21 Things I Learned in 2021

I’m 2 years shy of being 30, but I feel that this year has been the year of growth for me. I find that when you’re getting older, you have no choice but to grow up and learn from mistakes. Sometimes, it’s easy to repeat mistakes without aware that you’re repeating it. On top of that, I realized that I have a tendency to cling on to unhealthy mindsets I’ve developed when I was in my early 20s, which I thought was once OK. Through these changes, I also find that this year has raised a lot of self-realizations that has called me to start levelling myself up.

While staying at home has been a choice for one and a half years, I decided to take some time out of being in Singapore and escape the confines of my room. By traveling through four different countries, it was a month long trip that brought me to start thinking of new beginnings and see that there is more to life than I previously thought!

While I am just as human as you, I am no role model as I don’t want to set myself up to be “perfect”. Instead, what I aim to do is to aspire to inspire you to start thinking about what you can do to enrich your life with these little pearls of wisdom. No matter how old we get, it is never too late to still keep on learning. ❤

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A Vibe, A Tribe: A Beginner’s Guide To Vibrators

Say hello to your (new) little friend. Small, but strong. Sweet, but sassy, this little bedroom toy is a safer alternative for skin to skin intimacy. (Except if you’re married or living with a partner) While sex ed curriculums teach us that pleasure comes from skin to skin contact, what’s nice about this toy is that it helps vulva owners feel less alone especially when we’re still in a pandemic and rolling out vaccines.

The first time I saw a vibrator, it was in Sex and the City, where Charlotte York spent a night in bed playing around with a dildo-like tool with a rabbit’s head. Being the curious 14-year-old that I was, I knew that it was awkward for teens like me to even watch SATC as it was “too mature”. Given that my mom had a DVD set of season 1 tucked neatly inside a drawer, I took it out and played it on a portable DVD player while hiding under the covers. I didn’t have a visual rekindling with vibrators until I saw a music video on the history of vibrators in 2016 and it blew my mind that there were many more kinds in existence.

While I passed around sex shops in Singapore and NYC, I never dared to step foot in one as the exteriors looked seedy. However, it wasn’t until I got some e-mail pitches about vibrators that made me realize that this little tool is not as scary or strange as it looks in TV shows. In fact, this little handy tool is safer than what you’d think given that sales have surged due to social distancing measures last year. And hey, at least you’re not getting COVID if you go near a vibrator nor will you get pregnant nor die. (*cough* Coach Carr *cough*)

Now that I can go out to a mall (with a mask on) and take a little trip to the drugstore, there was a row that made me pause. Rather than stopping by to admire the colors of every Revlon lipstick, what made me stop was seeing a shelf of vibrators. Much to my surprise, who knew that a place like Guardian can carry these little battery packs?

If you’re a seasoned vibrator user, you can skip this article altogether. But if you are someone who is new to vibrators, I’ve roped in Hong Kong-based sexologist/podcaster Sara Tang of SARA SENSE and Singapore-based Smile Makers‘s Brand Director Cécile Gasnault to spill the tea.

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Real Girls Talk: Wine 101 with Janisaa Pradja

Got a bad case of Black Friday anxiety? Pour a glass. Ready to celebrate that job promotion over turkey, pumpkin pie and stuffing? Break out the bubble. Dying to catch up with your long distance friends on Zoom? Raid your fridge.

Nothing else screams “holiday mood” more than a glass of wine. As a wino, I always like to wind down with a glass of moscato after dinner or whenever I’m Netflixing to Emily in Paris or any comedy, I like to sit down with a glass of red wine. Sometimes, I drink white wine if I don’t feel like having a strong glass of red. Recently, I like to have a small shot glass of bokbunjae (Korean wine) to awaken the creative spirit. Though I’ve tried different kinds of booze (from sake to which also includes arak, a moonshine-type drink from the Middle East), I always head back to wine.

Given that it’s something that I newly appreciate, I hit up Janisaa Pradja, a Bali-based sommelier who’s a friend of mine, to talk about wine. At 25, she’s already got a WSET tucked deep inside her cellar and graduated with a Bachelor’s in Enology (wine studies ICYMI). (I mean, wouldn’t we all KILL to walk out of school with that kinda degree and jump start on our dream job?) Through e-mail, both of us chit chatted about cooking with wine, the art of alcohol appreciation, the science behind the price behind the world’s most expensive vino and why pricier bottles don’t always equate to being better than cheap wines.

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Real Girls Talk: Getting Started In Style With Taylor Burrell

A few years ago, I was still riding new on the whole influencer/blog scene. I was trying to make a space for myself, but I honestly was nervous about going near people who worked in the same field as I as I assumed that I had to keep to myself without getting too involved with competitors who had more followers than me. However, my perception changed when I networked with other fellow influencers on an app called Muses, the LinkedIn for influencers.

Inside the app, I discovered this really cool girl and I thought her style was impeccable. That girl today is Taylor Burrell, the fashionista behind @trendliketaylor. At 26, the New Jersey based fashion stylist is the reincarnation of Aaliyah. Like the singer, Burrell gravitates towards crop tops and sporty aesthetics, but unlike the mononymed diva, she will take more risks with flirty cutouts, chunky hardware and/or change it up a bit with trying out brighter hues like a Scorpio (FYI: this sign is no stranger to reinvention as every Scorpio female I know likes to take risks with their style!).

Although both of us live in different parts of the globe, our love of fashion unifies us. Today, we talk about the influence of the Teen Vogue Handbook, the realities of being a fashion stylist, how the pandemic has affected her, why BLM matters and how you can continue to support it.

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Breaking Up Is Hard To Do: A Letter To Reformation

Dear Reformation,

In light of this collective social awakening that’s been shaking up algorithms on Instagram, it has given us the opportunity to speak up without fear. While anyone’s quick to say what they wanna say, the flip side is that sadly, the true colors of a brand comes out the moment comments pop up like a snake from a bush. As a consumer that has the privilege to spend on a brand, it’s been cropping up on my radar that you, a brand I once actively supported, have fallen short on your actions.

You’ve been plagued by workplace racism, testimonies of bad pay, unsafe working conditions, cultural appropriation and a good, but misguided sustainability campaign that’s been accused of promoting racism. A few members of staff past and present have been exposed for making irresponsible and insensitive posts on Instagram. Shortcomings aside, you’ve gotten clout from Net-A-Porter (who even granted your Founding Mother an interview), Selfridges, Shopbop, Vogue and Rookie Mag, plus the investment from Karlie Kloss and endorsement by celebrities from Rihanna to Taylor Swift. A senior analyst from Global Data dropped a quote to BBC that your premium brand image has successfully persuaded shoppers like me to buy into your hot girl sustainability mission. Even your cult status has afforded you to have the power to create hype among resellers on Carousell in Singapore as residents like myself don’t have access to your brick and mortar stores across the States, Canada or London. (Plus it’s much easier to deal with local vendors here as opposed to having to wait forever for a package to arrive from LA!)

The demand is red hot.

Though it’s completely normal for a brand like you to make mistakes, I don’t expect you to be perfect. While your ex-employees have spoken about their past grievances with you on Instagram, it’s inspired me to do the same. Though I have not experienced much racial discrimination from any of your staff, I feel that I, as a customer, have had a fair share of less than positive experiences with you.

When I was in my early 20s and fresh off the boat in Los Angeles, you were one of the brands that have helped me define my style. As a college student from 2014 to 2016, I was on the hunt for sustainable, but ethically made apparel. Chic, but practical clothes that can take me anywhere from class to a dinner with my girlfriends. A vintage soul made for the modern girl. A walk in the park that bridges the gap between luxury prices and affordability. Because you checked off all the boxes on my list, it’s drawn me to your energy.

At the beginning of our relationship, you were great. I never had any issue with the fits of your cute little dresses, the deadstock fabrics you used felt awesome and I liked that the designs always had a hint of sexiness that felt playful. Though I couldn’t make any returns from the online store, I knew that some way or another, they had the potential to make great gifts for my sister, whose style erred towards conservative. The selection of vintage fabrics you found for the dresses I’ve worn in the past were phenomenal: I got zero discomfort from wearing every single deadstock surplus fabric that hugged my curves. They also photographed well to the point where it justified the price point. However, my only beef is that you could’ve hired a fabric expert to break down what a certain fiber was made out of in your deadstock fabrics.

This was a common tag sewn into garments that reused deadstock fabric

Ditto with having to figure out how to properly care for a fabric as most garments are sewn with a “Dry Clean Only” tag. Point is, I liked how you were able to reuse leftover fabric into making cute fun dresses. For example, you know how you made a little leopard print A-line t-shirt dress? Well, I’ve decided to include a photo of myself wearing a Nasty Gal dress from an Abercrombie store visit on the left versus me wearing your Mars dress on the right. Though both styles were different, the poly/rayon blend fabric had the same thickness and identical print. Similarities aside, you did the right thing by reusing leftovers from the factories.

Apart from the deadstock fabric, I’ve had positive experiences wearing your Tencel and viscose fabrics. The former, which I previously wore in the form of a backless bodysuit, helped me to survive two very hot summers.

This was me wearing the black version of the backless Jessa bodysuit from Reformation with Bebe Rexha at the Vans Warped Tour in 2015

Your viscose fabrics, which ranged from a classic black dress, sweet off-the-shoulder polkadot dress and a pair of funky checked flared pants has helped me stay cool during hot weather and simultaneously create iconic style moments. Not only was I able to wear them again repeatedly over the years, I felt that those two dresses performed the best as I found unlimited styling options.

This was me wearing the Leaf flared pants in Southern France in 2015

Even though I supported your mission in using eco-friendly fabrics, there were moments when the quality of the garment has not performed well over the years.

This was in 2017 when missing fibers were starting to happen || Photo by Hallie Geller

Exhibit A: The blue faux fur coat. Do you remember how you wanted to refrain from using real fur into your products? Well, as someone who owns vintage fur products, I was thinking of trying out the pastel faux fur trend and you were the top brand on my list. I made my score at the Melrose boutique in 2014 and I didn’t regret my purchase at that time. Your coat kept me warm from the LA winter. It was easy to clean, too. Three years later, the fibers started shedding faster than a dog losing its fur. At that point, my mom pointed out to me that something was wrong with your quality, which brought me to sell it on eBay. In spite of my sadness, I had nothing but happy memories.

This was in 2015. See how opaque it was?

Exhibit B: The glitter striped tee. Your expertise was on making everyday basics with a sustainable angle. At the same Melrose boutique in 2015, I walked out of your store with a bluish purple with silver striped glitter boyfriend tee. I bought it because not only did it make me feel comfortable, it reminded me of this vintage Angelina Jolie photo. When I first wore it, the fabric was evenly covered. But over the years, it started having a burnout effect, which I did not anticipate. It was then I realized that your fabric started to lose its quality. Though it’s sitting in my closet now, it breaks my heart to think about how it aged horribly.

Five years later, same shirt, but semi-sheer.

While the clothing quality isn’t the most major offense that you’ve committed, I’ve been beginning to reflect that you, as a brand, have been misleading a customer like me for years with a glimmer of false hope when it came to how you wanted to dress bustier bodies.

Whenever I shopped at your boutique in Melrose between 2014 to 2016, I remembered that the space was expansive and filled with great lighting. The dressing rooms had enough space for me to put down my bags. I loved that you had mirrors that made me look like I was a movie star. But the issue that I had was that a 5’2″ and a half big breasted woman like myself could only walk out with one garment inside a black REFORMATION tote as most of the dresses and tops you offered were either too big (at the waist and shoulders), too small (for my perky 32 DD boobs) or too long (to the point where it blanketed my feet or stopped awkwardly at the widest point of my ankles). With exorbitantly high prices slapped on your tags for the items that fit me well, I was sometimes reluctant to buy it.

