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Sunwoo x Harri
Sunwoo x HarriCourtesy of Sunwoo and Harri

APOC is the bonkers new marketplace empowering fashion’s emerging talent

The London-based web store is shaking up the industry with a series of special designer collaborations

While inflatable trousers, beaded vests, and gargantuan yeti hats may read like the paraphernalia of some kind of wackadoo children’s entertainer, they are bread and butter to the online fashion store APOC – and its founders, Ying Suen and Jules Volleberg, wouldn’t have it any other way. “Let’s just say it’s not the first time we’ve been called weird and wonderful,” Suen jokes. Despite only being 6 months old, the website, which stocks emerging designers like Kepler, Lou de Bètoly, and Rihanna’s go-to milliner Benny Andallo, has already seen “an overwhelming” two years worth of growth. 

Having given up everything to start the business last year, Volleberg and Suen’s aim was twofold: to break down barriers for young designers entering the industry, and in doing so, revolutionise the broken fashion system. “We were so fatigued,” they say. “The pace of the industry can be so unsustainable, which just perpetuates a really unhealthy culture. So we wanted to create something that completely goes against that”. What was born out of deep frustration, resulted in a total rethinking of the retail model, providing a curated marketplace, which – and this is the radical bit – puts the power in designers’ hands.

“Autonomy and agency are like the key ethos of our company,” Suen says. “We’re not interested in controlling designers, we just want to help them.” This means no seasonal drops, stringent delivery windows, or order minimums. Rather, “designers can sell what they want, when they want,” Volleberg explains. APOC is all about working with creatives on these relaxed terms, many of whom are encouraged to trade on a made-to-order basis, like RCA graduate Krystal Paniagua or the Seoul-based Sung Ju. “That will always be the case”, Suen says, “we want APOC to be a place of discovery.” 

Recently, the duo have taken the platform even further into the fantastical with a series of limited-edition collaborations between its fledgling designers. The project had originally been slated for Valentine’s Day but it’s messaging holds just as much weight today – “to foster connections between people over a year into the pandemic”. As expected, the brands were given complete free rein, resulting in a host of madcap creations.

Imagine cyber-inspired PVC trousers stacked with blow-up cylinders – the brainchild of CSM graduate Sunwoo (known for his 3D disk-like structures) – and LCF’s Harri (who went viral last year for those balloon trousers). Earrings and necklaces come frankensteined from old tinnies and ashtrays by the Dutch jeweller Caroline Ohrt and her pub-crazed collaborator Adam Jones. Meanwhile, fur-trimmed, blanched newsboy hats are also on offer courtesy of Andallo and the Parisian bleach-painter Anna Castellano.

Obviously, fashion collaborations are two a penny, but it’s rarely something we see at the beginning of a designer’s career. It was a welcome shake-up of tradition for APOC’s cohort, many of whom have spent the last year vexed by cancelled orders and flaking stockists, which just “made it clear how little power designers have,” Suen says. This initiative, which will be the first in a series of APOC collaborations, is about finding new ways to put designers in control. “We knew it was an ask,” says Suen, “so there were no expectations on orders”. Some designers have produced tens of garments, some have produced one-offs. 

Flexible financial partnerships like these have thrown a lifejacket to plenty of designers during the pandemic and word has clearly got out. The founders now field over 300 applications a month from young talents angling for a spot on their roster, a figure which far outstrips the site’s current capacity. When it comes to selecting APOC’s brands, Suen takes “an intuitive approach”, but their practice must be as ethical as possible, and their creations wholly unique. It’s led to an eclectic, though no less covetable, collection of pieces, which separates the duo’s curation from traditional retailers who, as Volleberg says, tend to “support the same rotation of designers who are getting LVMH nominations and already doing well”. Beyond industry accolades, APOC couldn’t care less about the number of followers or press clippings that a creative has garnered, and a designer can join the site at any stage of their career. 

“We don’t adhere to any of the rules,” says Suen. As such, the objective of APOC is really quite simple: “we just want to bring some excitement into the industry. It’s about trialling new ideas and piquing people’s interest. Even if it’s for our own satisfaction”. As for the future? “We’re not looking to conquer the world, we just want to respectfully and sustainably grow, supporting our designers in the best way possible.”

The collaboration series goes live on the APOC website Friday 16 April.