Talking shop with Lim Ai Chiin
Digital place to physical space
Lim Ai Chiin's digital brainchild, Cuevolution, was a giant leap of faith after a dedicated career in cancer research. After pursuing a degree in Biomedical Science from King's College and then Molecular Medicine at Imperial College London, Ai Chiin found herself working alongside world-renowned scientists and clinicians at the Institute of Cancer Reseach in London, but a keen interest in fashion and the need to fulfill her creative urges led her to return to her native Malaysia in 2014 to begin Cuevolution—a digital retail space that features a unique selection of up -and-coming designers all hand-picked by Ai. In order to better showcase her wares, Ai has recently celebrated the opening of a showroom space at Publika Solaris Dutamas. Here, the scientist-turned-entrepreneur explains the results of her most important experiment to date.
How did the name Cuevolution come about?
It was actually suppose to be Creation Upon Evolution. I pretty much wrote down every name that I could think of cause I wanted it to be distinct and eventually I kind of settled on Creation Upon Evolution. I then wanted to shorten it to Cue but in Australia, a brand called Cue already exists. I didn't want people to get it mixed up so a friend suggested I integrate the two names and we came up with Cuevolution. So that's pretty much how it turned out. But yeah, the whole name is actually suppose to be Creation Upon Evolution.
How did it all begin?
It kind of spiralled from a very simple idea. After years of studying and working in science I decided to take a few months off which is when I heard of a designer named Cristina Sabaiduc. I actually went to see her as a personal client, but then everything just sort of came out and I asked her about her business, where her products were stocked, potential clients, wholesale assignment—the whole shebang. I took it home with me and sat on it and then later, we got in touch via email and things progressed rather quickly. So after, Cristina managed to get Rory Hutton in, again introduced by another friend of mine while I was doing research, from there our stable just grew. Then after that, AZOOI came onboard, then Cassey Gan and then Maricel. We had the official launch in 2014.
Why the need for a physical space?
My idea for the showroom was to have it stripped down to its basics to fully showcase each of the designers' stories and artwork. I wanted a workable space in which to host clients, house current and future designers as well as morph into a studio for work. Having a showroom will enable clients as well as future designers to experience Cuevolution personally and to see the direction we are heading towards.
How do you curate your product?
I started to really consider what I wanted in a designer and what would fit into the Cuevolution aesthetic. It's about being able to maintain your individual style and to never be afraid of experimenting. Cuevolution is for the confident dresser. We're about finely detailed clothing—items you won't just chuck away in ten years or so. We don't follow the trends. We just sort of allow them to mingle with our style, we like to mix things up. That's where the vintage pieces we have also come into play at Cuevolution. Long lasting fashion is what we stand for.
Were there any repercussions when you told your parents you wanted to leave your career in science and work in fashion?
The fashion part was perhaps a little unexpected but they were happy I was coming home. They're very supportive. I think they view it as a little hobby or side project. They're a little bit older and they think, "Oh, it's online. How much work can it take?" But I don't think they understand the logistics of uploading photos, arranging photoshoots, making sure the website is streamlined or trying to get exposure on social media for my website. My mum complains that I'm constantly on my phone. It's just a totally different world to them and now that I'm doing this, I get to witness firsthand how difficult it is to build a brand online.
What are your plans for Cuevolution?
I would like to see myself overseas with the brand. I would like to do popups, just to push the brand and also to gain awareness overseas. So I think that having a really cool popup collection would be fitting for Cue in the next five years.
We started off as an online store, so that base will always be there. Having a store overseas would also be awesome but at this point in time, blindly opening a store overseas is not an option. Taking risks are a necessary part of business but I also need to be realistic.
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