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Meet the Maker: August Society

In my second post in this Meet the Maker series, I met up with Toni from August Society. If you find this brand familiar, it’s because I’ve featured their swimwear previously in some of my Instagram posts when I went to Tasmania. I was first attracted to the brand because of their ethos of sustainability – the swimwear is made from recycled plastics, and in their latest collection, they’ve changed things up to make it even more exciting!

Find out what is so interesting about their new collection, and get to know the woman behind this brand. Read on till the end and you’ll find a little treat waiting for you if you’d like to try out some of August Society’s swimwear!

What inspired you to start a business, and why swimwear?

Right before August Society, I did my MBA, which was what brought me to Singapore, and I went on to work in Management Consulting for 3 years. After years of corporate life, I felt unfulfilled and was looking to do something creative, to build a brand or product for myself.

Both my parents were entrepreneurs and they told me not to go into business. They said, “It’s difficult, and it’s hard to make money. Study hard so that you can get a job in a good company and you don’t have to work so hard.” But it’s one thing to be told, and another to see what they were doing with their lives. I saw the life they were living, the freedom they had to manage their own time, and the pride they had in the things they did. I think that unconsciously influenced how I wanted to live my life.

I kind of fell into swimwear as a business. I knew that I wanted to do something fashion-related and was deciding between corporate wear and swimwear. I love travelling, and being surrounded by beaches just made me conscious of how difficult it was to find good quality swimwear. You either have the international brands that are really expensive, or the other spectrum are the swimwear that is important from China or Taiwan that only comes in one size and falls apart easily. That’s how I kind of set my mind on creating swimwear that is wearable and not ridiculously expensive.

The fashion industry is apparently the 2nd dirtiest industry in the world, next to big oil. Water pollution through dyes and greenhouse gas emissions are just some of the negative impacts of this industry. What made you decide to center your brand on sustainability?

August Society didn’t start off sustainable. We still carry some of the products from our first collection which were not made from sustainable materials. It took a while for me to figure out what I wanted the brand to stand for.

It started with me having kids – with them, I began to look more into how I lived my life. I read about the impact of plastics in the oceans, the environmental costs of fast fashion and realised that many people throw out clothes so often simply because they don’t last, or because they are no longer trendy. After the collapse of the Rana Plaza in Bangladesh, there was an increased attention on the deplorable conditions at garment factories where children are exploited as labour, people are paid pennies and the buildings they work in are not safe. I realised that the fashion industry had both environmental and human impacts that most people don’t know about.

My 2nd year of running August Society was when I began to incorporate sustainability into the brand. I found an Italian supplier which had recycled raw material as an option for their fabrics. Did you know that nylon and polyester actually use plastics as their raw material? What my supplier does is to take waste plastics like fishnets, carpeting and some types of plastic bottles and melt it down into little pellets to spin new plastics and weave it into fabrics.

I also switched my production from China to a factory in Bali where the staff get healthcare and get paid a fair wage.

August Society swimwear


Wow, honestly, I never knew that nylon and polyester were made from plastics! It must be tough running a sustainable business in an industry that is known for fierce competition and tight margins though. What are some of the challenges you have faced, and how did you overcome them?

Well, it is more expensive. That’s inevitable. But something else I found tricky was managing customers’ mindsets on recycled materials – that it’s not reused, or second-hand. When I tell people that my swimwear is made from recycled materials, they kind of frown at me and look a bit doubtful. But once I explain to them that it’s the raw material that is purified and it’s actually brand new, they are okay with it. It feels good to be able to educate consumers about these things.

That’s great! It is so important for businesses like yours to get the word out on how we can make more sustainable choices as consumers. Did you start off being passionate about sustainability, before incorporating this into your business? Or are you more sustainable in your personal life now, as a result of your work? Which came first?

It’s hard to say which came first. I didn’t fully embrace it initially. But it’s one of those things that the more you’re exposed to it, you get more information, you speak to people, and you become more interested in it. In my personal life, it’s just making small swaps in reducing waste, such as carrying a reusable bag, not using straws (I don’t even buy those bamboo or metal straws) and bringing my own containers. I make it a point to think twice before buying things, and that’s probably why I find it so difficult to buy shoes! It must be perfect, because I don’t want to end up having to throw or give it away if I don’t like it.

