Meet The Singaporean ‘Cultural Entrepreneur’ Launching An Online Store For Modern Fashion Rarities – Forbes
The founder of seminal streetwear stores Surrender and Ambush, and more recently, the creative force behind the Potato Head Folk group of hospitality venues, for two decades Earn Chen has been one of the leading figures on Singapore’s youth-cultural, style and entertainment scenes. Last year, Chen launched his most ambitious project yet — The Salvages, an online e-commerce platform specialising in rare designer garments and collectibles, selling a carefully curated selection of primarily second-hand products to savvy consumers globally.
The self-described “cultural entrepreneur” says that though there are plans to expand into other areas, The Salvages is focused on sought-after fashion rarities at this point in time. “We tend to stick to what we know,” Chen says, singling out “…iconic clothing from the 1980s to present, just because I grew up in that period. We have iconic pieces from Raf Simons, Helmut Lang, Jean Paul Gaultier, Comme des Garçons, Yohji Yamamoto… They were the trailblazers for the alternative style that’s the standard luxury fashion today.” Unlike other vintage fashion-focused platforms, Chen says The Salvages is all about quality, not quantity — eliminating the tyranny of choice. “We don’t have thousands of items on my site. We feature the important ones, and provide a personal service between the sellers and buyers.”
Chen takes a very hands-on approach to hunting down and procuring the items listed for sale on The Salvages — “It’s my passion,” he says, “and I get a lot of pleasure from the curation process.” He’s not only meticulous about verifying the condition and authenticity of goods, ensuring buyers get their money’s worth, but also scrupulous in paying sellers fairly. “A lot of the owners don’t know the value of what they have in their hands, they might just think they’re just some old clothes.” But the type of garments found on The Salvages, says Chen, are far from thrift-shop fare. “There is a growing demand for these archival pieces. Just like vintage Rolexes, they are in limited supply and the value goes up every time something exchanges hands.”
The inspiration for launching The Salvages, Chen says, came from a desire to see the intrinsic and cultural value of iconic designer style gain greater recognition, and for consumers to begin viewing garments not as disposable “fashion”, but investment pieces. “I hope fashion can become more sustainable, and be valued, just like classic cars or vintage furniture and watches. If designers focus on good, timeless design, their work will last decades and stand the test of time,” he says. “I was in fashion retail for more than 10 years, basically buying and selling from showrooms to customers. There were a lot of clothes that exchanged hands and I have always wondered, where did the clothes go? There were some iconic pieces that I treasured. I really wish I’d held onto them.”