The sun, still tucked beneath the blanket of darkness, barely awoke when my alarm went off at 5 am on a Tuesday where I got ready to meet up with the sisters behind The Sisterhood Studios (TSS) at their quaint neighbourhood for a photoshoot. Sarah Gomes, founder and designer of TSS, reached out a few days earlier to see if I was interested in modelling for their upcoming Chinese New Year collection named Spring’s Kisses, a continuation from their first collection, Tea Garden. Of course, I said yes!
I was greeted with open gates and arms, the dining table already filled with assorted buns and chatter while the occasional morning crow of their pet rooster, Jimmy, woke the rest of the neighbourhood up. It was a warm welcome from my morning journey over.
The collection hung neatly in the living room. All of them were bursting with their blend of colours. Just like their makers, each piece had their unique character and charisma that can be seen through the patterns and details of the buckles and seams. The Gomes sisters took us on a wonderful trip of their notorious reversible Bianca tops and Tian wrapped skirts to their newly made Peachy mini dresses and Mei Tian set. Each gem continued to shine brighter than before, leaving me in awe (& want!).
“One of the many challenges was having to clean, unpick and take apart a whole lot of kimonos for the Peachy Mini Dresses”, shared Sarah. “Everyone in the house has also helped unpicked at least two or more kimonos and learned to appreciate its sewing technique and the skill it takes to make one. Even just to work with the material and work within the amount of fabric each kimono has.”
She then went on to arrange the blooming piles of flowers that sat in shallow buckets of water, ready to be used as our props. “People often think the hand-stitching work is split among us three sisters but it’s just me,” she said with a chuckle. Samantha Gomes, her youngest sister, came down a little later to help wherever she could. “Every face mask, embroidery detail on a Bianca halter and every embroidered button you see on the dress is hand sewn by me. So for this collection, I had to make a total of close to 200 mini embroidered buttons! It’s tedious, but I love that every dress has that extra human touch and all the more special to the wearer.”
Do you remember how (almost) every Disney movie, we would be blessed with a makeover montage? That was exactly how the morning went — finding the right clothes that best fit us, subtle, natural makeup that enhances our existing features and last but not least, accessories! There I met Sandra Gomes, Sarah’s second sister and partner of TSS, who showcased her intricate talent of making matching delicate oriental yet modern-styled earrings (P.S I got to wear the chilli ones!).
“In this collection, we included some restocks as well as some seasonal specials, which were all drafted from scratch by Sarah, & also matching accessories by me!”, Sandra chimed in. “I think what was probably one of the biggest challenges was the time constraint as well as being short on manpower.” And as I watched the scene unfold around me — Sarah ironing off minor creases off the collection, Sandra giving us a sneak peek of TSS’s mahjong inspired necklaces and earrings while we touched up our hair and makeup — it was clear that the Gomes sisters placed their heart and soul into their work no matter how difficult it was.
By 9 am, we were packing to leave to our first destination. To get us into the mood, Sarah carefully curated a Spotify playlist that best fit this year’s collection while our photographer, Zachary Vong or just Zac, became our hype man. The eccentric mix of carefully handpicked recycled textiles modernised our usual qipao and batik clothing, making them wearable for all occasions and sure to turn heads everywhere we go - showstoppers for the upcoming Chinese New Year season.
About 10 hours (give or take) and three outfit changes later, we returned to the house. Although covered in mosquito bites, we were contented with the shots taken and memories made! As we looked through our pictures, I noticed how the Gomes sisters were the direct reflection of their products — bright, bubbly, and beautiful as they modelled their latest collection by our side.
I couldn’t help but wonder if this was what their Chinese New Year celebrations at the Gomes household were like so I asked as we all sat around the living room. “Popo is Hokkien, gong gong is Hainan. Other than nian gao and a barley ginkgo drink, she would make her style of Hokkien mee which is a little different from the one we get at most hawkers”, said Sarah. “For reunion dinner, she always makes Hainan-style steamed chicken. I guess in a way, she respects gong gong’s heritage and roots. We get the best of both worlds. When gong gong was still here, he never failed to make teh tarik every morning.”
She laughed and continued, “He would make it with steaming hot water and we all always gotta be real careful when drinking it. We would prefer to wait for it to get warm or cool down to not burn our lips but he always says “cold already not nice”. So we kinda end up burning our tongue a bit anyway.” Sandra, who stood listening, smiled at that memory and chimed in, “One of the best things about CNY is getting to sit in the car for three hours to balik kampung! This is when dad breaks out the mini-stories if we're not all asleep in the car.”
“I’m not sure why but I just like staying in popo's house where it's kind of a tight fit but the house just has that lively and warm feeling.” Like everybody else, staying cooped up in your elder’s house alongside the rest of the family just spells out comfort. “Also waking up in the morning to good food on the table! We are truly blessed with an amazing grandma who can cook anything!”
Before the internet singlehandedly took over our lives, Chinese New Year was simple and fulfilling. “When we were kids, we would fight for the broom to sweep the longkang”, they laughed. “I don’t know, I guess it had some ASMR appeal to us then.”
“We would also look forward to playing pillow fight in the dark before bed with our cousins and jump on the mattresses till we were sweaty. I mean hey, we had to make up our own games and fun back then!”
Listening to them reminisced made me miss the reunions we would have before the pandemic and wondered if we would ever return to the way things were. Before I left, I went to bid farewell to their little extended (furry) family; Pepper the golden retriever, Louie, Lily and Luna, the bunnies, Jimmy, the rooster and the hens: Angel, Dora, Olive, Corrie, Hannah, Ruth, Mag (Magdeline), Abby (Abigail) were just some to name a few (Yes, that is a lot of names. And yes, I needed to check with them if they were right).
If you missed out on the Spring’s Kisses collection, not to fret! TSS has much more in the works for us. Refusing to give me any hints, the Gomes sisters only told us to hang on tight and be ready for the ride. “We want to make sure our products are good enough to be released and users will enjoy wearing our items, rather than just produce for the sake of making a buck but one thing for sure is also expanding the size range of our clothing. Thank you so much for journeying with us so far. It has been a wild ride!”
You can find The Sisterhood Studios here: