Art by Eutalia de la Paz
Story by Zoe Allen
Enter the world of Siren Basics, the whimsical, wonderful and comfortable underwear brand dreamt and materialized by Brenda and Clara Liang. The sister duo launched their label only a little over a month ago after building a colorful—and clearly comfortable—identity on social media. Siren aims to create “beautiful and affordable underwear that feels as special as [they] believe undergarments should be.”
When I spoke with the Liang sisters on the phone, it was clear that they live and breathe their mission. Their sisterhood does not end with their nuclear family, it extends to those they collaborate with on Siren and those who buy their products. Their words and brand are filled with intentionality, collaboration and a desire for underwear to be an essential foundation for not only a spectacular outfit, but an optimistic outlook. Meet the sisters behind Siren, a basics brand for your good life, energy, time and spirit.
Zoe Allen: I have a lot that I want to ask, like what’s it like working as sisters and how Siren Basics came to fruition, but I want to hear about Brenda and Clara Liang first.
Brenda Liang: I’m 20, I’m a junior at NYU. I’m currently in Gallatin, which is where you can create your own major. Mine’s entrepreneurship and design theory. Just on an academic basis, I’m really interested in the relationship between humans and objects.
When I think of underwear, I really believe that it’s this foundation for your daily expression. I guess the way that Siren started is because I see objects in this way, I was looking for new underwear and I couldn’t find anything. I literally searched through all of the big mall brands, the Instagram brands, boutiques, you name it. I just couldn’t really find anything that I really liked and in hindsight I realize, okay, because personally I had a really specific idea of what I wanted, which is roughly our 02 Thong. But also, that I wanted a brand that I could truly resonate with. Underwear is an essential, it’s something that you need, it’s a basic in your wardrobe, in your life. It’s also something that needs to be replenished every now and then, so why is there no brand that speaks for this feeling that underwear should bring you and that is part of our values. That’s my perspective and the way Siren came about, because we just couldn’t find a brand that fit those needs that we felt were essential to underwear. That’s me!
Clara Liang: My name’s Clara, I’m 17 and a junior in high school. I’m not really in any classes right now in regards to college and everything, the only thing business related right now outside of Siren to prep me for this is taking a small business course. Right now I’m just trying to figure out what I want to do when I’m older and obviously Siren is going to be a huge part of that. I’m seeing where I want to go from here.
Going back to your question about what it’s like working as sisters, of course it’s hard. We’re not gonna deny that we still have our small arguments and fights, but at the end of the day I do think it has been an awesome experience because it has brought us a lot closer together, especially during COVID and Brenda being home from college. We get to spend a lot more time together and even if we do have small arguments, we really do have to separate between business and our stupid family fights. That’s definitely been really interesting in a really great way, of learning, in a sense, about how to work together and put aside our own issues with each other.
ZA: That’s a really great thing to learn. I want to hear about your product itself. What’s the actual process of making your underwear like? How is it to start something like this in the middle of a pandemic?
BL: We’ve actually been working on this for about two years now. The idea was born in 2019 and so over the past two years we’ve gone through multiple iterations of the underwear. We wanted to start Siren because we had a really specific design of roughly the 02 Thong. We just couldn’t really find anything like that. We couldn’t find that style for whatever reason, so we had this idea. It’s underwear, so you have to focus on fit, fabric, size, things like that. But it’s not like making a dress, or even close to that, where you have all of these extra details. We had the idea and I think a lot of it came down to making sure it was the best quality and picking out the color schemes. I would definitely say that the colors were really hard. For me at least, I’m incredibly fickle. It’s hard for me to pick one thing and be like “this is what we’re moving with” and not be able to fluctuate between different vibes often and evolve that way. It was really hard for me to pick colors and stick to them, especially with the first launch because that’s the first interaction between the customer and the brand.
We were in a good position, all things considered, because everything is family run. Even where we produce in the studio, we work through our cousin in China and she already does this as a job. Not underwear, but producing and textiles. It put us in a good position but I would say that COVID was definitely very hard because leading up to the beginning of the pandemic, we had thought we would launch earlier, but we genuinely were not ready. Since everything was in China and the pandemic started there, we had all of these issues. Sampling would take a really long time. I think what got us through the obstacles was just outright dealing with them, but also reshaping our perspective at approaching those problems. I would get really frustrated and be like “damn, this is so annoying.” But some things like the pandemic and the way that impacted our process was out of our control. Learning to be fluid and adaptable made it a lot easier for us.
ZA: I shouldn’t have assumed that this idea wasn’t just born out of the pandemic. It’s only been a year, which is no time at all to come up with an entire brand concept. Did COVID shift your perspective on any of the practices you were doing, or anything you wanted to see that you felt that you didn’t see in the industry? Is that part of why it took a little bit longer, or was it just not ready to launch?
CL: I would definitely say that it was more of not ready to launch in the sense that it wasn’t exactly what we wanted. I think for a very long time we kept on thinking “let’s just get it out there, nothing’s going to be perfect.” At least, that was my perspective for a while. Obviously I wanted it to be the best that it could, but then it hit a certain point where we were just going back and forth and it didn’t feel like we were making progress. Brenda and I took a step back and said, “you know what, if it takes a couple more months, it takes a couple more months” and it was honestly so worth it. I’m so glad I didn’t push to launch earlier than we did because seeing the end result was so worth everything and all the time it took.
BL: I also see the pandemic as so crucial to Siren. We literally have not left our house for an entire year. That obviously led to a shift in perspective for Siren. Before COVID, I was in London. And we were going to launch when I was in London and that didn’t really make sense. It was really hard for us to communicate and get things down and even do simple tasks. The pandemic, us being physically in the same space, that was one of our bonding moments. It just gave us the opportunity to work as we should’ve. We weren’t texting about it, it wasn’t as fragmented. It was more robust when we were together.
ZA: I love that sister dynamic. I wanted to talk to you about your campaigns; leading up to the launch, post-launch, what you’re working on now. I recognize a lot of the faces in your campaigns. How did you work with the people you began to work with for this project? How did you convince these people that they should work with you; you must’ve had such a vision that you brought to the table with so many people. How did you get these people on board before the launch?
BL: It’s actually so amazing that you ask that question because everyone that we do anything with, especially shoots and things like that, it’s all our friends. I go to school with a lot of them, a lot of the models are friends of a friend and all live in the city. We’re all in a community together, or we all go to NYU together which is honestly how I think it kind of allowed us to cultivate this more youthful community. I think when you’re young and you have so many different creative, amazing, talented people in your life, everyone’s really enthusiastic and they’re willing to help out and mess around. We’re all emerging in our own industries. I’d like to believe that Siren has created a space for people to explore what their style is, what’s their mode of working.
It seems like such a collaborative space for friends and peers who want to model, y’all who are launching a whole business, for photography portfolios. It seems overall like such a creative endeavor, it’s great that it’s a group of friends. There’s nothing better than that.
BL: It’s honestly so rewarding. For me, I think, the only way I would’ve ever wanted to go about this. It makes it feel organic, you know? I think that the people that you work with and the way that you work with people totally translates into the result.
ZA: If you’re having fun, the product is going to be a reflection of that. It’s going to make people want to have fun, too. What’s your vision for the future, where do you see this going? Are you continuously making more designs, or are you going to stick to staples for the moment? Anything you can tell me about what y’all are thinking?
CL: We actually have a lot of stuff coming soon. We’re currently working on the production of our third collection and after that we have other things planned too.
BL: I jump out of my bones just thinking about [what we have planned]. We’re planning on doing basics, literally any basics. Underwear, boxers, pajamas, a silk robe…even your classic white tee shirt or classic white tank top. Things that help build your wardrobe that you need anyway, but let’s just make it fun! Let’s make it affordable. Let’s make it a communal thing. It still blows my mind that for whatever reason, no one has felt like underwear needs to have this connection to it because it’s something that you use every day. Why can’t it be fun?
CL: It should be comfortable, but also functional and cute! That’s something that we really value. We haven’t been using a lot of lace, or gems, or anything like that; we keep the designs simple but we’re also playing around with colors and cuts, which I really love doing. I definitely agree with Brenda.
BL: The way I also see Siren Basics right now is that, the underwear at least…for me, I used to open my underwear drawer and shuffle through my underwear and be like “I’m going to wear this one when I go to the gym, or this one when I’m going to a party” and I really feel like with our underwear, anything goes. It suits the vibe.
CL: I have a separate drawer for all of my Siren underwear and everything else I’ve shoved into a different drawer.
BL: Those are period underwear (laughs).
ZA: I really need to order a pair, or a few. Expect an order from me soon. Lastly, where did the name Siren come from?
Brenda: We were brainstorming a bunch of words. We’re Chinese, so we started wondering what are words in Chinese that we feel like represent anything that has to do with underwear. At the time, we didn’t even have the whole branding story built up yet, it was just a concept. We looked it up and the word in Chinese for private is pronounced “suh-run,” and when you spell it out it’s spelled “siren.” We thought that was really interesting because in mythology, in “The Odyssey,” the sirens were beautiful, ethereal creatures, temptresses. The idea of privacy, nowadays, especially with the Internet, but also I feel like we’re in a generation where women and people are being so much more open about their sexuality. We’re open and expressive about who we are.
I don’t personally have one specific perspective on the word “private” because to me it means a lot of things. It means that underwear can be playful, it can be something that makes you feel really good and you want to show it off. Or it can be just for me and I’m going to keep it private. I think of East Asian sexuality for women and how that has been something that has been suppressed and made private and now as young, Chinese girls, we’re like “whatever you want to do, just do it.” If it’s for you and it makes you feel good, that’s the whole point. And that’s where our name comes from.