned since taking over Foxtrot?
The most treasured lesson I learned was to keep reminding myself to stay focused on my goal. Every time a situation seemed impossible, I reminded myself of my dream, which then ignited my drive and inspiration again. One of my favourite slogans, which I in fact printed on Foxtrot’s knit tops are: “I am a woman, I don’t know what I want, but I can get mad if I can’t have it”. I let that ‘madness’ become my drive.
Where is the Foxtrot label available and what are the future plans?
Foxtrot’s Daredevil designer ranges can be purchased online at foxtrotshoes.com or at facebook.com/ilovefoxtrot. Muse Boutique in Orchard Gateway carries some of Foxtrot’s leather bags and shoes and a small selection can be found at Zalora. Foxtrot shoes and bags will also hopefully soon return to Isetan with the clothing range at Takashimaya. By mid-September, Foxtrot will be available in Suntec Shopping Mall. My aim is to open Foxtrot’s first flagship store this year in the newly upgraded White Sands Shopping Mall. By the end of 2015, Foxtrot will also be available in Hong Kong and I am currently looking at stores in Malaysia too. The aim is to grow Foxtrot in Asia and then expand internationally. I have already designed and sampled the first silver and gemstone jewellery ranges and FOX cosmetics and perfume will also be available soon.
What are your favourite parts about living and working in the city?
After living in Africa and Europe for so many years, our gratitude for being part of such a peaceful and orderly country has made me realise that Singapore is pretty hard to beat. It is liberating to see the growth in my daughters’ confidence and independence due to the safe environment. It is a gratifying experience as a mother and also beneficial to my business, knowing that my children are safe and have a secure future ahead. This allows me to focus on further expanding my business.
Have you discovered any hidden shopping/fashion gems while exploring the city?
Oh yes, all the time! The city is full of flavour and such diverse cultural influences, both historical and modern. There is a continuous buzz around the sensational shopping experiences here and the chance to discover new ‘gems’. I am in love with both the old and the new architecture of the city, with the contrast between the old street vendors and the supremely modern new designs of the shopping malls. The quality handicrafts of traditional designers, and the explosion of modern creations by young designers, are an inspiration.
Where do you hope Foxtrot will be in 12 months time?
The brand is moving fast with many exciting developments taking place, including our developing designer clothing range. I hope to have Foxtrot retailing in at least five outlets in Singapore. I also hope to have my own fully branded Foxtrot flagship store and at least two confirmed international retailers on board. One should always dream big and dare to fly high!
“The most treasured lesson I learned was to keep reminding myself to stay focused on my goal. Every time a situation seemed impossible, I reminded myself of my dream, which then ignited my drive and inspiration again.”
– Sonja Maingard
By Mandy Heng Images: Alif Brownstone Photography Hair/makeup: Rie Miura Styling: Mandy Heng