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Designing against the trend

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Illustrator Kimberly Tan may be doing well with her brand UltraaViolets, but she does not want it to become her full-time career.

You may not know who Kimberly Tan is, but you may recognise her quirky designs under the local brand UltraaViolets.

Since 2014, the 24-year-old graphic designer has had her designs on various merchandise, including stickers and phone cases. She is best recognised for her use of bright, contrasting shades of pastels, sprayed on whimsical designs that carry a grim undertone. 

"It's like two opposites. So, in a way, it's ironic," the recent graduate from Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT) explained, "like how the name UltraaViolets combines something that is very strong [ultra] with something that is very mild [violets]."

Kimberly is intrinsically fond of contrasts in her artwork. For someone whose Instagram account features colours like bright pink and blue, we were surprised when she revealed that she used to dress in just black and grey.

 
@ultraaviolets reflects the other side of Kimberly that people rarely see.

"Back in secondary school, I've always liked dark colours, but when I see light pinks and blues, I'll secretly like them. It's more like a guilty pleasure...a secret obsession," the designer revealed.

Kimberly created an Instagram account for UltraaViolets in 2014, after graduating with a diploma in graphic design from Temasek Polytechnic. She started it to post her portfolio of illustrations.

"I had a lot of free time during my gap year, so every time I had an idea, I would just draw it and post it," she said. The thought of selling her own brand of products struck when her Instagram account caught the attention of a local art market.

"They asked me if I had any stickers or items that are lying around that I could sell. So I thought, maybe I could make all these designs into merchandise," said Kimberly, who eventually grew the collection to include apparel.

Her creations have since been sold on her website, as well as being stocked by retailers like ACTUALLY in Singapore and Major Drop in Malaysia.

 
Kimberly takes all her product shoots in her bedroom, using simple items she sources locally and online.
PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTH.SG/KYLIE KAY

The bubbly illustrator, who has a degree in Communication Design from SIT, is now working full-time as the art director at a local creative agency. On the side, she has started expanding her brand to Kuala Lumpur.

However, things were not always smooth sailing with running and marketing her own brand. In fact, there was a time Kimberly wanted to call it quits.

"There was a period, I think late last year, I thought of closing down the business part [of UltraaViolets] and just focusing on what I did before – posting my illustrations on Instagram," she confessed. 


Kimberly's latest collection, Ritual, pokes fun at the absurdity of chasing trends, and mirrors
the tension she feels as a designer - between following trends to bring more traffic to
her site, and creating original work she can resonate with.
PHOTO CREDIT: KIMBERLY TAN

Kimberly felt burned-out from juggling both the creative side and the profitability of UltraaViolets, along with her personal life.

"I just thought it's really not healthy…there's this struggle from making my hobby a business," she added. 

Thankfully, her friends encouraged her to press on. Although Kimberly is still planning to expand UltraaViolets, she is resolved that it will not become her full-time job.

"This is something that I feel excited about every day, so I don't want it to one day become something that I feel obliged to do. I want to be known for authenticity," she said.

TEASER AND BANNER CREDITS: YOUTH.SG/KYLIE KAY