Describing her style, Bucket puts it point blank: she is definitely not a flowers and chiffon person. Bucket, whose real name is Yvonne Lee, is a full-time film producer/director and the zealous owner of Riot Ready, a local fashion brand dedicated to plus-sizes. The label was born from Bucket’s numerous attempts at finding herself in a market that though slowly gaining traction (Well it’s about time!), seemed for the most part still headed in a single direction. With its “mildly problematic” character (as Bucket muses) and bold edge, Riot Ready is inadvertently but gently disrupting plus-size fashion rules.
Though adventurous as it may be, the label is not quite here to “get in anybody’s lane”. Bucket’s Riot Ready is a rebel with a cause and on a definite mission to fill the gaps in plus-size fashion options, while unapologetically carving out a new style game. It’s not about breaking the rules — it’s about not having any. We sit down for a candid conversation with Bucket, as she gets real about the limitations of the local plus-size fashion industry, the heart of her brand and an uninhibited reflection on her personal journey in self-love.
Flowers, Chiffon & Plus-Size Fashion In Singapore
From your personal experience, what is the market like for plus-size fashion in Singapore?
The market for plus-size fashion in Singapore — again, not to criticise — but I feel like everything is about dresses, jumpsuits etc.. I’m a jeans, t-shirt kind of person. Sometimes I just want a nice pair of jeans that isn’t a million dollars. And when you have jeans you need to have tops that go with them. That was my issue, we don’t have a lot of options for separates! That’s the problem, it’s not practical for me to be wearing dresses all the time. There are a lot of plus-size girls who need office appropriate clothes. But what about the weekends? I feel that structured dresses are beautiful, but you don’t necessarily want to wear them all the time.
Before you started your own brand, or aside from it, where did/do you typically shop for clothes?
I do have another problem when shopping, on top of being plus-sized I’m also very, very petite. I’m very short, I’m 151cm! Sometimes it’s a beautiful fit but 10cm too long and I’m like ah, dang it! And I’m also really lazy to alter, so if something is too long I’ll keep it aside and say I’ll alter it next time, but I never do! I’m sure many people have had experiences with Taobao mishaps — they actually have quite a good range (of plus-sized clothes) — but you never really know what you’re getting, so it’s always a gamble.
If not, most of the time if I have to be very honest, my clothes come from places like Cotton On and H&M. But if I were to gain just any more weight (beyond what I am now), I won’t be able to fit into any of their stuff. Size wise, I would say I’m a UK16 to 18, depending on the cut.
On Filling The Gaps & Chasing New Fronts
What sparked the idea of setting up a plus-size label?
Honestly it was something that I’ve always been thinking about. Because I’m a plus-sized girl myself, so I’ve always found it very difficult to buy clothes. Actually, over the years there have been quite a few plus-size stores popping up in Singapore; I think it’s great that all these stores are doing this, but I feel like they cater to a very specific kind of woman. Like a 9 to 5 job, office lady — you know — cute, flowery girls. And I’m not that, I don’t want to be in chiffon everyday!
It (the idea to start a label) started when this one day, I dropped by one of these plus-size stores (at a flea market). I met the boss who was super, super nice and her stuff were nice, but they weren’t necessarily me. But I felt at that point, that you know I’m a plus-sized girl, it’s so hard for me to buy clothes, so I just bought everything that I could. I spent like S$400 and I’ve never worn any of it. The clothes were nice in theory, but when I wore them, it wasn’t me. So I think it got very frustrating.
So how did you finally get around to starting Riot Ready?
There’s actually a funny story behind it. I went to Taiwan with my family and in Taiwan there was this brand that had a very good range of plus-sizes, called Air Space Plus. So I went with my mum and bought a ton of things. Then I just jokingly told my mum that honestly, it’s such a lucrative market. As a plus-size girl, once I know a place has a style I like and has my sizes, I’m just going to keep going back.
I didn’t think it would happen, but that kind of stuck in my mum’s mind for a bit. A couple of months later, my family business wasn’t doing that well. My parents — they don’t live here — were thinking they might probably have to relocate back to Singapore, and my mum was like what am I going to do? So she came to me and said, remember how you were saying this thing about plus-size clothing the other time? And I was like oh damn, are you up for this? Because I’m super down! That’s really how it all started.
And what inspired the name “Riot Ready”?
Sometimes when I think about it, maybe it seems pretentious, but I didn’t want the name to have any indication that it was a plus-size store. I didn’t want it to be something-something plus, or something-something curve, or extended sizes… To me, I feel like we (plus-sized individuals) are regular people as well, you know what I mean? So I didn’t want to highlight that we’re a plus-size store — it’s not necessary to draw so much attention to it, in that sense.
I’m not a feminine girl. I knew I wanted something chaotic, like…mildly problematic. Actually, I was very inspired by Nasty Gal, the name gives you a vibe of what you could be, what you could do. I didn’t want the name to sound dainty — there’re so many dainty brands out there and I felt like if I called my brand [something dainty], then you look at it then look at me, it doesn’t match.
The label has a rather different style direction, tell us more about that!
