I Am Her: Tara Tan On Empowerment And Connection

Seeing another side of fashion

Our “I Am Her” series features the female movers and shakers of the industry to learn how femininity and power coincide beautifully and seamlessly together.

When it comes to fashion, most people tend to focus on the creative side of things that allow the artistic expression of both the designer and the wearer. True, the eye-catching creations and the trends they start are part of what breathes life into the industry, but it’s really much more than that. Behind the glitz and glam is a world of business and analytics that is equally filled with inspiring passion as much as its creative counterpart. To know more about the other side of the coin, we had a chat with XIXILI’s Chief Marketing Officer, Tara Tan, whose work gives us a glimpse of the side of fashion that’s barely given the spotlight.

Tara Tan, XIXILI's Chief Marketing Officer

A homegrown Malaysian brand, XIXILI is known to uplift women by providing innerwear that’s comfortable, functional, and fashionable for all shapes and sizes. Having a retail and e-commerce background in the cosmetics and fashion industry, Tara helps with the brand’s expansion by conveying a message of empowerment to all women. Read on and see how it really all is from the point of view of a woman working behind the scenes to create fashion that’s comfortable and inspiring.

Fill in the blank: I am a marketer and _____.

"A risk-taker and a nature lover."

What do you love most about working in fashion marketing and retail? 

"What interests me is that it’s quite an innovative industry. There are lots of disruptions and changes — the culture today is different, the way businesses are run is different, and, therefore, the way we communicate is very different. With that, you get to look into different ways of doing things, analyse systems and processes, and innovate them into new processes." 

On the business side of fashion, what's something most aren't aware of?

"It’s not as fun or trendy as it might come across as — a lot of it does come down to analytics and data. But more importantly, the marketing side is also a place where you can send an empowering message. At XIXILI, for one, we’re able to convey a message to the community, to help make the women around us claim their right to feel confident in their own skin no matter how they may choose to present or define themselves." 

What are the biggest challenges you've faced in your career?

"Having an idea is great but executing an idea is incredibly difficult. One of the biggest challenges I sometimes face is being able to properly translate my thoughts and ideas to someone else so we can execute it. In that level, communication is key, but communication is also very difficult. Working in XIXILI, communicating the brand’s message to others is also a task, given that Malaysia is a very conservative country. Aside from that, we have to consider that our local and international market is made up of people that have different languages and cultures. And speaking to women of different cultures is very difficult — different people will perceive things differently. There’s a lot of limitations on what we can do. But that actually turned out to be a great thing, because it pushed us to be creative with what we do."

In what other ways does XIXILI help encourage women empowerment? 

"Aside from our extensive size range, we also offer other products like nursing undergarments and other accessories to help women be more comfortable with their body, health, and sexuality. This year, we’ve done fashion shows and it was the first time we included plus-size and pregnant models. We also organise drives to bring awareness to breast cancer." 

Let's talk about XIXILI's fashion show featuring women of all shapes and sizes. How does it feel to work behind the scenes of such an event?

"We had that idea for a couple of years now, we thought that maybe there’d be some kind of backlash, but we thought that conveying our message was more important. Still, it was hard for us to find people who’d be keen to walk the show. In Malaysia, we don’t have a lot of plus-size models who’d be willing to walk in lingerie — actually, for some models, it was the first time they’ve ever walked the catwalk so that terrified me before the show. But it actually went great. One of the models almost tripped and the crowd cheered for her. After the show, we heard positive comments. It was incredible to be part of it. It makes me so proud of the models, of the team who executed this, and of the audience as well who received it so well and showed so much support."

Work always comes with some challenges. How do you de-stress yourself from all that? 

"I actually turn off my phone for a few days and disconnect from technology for a bit. I’m a nature person so I love scuba diving, free-diving, sailing, hiking — I always go outdoors and return to nature." 

Can you share with us a tip on how ladies can boost their confidence?

"Know your strength and also know your weaknesses. If you have this level of self-awareness, you can go through life with confidence. You will be able to execute things. Knowing what you can do and can’t do, you’d know when to ask for help. And, of course, what you wear boosts your confidence. Wear the right clothes, wear the right lingerie, and wear the right fit."

Tara Tan

What are your Clozette essentials? 

"I actually always have a pair of t-shirts and shorts in my car. Some days in the office, we have to go to the warehouse to help out, and it’s hot so I have my t-shirt and shorts. Also, at night, when we go out because we live in a tropical country, t-shirt and shorts always help."

How would you describe your style?

"A little bit comfort, a little bit casual. I always wear blocks of colours and my outfits are very practical for what I do. I’m usually in a shift dress, but if I need to move from store to store for work, I’m in jeans, so I can move around and get things done." 

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Read more empowering stories of women here.

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