Stephanie Colhag Yeo, founder of Outfyt. Photo: Outfyt
Stephanie Colhag Yeo may not have a background in fashion design, but that hasn’t stopped her from producing some of the sleekest threads through Outfyt, the activewear brand she started in 2017.
Within two years of operating the business, she bore witness to the large amounts of waste and plastics being generated and decided to do the unthinkable; she gutted her entire supply chain. What followed was a long search for ethical manufacturers and fabrics that are both sustainable and suitable for athleisure.
“I’m half Swedish and half Singaporean,” she explains when asked why she decided to go down this route. “In Swedish culture, recycling and sustainable practices play a huge role.”
But what it truly takes to run a company, is gumption, and she seems to exude oodles of it.
In fact, she believes she was born to be an entrepreneur. Her parents are both entrepreneurs themselves and dinner time conversations never steer too far from business.
These efforts have been handsomely rewarded. Today, Outfyt’s range of sports bras, leggings, shorts and tops has customers from all over the world.
They are well-loved for being minimalist, elegant and functional, promising comfort above all else. We spoke to the founder on her roots, donating to non-profits, and how she manages to circumvent mindless mass production.
What’s your story behind starting Outfyt?
A good set of activewear motivates everyone to work out. So I set out to make activewear that helps women feel confident when wearing it and working out. It was one year into operating the business. I launched the brand in 2017 and in 2018 decided to change the entire supply chain which then took a year of research and then I launched the new sustainable range 2019.
What was your background before starting Outfyt?
Ever since I was young, I always wanted to be an entrepreneur. Both my parents were entrepreneurs and our dinner table conversations were all about business. So I knew I wanted to start something of my own. I had no background in fashion design, but I love fashion.
I started Outfyt in 2017 and designed trendy printed clothes that screamed young and fun. At that time, it was a regular activewear brand. But in 2019, I revamped my brand to focus on sustainable clothing. I redesigned my collection to focus on clean and minimalistic styles.
So, why did you make that switch and why did sustainability become important to you?
I’m half Swedish and half Singaporean. In Swedish culture, recycling and sustainable practices play a huge role. As a kid, when I visited my grandparents, we would spend a lot of time making sure all the household items are recycled, we had different trash cans for every item.
Recycling and reducing were part of my upbringing, but when younger, I took it for granted. But when I started my business in 2017, I witnessed large amounts of waste being generated—far too much plastic being used in manufacturing and shipment. That bothered me, so I decided to take control of my business and what I wanted out of it.
I tapped into my Scandinavian roots, determined to develop responsibly-made clothing that are not only sustainable but also long-lasting. It took me one year to find ethical manufacturers, source sustainable fabrics, and ensure the entire supply chain was ethical. Today, I’m glad and proud to have been able to recognize my roots and convert my brand into a sustainable one.
Talk us through some of the sustainable fabrics that you use in your collection
All of our fabrics are made out of nylon waste from fishing nets recovered from the ocean and aquaculture, fabric scraps from mills as well as carpets destined for landfill. These are high end technical fabrics which we source from Italy that are made to last long, endure tough workouts and keep its shape wash after wash. The fabrics have two certifications which include Standard 100 by OEKO TEX and Global Recycled Standard(GRS). OEKO TEX is textile tested for harmful substances and GRS is a third-party certification of recycled content, social and environmental practices and chemical restrictions.
There are numerous sustainable activewear brands out there, what sets Outfyt apart?
Besides the fact that Outfyt uses certified sustainable fabrics, we design for sustainability. This means that majority of our designs are aimed to be worn in and out of the gym without looking like you are wearing activewear. This is the reason we don't use loud prints or have visible logos. I directly work with ethical manufacturers who follow fair wages and living conditions. On top of that, they are able to produce in small quantities because a sustainable brand is not only about the sustainable fabrics. Producing in small batches allows us to increase quality and eliminate excess production and waste. We try out best to look at all aspects of sustainability, even the parts that our customer does not see. We don't have single-use plastic in our supply chain and our boutique in Haji lane uses green energy.
What to you is the most challenging aspect of running a sustainable business?
The biggest challenge for me is to compete with fast fashion brands and other brands that have lower production costs. When you produce with high-quality sustainable fabrics in low quantities at factories that pay their workers a fair wage, the costs are inevitably higher.
How does Outfyt combat fast fashion?
We have developed a Second Life program where customers can trade in their Outfyt garment and get a discount on a new product. This is great for those who find that their pieces are now either too loose or too tight, or find that they now prefer a different colour or design. The trade in items are then resold in our Second Life program and the proceeds will go to Healthy Seas. Many customers have purchased our products from the Second Life program, and we are happy to see such overwhelming support.
With every purchase, you donate one percent of the profits to Healthy Seas. Tell us more about this initiative.
They are a non-profit organization that have one main mission: to clean the seas of marine litter, mainly derelict fishing nets that are responsible for the needless death of marine animals. This donation will go towards cleaning the seas, saving marine wildlife, preventing future pollution, and recycling resources. This cause is close to our heart as the rescued fishing nets are then brought into the ECONYL® regeneration system, in which they are transformed into new, high-quality yarn which we use for our collections.
Your activewear caters to only women customers, are you planning to expand your collection to other segments?
We are exploring gender-neutral designs. I currently don't focus on men's wear but I do have customers who are not women. Outfyt is non-discriminatory and we welcome all!