Michelle Obama’s glamorous wardrobe often generates sales for the designers she wears. Case in point, at the president’s most recent State of the Union address, the first lady’s marigold Narciso Rodriguez dress sold out almost immediately.
But it’s not just Ms. Obama’s fashion choices driving public interest. Upon her visit to the White House on August 2, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s wife Ho Ching sported a funky dinosaur clutch. The item, designed by 19-year-old Seetoh Sheng Jie, also sold out in a matter of days.
The difference? While the first lady’s look was a boon for the designer and Neiman Marcus, where the dress was on sale for $628, Ho Ching’s pouch came from the Art Faculty, a platform for autistic students at the Singaporean school “Pathlight”. Student Seetoh, a dinosaur enthusiast, earns royalties from the sales of the $11 pouch along with the program.
Public figures’ fashion decisions can be wildly impactful, especially at red carpet events or political meet and greets. Singapore’s first lady’s choice to showcase a bag from the Art Faculty reflects her down-to-earth nature and philanthropic sensibility. To the school’s honor and surprise, Ho Ching took three separate bags on her trip to D.C. Seetoh, though unaware of the larger impact, was “just happy” someone liked what he made.
The Art Faculty features the work of Pathlight students and alumni, acting as a gallery, workshop, shopping venue and art cafe. Pathlight is the first autism-focused school in Singapore, offering a unique blend of traditional academic programs and life-readiness skills. Established by Singapore’s Autism Centre in 2004, the school has grown from 41 to over 1,000 students in just 12 years.
Autistic individuals often take a strong interest in niche subjects and become experts on these, developing a specialty the Art Faculty then puts on display. Seetoh, for example, knows the spelling of every dinosaurs full, paleontological name and draws each figure from memory. Other students are similarly focused on the subject matter they draw, from animals to architecture and ancient warships. Those not local to the shop can make purchases anytime online where they can also learn about each artist. Prints are available on t-shirts, bags, stationery, and more.
It all goes to show how a simple choice of bag, dress, or notebook can spread awareness. Though Michelle Obama and Ho Ching may have more influence than the everyday person, each purchase in support of special need individuals makes a difference — and a great statement, too.