Conversely, I happily spent my money on a dress when you dropped the “I’m Up Here” collection. When I first saw it six years ago, I was like, “Finally! A collection where I can have the opportunity to buy more Ref pieces!”. However, the reality of it pained me.

First things first, most of your styles from that drop were *not* bra-friendly. How can a person like me, who constantly needs a bra, wear a crop top that doesn’t look bra-supportive?

Courtesy of Reformation

Ditto with having to think of spending more money to find a decent bra to match with these kinds of dresses, which I didn’t buy because of how useless my regular bra would be.

Courtesy of Reformation

Even when I did wear a bra with the black square necked Cobra dress from your collection, the straps of my bra still showed up (see below).

This was me at 21, the age when I was at the height of my Reformation obsession

Drea, a former Reformation manager, said that the “I’m Up Here” campaign disappointed more people than anticipated.

And also, did you think that any of the fresh out of school designers whom you hired at that time had a good understanding of what it’s like to have to wear a normal size 32DD bra that has thicker straps at the back every single damn day? It seems like they didn’t when you released the dresses, which implied that I either had to wear a strapless bra, a bra with super thin straps and a low armhole or go for a non-supportive silicone backless bra.

I was hoping that you’d improve, but it still seemed like I had to ditch my bra when you released the lace-up top and this tie-front dress when you dropped a new collection for us big breasted ladies in 2015. Great marketing aside, I wish that you could have been more inclusive to show that your “full cup” garments could cover sizes bigger than DD and/or hire a busty and petite model.

Apart from marketing, the one thing where you truly needed to improve was your customer service at the brick and mortar stores. When I shopped at your boutique in Melrose, I remembered that you had two to three sales women. Though there were quite a number of girls at the store, I was barely given any service most of the times I went there. I had to grab two to five pieces of clothes off the rack myself, walk to the dressing room, then call someone over if I needed another size. Either you were understaffed or didn’t train your sales ladies enough to let the service be that bad. The bad service was appalling and I’m sure that I ain’t the only one as there were a couple of similar reviews on Yelp. Ditto with SZA, who is just as powerful as your other VIP clients.

Courtesy of Diet Prada

Though you had the potential to build a rapport among customers IRL as you do on the URL, it’s extremely disappointing when your employees on the sales floor mistreat us. In spite of that, I’ve had better interactions at your Soho store in NYC as the staff was more helpful when it came to assisting me.

Before I finish, your mission was originally founded on the fact that the fashion industry’s pollution made you cry, Yael. Like you Ms. Aflalo, I also felt the same, too. When you expanded your store abroad, I respected your ambition and mission because I agreed that you wanted to bring sustainable fashion to everyone. However, your goal to become the next Zara has strayed you away from being sustainable when the amount of deadstock fabric you used to frequent went to 10 to 20 percent as of 2019, a far cry from 50 percent in 2014. Viscose, a fabric you frequently use, ironically isn’t the most sustainable as the chemical inside it has been linked to serious medical issues (e.g. stroke). Carbon disulphide, a chemical that’s used to treat the wood pulp in viscose, has been linked to birth defects to cancer. That basically ties into outsourcing, which you’ve openly mentioned on your website, as most of the viscose factories are located in Asia, specifically India, Indonesia and China (as reported by The Guardian). Given that you had employees type the “sustainably made in China” line in one of your listings for a top (for instance), how is it sustainably made when the manufacturing process for viscose has been linked to horrific pollution in China, where the loss of aquatic life took place in Poyang Lake? Although I don’t know which factories you work with outside of your Instafamous factory in LA, it deeply saddens me that the sin of your greed for profit and quick sales has polluted your morals.