It was quite a struggle in terms of deciding on our style. I did think of myself as a consumer, so there are definitely a lot of pieces [we sell] that I’d like to wear. But at the same time, I don’t want to assume that everyone is like me. So I do have my dresses [in my brand], not a lot, but I do have. Though for the most part, I try to find something that is a little bit different. For example, right now a lot of plus-size clothing have A-line cuts, they cut off at the knee. But I think, why do we have to cut it at the knee? We can make it longer. I also choose colours that are a bit brighter, or certain fabrics/patterns that are different. I want to inject a bit more fun and try to look for unique pieces.
Bucket’s Story: The Trials & Tribulations Of Self-Love
Bucket had a near-visceral reaction when we collectively disagreed that she looked anything close to awkward in photos, “I HATE being in front of the camera!” One thing she emphasised, is that everyone has their off-days. And sometimes, you take a tumble. Bucket’s own journey in self-love hasn’t always been all sunny and neither has it reached its conclusion. In our conversation, she opens up about a particularly difficult crossing.
Have you always been a size UK16/18?
I’ve always been an overweight child growing up. But for most of my life, since 18 or 19 onwards, I was mostly UK12 to 14. But there was this one period, I would say 2014, where something just snapped in me and I was just like, I’ve never been skinny my entire life, let’s try to lose some weight. Whatever I did was extremely, extremely unhealthy, basically I didn’t eat for months. I barely ate anything, but for the first time I saw that the weighing scale was going down every single day; I lost like a kilogram a day and it spurred me on in a very unhealthy way. That first month of my weight loss, I lost about 18 to 20KG. Very, very unhealthy. I starved myself, essentially.
I knew what I was doing, but I thought it was only going to be for a while. But then you just get into this whole state of mind, you just don’t think about it, you’re just so obsessed and you think you can still take it. It got to a point where I won’t eat for days, step on the weighing scale and I’m still the same weight, then I’d cry for 45 minutes. My health was very affected; I had all these skin issues, couldn’t sleep and I was very weak. At my most extreme [point], I ate 2 to 3 cherry tomatoes a day and just drank water.
How did you breakout of that?
Only a few close friends knew, so there was an intervention. Actually my parents don’t know about this — because they weren’t here, so it was very easy for me to hide. It was just one friend who saw it. There was one time I fell really ill and went to the hospital, I thought it was something else but the doctor was like erm, are you eating? Gradually I had to get back to a regular eating cycle, which I was very against. Because my parents, my mum actually, always joked that I have that kind of body where if you breathe only you gain weight. It was a joke! But I was very concerned, like I hadn’t been eating in so long, if I eat now I’m going to balloon.
So obviously I gained back some weight. But after I gained back the first 5kg, I gave up. I felt all hope was lost. I fell into this very depressive thing, it just felt like I was losing the best version of myself — which is also very twisted. Because let’s be real, I was not happy at all at that point in time, all I did was stand on the scale and cry! It never occurred to me that that was a problem, it was probably a mental issue. Now I look back on it and it’s quite insane.
What is self-love to you?
If you talk about the “journey of self-love”, I’m not going to sugarcoat it. I’m not there yet, I still feel like I’m very far away and I feel it’s important to recognise that as well. There are times when I get very motivated by people who say I’m plus-sized and I love myself, I love every curve. That’s fantastic, but sometimes I also ask myself why am I not this person? It took me a while to understand that everybody moves at their own pace. For me, it’s a very slow acceptance and I’m sure for a lot of people as well. It’s difficult, sometimes people look at you and say wow, the food is all gone, you eat ah? People will say these kinds of nasty things and it takes a special kind of person to be able to block out these negativity…which I feel the majority of us are not.
The Heart Of A Riot: Building A Brand, Building Oneself
Has starting Riot Ready helped in any way with your journey of self-love?
Starting the brand actually helped a lot.
It’s not that I want to send this [kind of] message to other people, but I don’t think I’m there with loving myself yet. I’m very self-conscious of what I look like, all my flaws and all that. So I don’t like being in front of the camera. But at the same time if I introduce myself to people now, technically I’m the owner of a plus-size brand so I can’t be in that shell all the time anymore. Gradually, when we started taking photos and doing all these things, I would look at the photos then look at myself and then there was this one day, I was just telling Diane (friend and MUA), actually I think I’m okay with how my body looks. I don’t feel like this every single day, but right now I do and to me that’s an improvement. There are obviously days when I’ll nitpick, but I think [starting Riot Ready] has helped. It has also helped me to try and diversify my own style!
And how does this motivate the styles you bring in for Riot Ready?
I guess a lot of the items I bring in are a bit more daring. I’m not always up for them everyday, but I feel like things need to change slowly and we want to give people choices. If you want to show your belly, go ahead! We think the whole world is scrutinising us, but nobody really cares, in that sense. That’s why I started bringing in pieces like cropped tops, coords etc., because I’ve always loved the idea of them.
It’s been a difficult process to convince some people to give it a try as well. It’s so interesting — the sets that show your tummy, when they first went live, I had barely any sales but there was a lot of traffic. I could tell that people were interested, but if I wear it I’ll have to show my stomach. It makes me sad, but I get it. If you catch me on another day, I might just [be in the mood to] wrap myself up like a burrito and not show anything. But just by having the option is important.
I mean, it’s also quite crazy, we did a flea market at Orchard Gateway and sold a couple of the sets (with the cropped top) there. And I was like, OMG people are buying it! People came down to try and they looked damn good! It makes me so happy when you can see that while they’re a bit apprehensive, they really like it. And if you really like it, you should wear it.
The clothes at Riot Ready are very affordable and very accessible, is price point important to your brand?
I’m going to be super real about this, I feel that there are a bunch of plus size clothing brands in Singapore with significantly higher price points. At this point in time, I’m sourcing, but I think for [these brands] their price points are so because they manufacture. I do understand why the price points are higher as a business owner, but as a consumer…hmm! It’s not uncommon to see it going into 3-digits just for a dress that honestly, if it were regular-sized, would be $24.90 or $30. I think it’s because there’s so much work that has to go into making plus-size clothing; your patterns are different, you need to find manufacturers who know what they’re doing…all these add to the costs.
I’m also worried if I go into manufacturing, what would my price point be like? But for me, I will always take things as a consumer, how would I feel? I don’t have 80 bucks to drop on a dress all the time. Right now, I think the average price point for regular plus-size clothing is about $60 to $80 for dresses, a top would be about $45/50, a romper about $60 — which is quite expensive. I’m trying to keep my price range in the 30s to 40s. But in the future — I’m not sure how it will go — I think I’ll still do my very best to keep it affordable. That’s the most important thing for me.
How has it been running a business with your mum? Have your dynamics changed?
My parents, as I said, they worked overseas. So I’ve lived apart from my mum since I was 8 and I used to see her once every 2 to 3 months, for 10 days. But since starting this together, we’ve been seeing a lot of each other. I love my mum to death, but we’re not used to each other so naturally there will be quite a bit of friction. While my mum is very supportive, there are definitely some differences. For me, I’m so into the brand story, my brand has to represent something. The products that we bring in have to be representative of the brand. But my mum’s stance is that we have to cater to everybody and the brand is just a name. Sometimes we argue about it, but on the whole it’s [a] relatively healthy [relationship].
My mum is also very invested in this, she is always very concerned about how we can make things better etc. Even my dad, he’ll be like what’s the plan now, what’s going on, do you all need any help? So my family is super, super supportive. My mum and my dad — because they worked in China for so long — they settle all the logistics, so I don’t have to worry about that. It’s very comforting to know that too.
A New Order In Chaos
What is your dream for Riot Ready? What would success mean to you?
Wow, that’s a deep question! Let’s say if my customers, or whoever is plus-size comes to my brand and they can find something they like, something they’re comfortable with, that represents yourself; let’s say if you’ve very feminine, you can find something, if you’re tomboyish/androgynous…you know, you can find something at my brand and it makes you comfortable, I feel that’s the most important thing. If Riot Ready could be a brand that resonates with people, I feel there’s a lot more we can share beyond clothes and fashion.
I think it would be fantastic to build a community. I’m not saying this because it’s popular, but it’s always so great when you see a fellow woman, let alone a plus-size woman, achieving all these great things. It really motivates you. If we can be that to someone else, I guess that would be success to me.
What’s up and coming for Riot Ready?
Clothing wise, I’m looking at certain styles I’d like to branch out to, I’m also looking to ship internationally. That’s something I’m working towards. I don’t want to say too much because I’m not sure what will happen! But with my actual day job being in film and all that, I am trying to think of something I can do content-wise. Obviously it will be for branding and marketing purposes, but at the same time to achieve something that is really cool; something that can hopefully involve my followers and customers, to give them a really cool experience! Can you imagine an entire project run by women — perhaps plus-size women — from start to end, wow! I do have a special advantage having experience in this field and I feel like I should use it for the brand and a better cause.
Finally, do you have any advice for women who might be struggling in their own journey of self-love? Or perhaps, in a similar position as you were?
My biggest thing — and this is what I truly believe — is that the most confident people you see have their off-days as well. I think that it’s very, very difficult to get to a point where you are at a 100% with yourself. Maybe today you’re at 40%, it’s fine, celebrate it, it’s okay. Nowadays we have a different kind of pressure to be feeling ourselves all the time, you know? We have singers like Lizzo who look confident all the time and sometimes I feel like if she feels like that, I should feel like that too. And if I don’t…you feel very bad about yourself. You need to know that if you’re not that, it’s okay, that’s the most important part. Honestly, I truly believe that everybody is the same. We all struggle. Also, to take your own time, go at your own pace. Just because your friend is wearing bikinis etc. doesn’t mean you have to.
I think it’s very trendy now to be plus-size and be loving yourself — a lot of people can do it for social media. I can snap a photo of myself with my rolls, my bikini, then after the camera is off I’m like, I hate myself. While I feel they’re great motivations, you should take everything with a pinch of salt and don’t feel pressured to keep up with someone else.