Statistics reveal that the head, neck, chest, abdomen and genital areas are where women are attacked the most because these are the most vulnerable body parts, says House of Antara co-founder Allison Jong.
This were some of the stark facts about domestic abuse that Jong and Deborah Woong, co-founders of the fashion brand, discovered while researching for a project they were doing with Women's Aid Organisation (WAO) in conjunction with the International Day of Elimination of Violence Against Women (IDEVAW).
Jong and Woong began pouring over statistics on what domestic violence is and how it looks in Malaysia – the cultural perspectives, as well as public sentiments and narratives.
“There were so many numbers and it's so heartbreaking,” says Jong.
They also discovered that 56% of Malaysian men and women are “OK with domestic violence” (according to a survey done among Malaysians).
“These women think: ‘Oh, maybe my husband was tired so he got angry. He doesn’t mean it’. We often keep making excuses for things like this,” she says.
“We decided to look at it in a positive way and see how we can powerfully reclaim (a woman's) body parts through fashion,” says Jong, referring to the wearable art piece they designed for the collaboration.
Jong shares that when they were approached about the collaboration about a month ago, both she and Woong “saw it as an amazing opportunity to tell a powerful story about gender-based violence and also raise funds for a good cause”.
“We have women in our lives – people whom we love – who have been direct and indirect victims of domestic abuse. We feel deeply for those who are trapped. We have also long admired WAO and the work that they do. Fashion to us has always been about storytelling, so this is an opportunity for us to share what we’ve learnt in an interesting way that hopefully sparks awareness and empathy,” says Jong.
“The wearable art piece has roses on the body parts which are points or targets of abuse. It’s marked, not by wounds but instead, with beauty, growth and strength. We named it A Rosier Picture because we want a rosier life that’s better and not chained nor bound by violence, a life where a bride – even though alone – can step into her true power,” she explains.
The red and white Qipao is not just a beautiful piece of wearable art, it aims to tell a powerful story about powerful women who aren’t chained by violence, adds Woong.
“We wanted to give an empowering message through this wearable art piece that says that our body is not meant for violence or abuse even if it’s beautiful and gentle. But rather, that beauty and gentleness is precious and it should be treasured,” says Jong.
Jong says that the wearable art piece is totally hand-sewn and took her Kadazan mother, Chita Jinoleh, 120 hours to make.
“My mum told me that my aunt and my sister were very excited about this project because both of them were survivors of domestic violence. So, this is an extremely meaningful project for us as a family,” adds Jong.
The piece was showcased at Saksi Malaysia and WAO’s Strokes of Resilience: Empowerment through Art exhibition and subsequently auctioned online with 100% of the proceeds going towards WAO’s work with survivors of domestic violence. RM850 was raised through the online auction.
The fundraiser is for the non-governmental organisation's shelters as well as for their legal aid, medical assistance, crisis management programmes, transportation, food and groceries for survivors – “the kind of necessities that most of us don’t even think about on a daily basis because we’re all so privileged”, says Jong.
“But these are the necessities that WAO has to think about every single day in their work with women and children who are survivors of violence and abuse,” she adds.
Jong and Woong feel that fashion does have an important role in raising awareness on gender-based violence and promoting women’s empowerment, and they hope that their brand can contribute to this vision.
“In the right hands, fashion can be a momentous tool of empowerment. YSL launched the pantsuit trend for women at a time when it was illegal for them to wear pants on the US senate floor. Rise, an American civil rights organisation, had a fashion show in 2021 where victims reclaimed the outfits they were assaulted in, rebuking the question ‘what were you wearing?’ which is too often asked to victims of sexual assault,” says Woong.
“On a larger scale, we want A Rosier Picture to shed light on what happens in cases of domestic violence, in a dignified and impactful way that sparks conversations. Fashion is an unusual way to discuss the issue, but we hope that’s what allows people to approach it with fresh eyes and an open mind,” she says.
“Ultimately, we want this collaboration to represent the enduring qualities of hope and strength in the face of violence, while serving as a reminder that our vulnerabilities should not be exploited, but cherished and protected,” she adds.
The duo explain the installation of their wearable art piece.
“Usually, when you look at wedding pictures, there’s a nice frame with the wedding couple’s photo. But here, the bride - symbolised by the bridal mannequin - is alone and stepping out of the picture frame. It’s like she’s taking back control and doesn’t want to be part of the violence and abuse any longer,” explains Jong.
“And this is how beautiful she will look and bloom when she is taking back control of her life, and not allowing violence to be a part of it,” she adds.
The duo are also donating 25% from the general sales of their entire collection (online and offline) to WAO’s cause.
“We also work with women refugees, local artisans and women-owned businesses to financially support their independence. This collaboration with WAO is a way for us to raise awareness and funds for those in need,” concludes Woong.