While your Instafamous factory has been the star of tours, Durbyn Galindo, a student of Los Angeles Trade Technical College, commented below on Diet Prada’s post about the vagueness of your answers.

Although I am glad that you openly disclose where you outsource now, my question is why would you want to work with vendors whom you’ve mentioned on your website with moderate/minor issues to safety/health/labor violations?

Frankly, I haven’t shopped at your boutique and online store for three years due to the aforementioned flaws. I was hoping that someday, I’d be able to return to you, but I can’t. Now that you’ve destroyed your reputation, I don’t think I will never, ever, ever, ever get back together with you unless you are willing to sincerely repent.

Yael, you as a leader have the power to change and you (alongside your team) can always count on us to do better because we, the customer, are trying to hold you accountable out of love. While releasing a poorly worded self-contradictory apology and setting your Instagram to private probably isn’t the best solution to run away from this scandal, you can pull up through action without needing to use social media to validate yourself. The same applies to your senior management, presidents, etc. whom you’ve chosen to lead with you. Unlearning isn’t easy. Though I am no influencer or celebrity, I hope that my voice will enlighten you to do better.


A Former #RefBabe

27 Things I’ve Learned As I turn 27

The first quarter of 2020 felt like whirlwind and as we’re all entering in the last month of the second quarter, I also realize that at this point, I’m about to enter another year around the sun at 27. While it’s the most dreaded number of your twenties thanks to the 27 Club, I have to accept that this is the reality that I’m about to walk in. Not only do I feel that this is where I have to face crucial decisions in my life due to the return of Saturn, I am at a point where I have never felt more comforted with working on building my sense of self worth and bettering myself.

Inspired by Taylor Swift’s “30 Things” for Elle, here are the top 27 things I’ve learned:

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Real Girls Talk: Sustainable Organization With Beauty Pantry

Staying in has never felt sexier. As someone who loves to go out, the mere thought of having to lock myself at home scared the hell out of me when I first found out about the circuit breaker on April 7th. However, I’ve came to accept that after all, having to stay at home means making the most out of things I never really paid much attention to such as organizing. Given that frequent sales – especially on beauty products – are happening so often, it means having to struggle with organization, which is a weak point for myself.

I decided to get in touch with the girl bosses behind Beauty Pantry, Kimberly Ong, a digital writer, and Sarah Bennett, a design engineer. Ong and I were previously co-interns at Harper’s BAZAAR Singapore two years ago. Since we bonded over our love of being green and beauty products, I have seen her passions blossom into an educational Instagram account/shop, Beauty Pantry, which used to be Beauty Uncovered. While Beauty Uncovered schooled us on the effects of consuming mica to harmful ingredients like SLS, Beauty Pantry is a marketplace where you can shop for unused to lightly used beauty products.

Though sustainable consumption and education are still a priority for the BP team, I decided to check in with Ong and Bennett to talk about organizing beauty products, what clean beauty products to start with, which ingredients to stay away from and solutions to fixing face mask acne.

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Unlearning Toxic Femininity

Being stuck at home sounds like the worst thing to ever happen to anyone who’s been living in the developed world and the thought of going stir crazy is always just a minute away. However, the silver lining of being in quarantine – whether you’re alone or with family members – is being able to have some alone time and reflect when when you truly need to disconnect from your phone, laptop and TV.

Though staying connected is an important aspect for me, I’ve been chipping out my time to binge watch dating reality TV shows on Netflix, namely Love Is Blind and Too Hot To Handle. As someone who is all about wellness, compassion, speaking up and creating a new space for us (via this blog) to share about having to battle gendered issues, I realized that there is SO much about myself I needed to unlearn.

