Sayang Ropp spent most of her life going against the current and trying to escape from underneath her parents’ shadow – until now. This year, to her own surprise, she returned to Asia to work alongside her father, Paul Ropp – Phuket’s favourite fashion designer. We recently sat down with Sayang to ask her where she hopes this new road will take her.
Maciek Klimowicz: Where do you come from?
Sayang Ropp: I’m from Bali, that’s always my first answer. But I’m Italian-American and I lived in six different countries, so I have a malleable definition of what home or heritage is. I’m a little bit from everywhere. But by culture, by heart and by feeling, I’m the most connected with Bali.
I was born in Bali, but at the age of 12, I went to a boarding school in the South of India. From there, I moved to another boarding school in the German-Speaking part of Switzerland. After graduation and a short stint in dance school, I spent my first semester of university in Rome. Finally, I settled on a university in Canada where I received my Bachelor’s degree.
Sounds like you were searching for something, did you find it?
Well, there’s a lot of inconsistency when you move around; but at the same time, the positive aspect of that is learning through adversity and diversity. I think you can’t really understand yourself or where you are when you don’t have that basis of comparison for what your values and understanding of the world is.
What brought you back to Asia?
It was all very sudden and unexpected. I was in Canada at that time, I had a car, a house, a cat and a five-year plan. I was settled. But then, all of the sudden, I had a sort of “a lightbulb moment”. I was travelling with my dad in the States, where he had some business to attend to. At the time, he didn’t have a PA and so he had asked me to tag along and help out. And when I was there with him, I realized that it was the first time I was able to use my cognitive skills in a real-life setting, for business. Furthermore, I realized that I had the potential; the kind of brain it took to understand some things that were potentially missing in the company. My dad and I play to each other’s strengths. And weaknesses.
What are those?
He has the creativity and the innovation. I don’t know anybody in the world who can do what he does when looking at a piece of fabric. It’s incredible. You think “it’s never going to work!” and all of the sudden it works! I could never do that. But my brain has gone to a place that is much more of a logical cognition and an analytical mindset. Which is why I believe that together we can build a really solid mechanism.
I realized I had this capacity when we were in a meeting in Miami – so I asked myself, why not use it? Especially if it’s to help the family. And thus, was my “lightbulb moment”.
Who’s to say then, that you won’t have another “lightbulb moment” soon and end up in, let’s say, Bolivia?
There’s still a part of me which says “I can do this, I can do that”; I’m young and the world is my oyster, as they say. I have all those desires, things that I want to do. For example, I want to go back to school to study criminal justice. There’s a lot of interests that I have that don’t relate to the industry that I’m in, but I have also succumbed to the idea that this is my life and this is my future. It’s something I cannot walk away from. Moreover, it’s something that I don’t want to walk away from.
Is there anything about fashion itself that attracts you?
It’s funny that I ended up in the fashion industry, even though I am third generation fashion. There’s my dad, who, by the way, doesn’t even consider what he does fashion, to him it’s more of an art. My mom is a really good fashion designer with her own brand, and so was her mother before her and her mom before her. So, there are three generations of women on my mom’s side who are or have been in fashion. It has always been in my system, but it’s never been something I was interested in. I don’t necessarily believe in it, nor in consumerism. I’m one of those people who don’t really follow trends or do what everyone else is doing to be a part of a group, and that’s basically what the fashion industry is.
However, there is the whole creative side of it. And a lot of possibilities – I think that by being in an environment that I don’t necessarily belong to, I can see both sides of it. I like this: broadening my horizons, teaching myself things that I don’t necessarily agree with, but understand the value of.
I once interviewed your father and he mentioned how surprised he was that you ended up working with him. Are you?
Very! If you would have asked me one year ago if I’d ever go back to Asia to work for the family business I’d have said no way! I’ve spent my whole life running away from living under my parents’ shadow, wanting to be known for my own accomplishments, not theirs. But alas, it took merely three weeks of making up my mind to take such a major decision – it was very fast.
Did you give up on that dream of being independent then?
Not at all. I think that this is my chance to prove to myself, my parents and anybody else who sees it, that I can stand upon my own two feet and create something for myself, even if it’s on a foundation provided by my parents. I think this is the perfect platform to showcase my independence as well as my potential, and frankly, I’m in it for the long run.
Talking about the long run, where do you see Paul Ropp brand in the long run, as compared to now?
Right now, the general public can go into a Paul Ropp store and appreciate the beauty of the designs, but only a small group will make a purchase and implement those clothes into their lifestyle. I believe part of the reason for this is the rise of social media and how it has changed the marketing game. There is a discrepancy between the generations, the gap is bigger than ever. My main goal is to try and bridge that gap; not just by creating styles that are commercially successful in younger generations, but by educating our clients on what the Paul Ropp brand truly is, aside from the fashion: where it comes from, what it stands for, how it’s made. To show people that Paul Ropp is more than just the clothes. To showcase how it is wearable art, and wearing it is a statement.
What, in your opinion, is the key to Paul Ropp’s success thus far?
I still think it’s the uniqueness. Paul Ropp designs are one of those things that can be spotted from 100m away and recognized. It’s very identifiable. What makes is desirable is the beauty of the difference. It’s never average. Everything is handcrafted, there are human flaws that go into the designs and become part of the finished garment. Every piece is different and most cannot be recreated. Our entire process of creating clothes goes as far back as creating the fabrics, and these are fabrics you don’t see anywhere else.
But Paul Ropp is more than the fabrics. It’s the feeling that it embodies. To me, it’s a lighthearted joyful freedom of “I can do anything, I can be anything”. People who shop in Paul Ropp don’t go there to look for what’s in season. They look for something that’s a step above the mundane. An item of beauty which, when you wear it, makes you feel self-confident and free. It makes you happy.
For more information, visit paulropp.com
Paul Ropp Shops:
- Surin Gallery – Tel. 080 5381976
- Boat Avenue – Tel. 087 6237988
- Laguna Plaza – Tel. 087 6237988
- Paul Ropp Outlet – Tel. 076 621607
- Central Festival Samui – Tel. 077 410356
- Opening Hours: 10AM-7PM
All photographs by Jeremie Schatz (firstname.lastname@example.org)
The photoshoot took place at the spectacular Villa 29 at Trisara Phuket seen below: