Leonard Cheong is designing non-gendered activewear for every body
In the time of pandemics and lockdowns all of us discovered a new love for super comfortable clothes; baggy pants, sweats, kaftans, hoodies and, of course, activewear. Who among us hasn’t spent more than 24 hours in a pair of workout leggings or shorts and a loose tee in the last two years?
Alongside our new-found love of comfy clothes, the pandemic also enabled many of us to finally take some time out to really think about where we are in our lives, how we want to be in the future, and perhaps how we now want to be perceived. The pandemic has also increased awareness of societal ills – racism, sexism and issues of gender identity.
Discovering a need for non-gendered activewear
This burgeoning mix of new needs, informed awareness, and a refocus on personal health and mental wellbeing also informed the creation of Singapore activewear brand Finix by Leonard Cheong.
“I started Finix because I saw there was a lack of diversity of styles and looks in men’s athleisure. When we think of men’s fitness wear today, we often see images of hyper-masculine guys with huge pecs and six pack abs,” Leonard explains.
“But in reality, this wasn’t what I was seeing in the mirror, nor what I identified with internally. I didn’t really see myself represented in the men’s fitness industry. I thought to myself, if I was feeling this way, there must be dozens more out there who feel the same.
“I wanted to expand that range and offer a new style perspective that was unlike what mainstream activewear brands were already offering.”
With these thoughts in mind, Leonard created the Finix ‘Freedom’ collection of activewear pieces that are gender-neutral, comfortable for all body shapes and sizes, and inspired by people with diverse backgrounds – from yoga, dance and movement practitioners, to individuals in the trans and LGBTQIA+ communities.
“The Finix Freedom collection was inspired by the notion of letting go, being free. I wanted people to look at the collection and ask themselves what freedom truly meant to them,” Leonard says.
“On a physical level, I wanted them to be able to fully express their movements whether it’s a yoga pose or a pirouette through the fluidity and movement of the clothes. On an emotional (or mental) level, it is to allow them to see themselves in the clothes and fully express what they feel or who they are inside.”
Inclusivity, diversity and representation in the fashion world
Creating Finix was also something that Leonard was uniquely suited to do; he has a background in apparel design and product development, as well as a career in the marketing and communications sector, and time spent working in Japan. On top of all those skills, Leonard is also a dancer and yoga instructor, so he certainly understands the practical needs for designing activewear.
Leonard is also a part of the queer community and knows what it is like to have societal gender boundaries enforced through clothing. He says that it was important to bring his own life experience and perspective as a queer designer to creating genderless activewear, creating garments that are inclusive of diverse genders, body shapes and body sizes.
“More broadly, I wanted to address a larger diversity and representation issue that existed in fitness wear. I wanted to create an athleisure line that was inclusive and represented a spectrum of individuals who felt overlooked or forgotten by the fitness industry,” Leonard explains.
“I think representation is very important because it validates our presence and existence in the world. When we are able to see ourselves in the people we look up to, such as a celebrity or a model in a fashion campaign, we are then able to relate and build more meaningful connections around it.
“On a personal level, I struggled a lot with my own body image growing up – even to this very day. It is known that LGBTQIA+ individuals are more likely to suffer from stress and anxiety because of their body image, and I have always felt pressure to portray myself a certain way. This was very debilitating and it affected me on a physical, mental and emotional level.
“With Finix, I wanted to change all that. I wanted to create an inclusive label where everyone and anyone, regardless of body type, race or gender expression, could participate in the experience of fitness and fashion.”
The new Finix Freedom collection features a limited range of items that have been redesigned to suit a wide range of movement and needs. The key items include the Freedom Noragi Jacket, S$118, a casual relaxed version of the kimono; the Freedom Harem Joggers, S$98, and Shorts, S$78 that move with the body; the Freedom Scoop Neck Sweatshirt, S$82, with a wide neckline that dancers love, as well as the Rise Cropped Hoodie, S$88. These items all mix ‘n’ match with the pre-launch pieces consisting of bright tops in loose, organic shapes made of eco-friendly fabrics like Tencel and Odell ice cotton.
Design inspired by personal experience
The non-gendered concept of Finix is also related to Leonard’s personal style and experience of not finding the types of clothes he wanted to wear: “My slightly rebellious streak, coupled with an expressive and vocal personality, manifested in my fashion choices and lifestyle.”
“I love incorporating colour into my outfits, often those that were typically not seen on men such as pinks and pastels. I also loved mixing and matching more fluid, oversized silhouettes for comfort and mobility – and this was inspired from my time as a dancer back in university. I also love accessorising as I feel it gives someone a lot of character. And also experimenting with my hair and body art (e.g. tattoos).
“So it wasn’t much of a surprise when I noticed that most of the clothes I wanted to wear weren’t available in the men’s department. With my brand, I want to bring my own perspective and experience as a queer designer and in genderless dressing.
“I believe there is space for both gendered and non-gendered clothing to co-exist in fashion. There is room for everyone. The misconception some people have is if we allow genderless to happen, it will be the end of men and womenswear. The existence of one does not signify the death or destruction of another. It’s not a zero-sum game. If there are people who choose to continue wearing gendered clothing, then there will always be a demand for it.
“In fact, welcoming genderless clothing actually opens up a whole new space for newer and fresher designs to emerge. And it also allows for a broader, more diverse consumer to be served.”
The “broader, more diverse consumer” is also catered to with Finix’ branding, including models of various sizes, ethnicities and gender identities, including a trans model.
“Representation is very important in changing perceptions. By having a transgender model on the campaign, I’d love for people to see that beauty in the fitness industry does not only involve the same cisgender archetype. The ultimate mission of my athleisure brand is to provide inclusive and empowering options where everyone and anyone can feel confident and safe to express and be themselves,” explains Leonard.
Is Singapore ready for Finix?
Being comfortable about expressing and non-traditional gender identity, however, remains somewhat fraught in Singapore’s more traditional society.
“I am definitely seeing an awakening happening in the fashion industry where the big international brands, including the fashion media companies, are starting to welcome more diverse talent, faces and leadership to their fold,” says Leonard.
“However, we’re still in our early days. While there is progress being made, the truth of the matter is that systemic racism, gender inequality, transphobia, homophobia and body shaming still exist within systems and societies. You can see this reality on the ground – there are still not enough genderless fitting rooms, washrooms and sections in retail spaces, or a broader range of sizes and cuts for a variety of body types.
“Such is the case in Singapore as well, where laws and societal norms are still rather traditional and conservative. This makes conversations around diversity and inclusion more challenging to explore but we must not shy away from speaking our truth.
“The fashion industry may dream of becoming more inclusive but the big question is, are the systems and infrastructures ready to handle it?”
The Finix Freedom Collection is available at the Finix Design Orchard space and online at www.finixwear.com. Follow the brand on Instagram at @finixwear.
For more interesting interviews with Singaporean creatives, go to our Style section.
This article Leonard Cheong is designing non-gendered activewear for every body appeared first on Popspoken.