Let’s go back to talk about your background. You mentioned that you were working in a corporate job before you took the plunge to start your own business, and you’re pretty much a one-woman show! How did the transition happen, and do you have any tips for other women who are looking to leave their job to pursue a passion?

There was certainly a lot of fear in deciding to leave my job and start a business. I’m not sure if I really did overcome the fear. But I would say that often the biggest thing that is stopping you is yourself. Get over that little voice inside your head, everyone has it. There is never a right time and there is never a sign to tell you do it right now. You have to get out of your own way and find a way to just start. That’s the hardest thing to do – starting.

If you have doubts and wonder whether you’re good enough, think of the worst-case scenario. After going through it myself, I realised, I’m not gonna die. If this doesn’t work out, just go back and find another job. Every day I continue to have doubts – I just placed a huge order for inventory from the factory and I have no idea whether I’m going to be able to sell all of it!

Of course, support is important too – you do need to have some sort of financial ability to take the plunge, and also, talk to the people around you. It helps to get the support of your partnef or have a coach or mentor to sort through the voice in your head and get you to step out of it.

Know that is going to be hard, both from a mental and financial perspective. It is going to take longer and be more expensive than whatever you thought. But if you never try, you never know.

Toni Chan, Founder of August Society

Toni Chan, Founder of August Society

What are some of the struggles that you faced when you started out, and how did you manage them?

Being your own boss involves a lot of trial & error – I have made expensive mistakes in terms of time and money. At the beginning, it was about trying to learn as much as I could. Even now, I don’t know what I don’t know, and all I can do is to make a best guess. Though it gets better over time with experience, it is still scary to make decisions without perfect information, and you just have to do it. In school, or in a corporate job, information is more easily accessible, and your decisions don’t have such a huge impact. When you’re the boss, each decision you make influences the direction of the business.

I realised that I just have to learn from my mistakes and move on from them. I read a lot – business books, online courses, blogs – there are so many things that you don’t learn in school, and you just have to pick up the knowledge along the way.

It certainly doesn’t sound easy. What would be the happy points for you though?

It’s hard to say whether it’s just one thing. But I feel an accomplishment of creating something that is outside of myself. When I get a ping on my phone for a sale or find a new store that is interested in stocking my products, that makes me excited. It’s often two steps forward and one step backwards. But I’ve learned the importance of celebrating the little things.

I understand that you have two young kids under the age of 4. How on earth did you balance a business and your little ones?!

In the few years when I had my two children, I put the company on auto-pilot and let things run on their own. I outsourced a lot more things and just put in a few hours here and there to keep things going. My focus was on my kids.

It’s nice to have the flexibility by being my own boss. I realised that I tend to get a lot of things done when I work alone, since I don’t spend most of my time in meetings. I try to schedule my time to know what I’m working on, and block time on my calendar for important things. It’s good to know that at the end of the day, I can pick up my children from school, spend time with them before putting them to bed.

You just have to be disciplined about getting things done and set boundaries for yourself. It’s all about juggling priorities and learning to let things go. Don’t beat yourself up too much.

Wise words from someone who has been through it all! We’re almost at the end of the interview, but I have just one last question. August Society has just launched your newest collection – could you tell us more about it?

This new collection is one where I’m really embracing the whole ethos of sustainability. Beyond using recycled fabrics, I’m also encouraging people to buy less. It doesn’t sound like the best business decision, but there’s so much consumerism going on, and I think fashion is one area where people can do a lot to reduce the waste that comes from it.

For this collection, the pieces are made reversible, so that they can have multiple looks. They will be multi-use, so you can even wear them outside the pool, as activewear! And they are made from quality fabrics that are chlorine, sun and sand resistant, with 4-way stretch that is built to last longer.

Whoa, did you say swimwear that doubles up as activewear? Sounds like something that I’d definitely like to try out! August Society’s new collection is now up on their website, and you can enjoy 10% off your first order on regular priced items with my code ‘KELLY10’.

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