Since young, I was conditioned (via movies and TV shows) to subscribe to this image of a girl who needs to change herself for a man. On top of movies and TV shows, the fashion magazines that I admired growing up always told me to dress for a guy. Not only was I conditioned to change my personality and dress sense for a guy, I was being advised to act too hard to get if I had to date a crush. From peers to adults, that was the most useless advice I was ever given because trying to play that part ultimately failed me in landing proper dates outside of the Bumble, Hinge and Tinder convo.

However, the flip side was actually trying to control the guy. In this case, it meant either playing with his feelings (either if you’re dating or played hard to get to pretend to be interested in him) or trying to change him. Thankfully, I am not like that as I believe in honesty and value one’s right to exercise their freedom; however, I saw this get revealed in Too Hot To Handle when one of the girls admitted to being called “controlling” all because she wanted to change the guy. Sadly, this behavior was and still is all too common, especially when I’ve heard it from male friends who told me that the girls they dealt with were like this.

Though the trend of ending toxic masculinity has been spreading like wildfire on social media (which I am very happy for), I feel that toxic femininity has been underrepresented on social media. Inspired by David Birtwistle’s TikTok video on “How To Get The Girl”, I decided to play my own spin on “How To Get The Guy”.

Looking at this now, I’m nearly approaching my Saturn Return, which makes me become more reflective into taking account of what I can do to change myself and unlearn dangerous patterns of toxic femininity before I can date again. Since this is still a process of discovery for me, I have not yet fully figured out what I can do to unlearn as approaching 27 in a month still sounds scary. Relearning healthier dating habits are things I have yet to fully acquire, but I hope that this 15 second video and post can be an inspiration for you to learn how you can be better humans once you return to the post-corona dating world.

@thekimbino: How A Teacher Became Fashion’s Most Unlikeliest Insider To All Things Kardashian

Every fashion insider has something to back up their cred whether it’s a stylist, makeup artist, hairstylist, photographer, designer or anyone who’s worked on sets at photoshoots. With access to the world’s biggest superstars, it’s no doubt that they know all the piping hot tea. However, Kim of @thekimbino, is an unexpected fashion insider ready to take the industry by storm.

A primary school teacher by day, the 24-year-old Perth-based fashionista is a fashion insider by night. With almost 50K followers on Instagram, @thekimbino has built a steady following for her razor-sharp eagle eyed observations on celebrity fashion moments, engaging commentary on the latest state of fashion, and of course, all things Kim KW.

We go all the way back in 2017 when she discovered my account and from here, we’ve been keeping an eye on each other’s feed! Given that her account has been growing a lot, I decided that it was finally time to give her the interview of her dreams and decode the mystery behind the feed.

We catch up over this decade’s best/worst trends, the influence of the Kardashians on the fashion industry, the comeback of Y2K fashions, the current state of celebrity fashion and what it’s like to DM the world’s most famous reality TV icon.

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Real Girls Talk: A Girl’s Guide To KonMari’ing Your Toxic Friends

Sparking joy sounds like the biggest cliché you heard in 2019, but it has a ring of truth in it. No matter how sad or happy you feel, nothing makes your heart warm up more than a friend who is there for you at your best and worst moments. When time reveals that the friend you counted on is like a low quality Zara dress, is it time to toss the friendship in the donations box?

As someone who’s struggled with friendships all my life, it hurts to think about the new friend whose behavior often makes me question the friendship. Although I mainly like to blog about fashion, beauty, travel and get real with your Man Crush Mondays, I’ve been beginning to realize that as much as you look up to me as your resident kween, I am just a girl who deals with everyday struggles like you.

Given that I never had an easy time making friends at school, I always felt that having to keep around friends was a personal challenge for me as I had to break up with some whose actions broke my heart.

Even though we have times when we almost contemplate about ending a friendship, the simple principle on who to keep in your life goes on like this:

Despite this fuss-free KonMari method, there’s no “perfect” friend as we often make mistakes and fix them in a friendship. If you feel that you are having a hard time deciding on keeping a friendship or unable to define the types of red flags your friend’s been sending, here’s a lil’ guide on the types of behaviors you need to steer clear of:

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