Simply Scintillating Cindy
It was just before two o’clock in the afternoon and I had arrived at the Lobby Lounge on the 23rd floor of Centara Grand Hotel at CentralWorld in downtown Bangkok. Gorgeous views I muttered to myself as I gazed through the huge glass windows that offer unimpeded views of the Thai capital. The weather was unusually cool; but I was not. In fact, even with the air-conditioning blasting out cold air, I was hot, my palms were sweaty and I felt slightly intimidated as I awaited the arrival of one of Thailand’s most stunning, outgoing and successful female superstars.
Having been captured by the flashes of a million of cameras, the bright lights of Hollywood and the lights of a thousand television stations – and no doubt the hearts of millions of men – I was soon put at ease as a smart-yet-casually dressed lady entered the lobby area. It was a person I had seen a thousand times on magazine covers, television commercials and now in real life. Funny thing that: meeting someone famous for the first time and then feeling like you’ve known them for years.
Sirinya Burbridge Bishop or just Cindy to all who’ve ogled her on the covers of fashion magazines, modelling assignments and on the Silver Screen – she made her international debut in the 2005 movie, The King Maker, is as the English say, ‘as cool as a cucumber’. From the very moment she took her seat, Cindy made me feel as if I was interviewing a run-of-the-mill, girl-next-door type and not some mega-star.
Born Cynthia Carmen Burbridge, Cindy also prefers to remain true to her Thai roots and retains her Thai name Sirinya. A Bangkokian by birth she is a siren by nature, a true water-babe who learned to scuba at a very early age close to the seaside town of Pattaya where she was raised.
My research pointed to the fact that it was a chance happening she took to modelling at all. She could, thanks to her scuba skills, be diving in the clear blue waters off the Cayman Islands with Jean-Michel Cousteau and his team making underwater documentaries. But life had a different scenario installed for the young Sirinya. It has been reported that an acquaintance of her father required a model that could sport his diving equipment without looking gormless and Cindy fit the bill perfectly.
As a luk-krung who was not only turning from the proverbial ugly duckling into a stunning swan, she took to the assignment like a fish to water. This amazing coincidence would lead Cindy on a path millions of other young girls dream about, but unfortunately never get the chance to fulfil.
Soon people were knocking at her door and the world was seemingly at her beg and call. She entered, and won, the Miss Thailand World Pageant in 1996, after which she entered the entertainment business on a full-time basis. Globally recognised brand names such as Chanel, Fendi, Gucci and Omega all wanted a piece of the action. But being the savvy lass she is, Cindy wanted more than to be a front for any brand, she wanted her own brand that she could drive forward.
But as with modelling, acting and so forth, building your own brand takes several steps and Cindy is well on the way to achieving her aims. Today she is the brand manager for Leluu, a brand of quality active wear from Australia designed for today’s confident and health conscious woman.
It all began from an inspirational idea while she was practicing yoga one day. She noticed that all the women in the room with her were wearing clothing that did not give them the freedom they needed to properly attain many of the complex yoga positions or were wearing ill-fitting outfits not meant for the gym.
“I have always wanted to design my own brand of yoga clothes. I’ve been doing yoga for a number of years and started to notice that most – if not all of the women – were wearing traditional international sports clothing. I knew then there was a gap in the market for a new brand of yoga and workout clothing. I, too, would buy most of my workout clothes at internationally recognised outlets.
“So I approached my friend who is in the fashion industry with the idea of a possibly doing our own line. We quickly realised that to do something of this magnitude would be quite an undertaking. My friend is a representative for a company called Track and Field, a big sportswear brand in Australia. They were about to launch a new line called Leluu, so to cut a long story short, we all met and I expressed an interest in bringing the brand into Thailand as it was very much what I was thinking of myself,” recalls Cindy of her first real venture into the cut-throat world of fashion.
“I was like ‘why reinvent the wheel’ when it was a completely new brand not only for Australia but for all markets. Having secured the rights – she is now both a brand manager and partner – to bring the fashionable clothing to Thailand, Cindy got in touch with Central Marketing Group to see if the company was interested in becoming the distributor in Thailand.
“I don’t really fit any managerial description too much, it’s all totally new. It is a learning experience for me as it is one of the first major business deals I have done on my own and it is very different from acting and modelling. I oversee quite a lot of the company; including buying and choosing the garments that will come here. So for example, I would not be bringing a parker-type coat into Thailand as that is from the Autumn-Winter collection,” she informs me.
Throwing herself head first into her new career, she continues by stating that she attends as many meetings as humanly possible, scours department stalls and other shopping areas looking for new outlets. She even presents the clothing line to executives, perhaps to give them a good idea on how they would look on a person rather than a mannequin, as well as overlooking the marketing side of the brand.
When it comes to design at Leluu, Cindy prefers to take a back seat, gain some valuable knowledge and allow the head designer to do the creative sketches. She does have some constructive input when it comes to designs as most are specifically targeted to the Thai market and thus have a lower price entry point. What’s more, most Asian ladies are of a slighter build than their Western or Australian counterparts. As a result of her working for an Aussie firm, she is obliged to do a lot of travelling to Melbourne, Australia, where all the catalogues are shot.
“Our range is for active, modern women. The Leluu brand is very young, fresh and high quality. It’s all about the active, modern woman who has a thousand and one things to do in a day. She can go from the gym to have lunch with her girlfriends and then onto a meeting or a spot of shopping. We realise that women have lots of things going on and so we cater to that.
“It is active wear and we have three different collections. The basic wear line covers basic t-shirts, shorts and track pants. Our workout line is made especially for the gym with high quality fabrications and designs. We want you to look and feel good when you are in the gym. Our final line is more fashion and lifestyle with more casual pieces that can be worn after the workout and on weekends. The three collections basically cover a whole range of choices that a woman can pick and choose the outfits she thinks best suites her for what she is doing and will be doing later in the day,” she adds, bubbling with excitement.
While being a switched on public figure, Cindy is no fool to think that she can bring similar success to Leluu in such a short space of time just from her name alone. Being a new concept, not to mention a new trend for Thais to get their heads around, there has been something of a ground-swell in gym membership. This is perhaps the foothold Leluu needs to establish itself here.
“Over the past few years, the number of gyms has mushroomed,” she points out. “While we know there is plenty of competition in the market, I think there are still opportunities for new brands like us to come in. We blend the concepts of fashion and sport, we don’t separate; it’s not just work out gear. We have a line in the brand which is specifically designed for gym work. Leluu is active wear and you can go from lots of different activities and lifestyles.”
With Thailand being a bit of a beach haven, millions of foreign ladies are snapping up the trendy clothing and thus giving Leluu free marketing in areas where they may not be able to reach themselves. But, as she quite rightly points out, the company has its hands full with Australia and Thailand. There are plans to go regional with the brand, but these are closely guarded secrets.
“I was the catalyst for all this so I feel very involved and excited. If I were doing a fashion shoot or a modelling assignment, I’d be taking my queues from other people. Here it’s me and I need to plan ahead as there are so many challenges,” she says.
Cindy’s latest challenge is to promote the already established brand Jantzen, a collection of stylish bathing suites, swimming costumes and beachwear for which she has become a celebrity designer. She’s extremely proud of all her designs from materials and patterns chosen to the final product. She takes her inspiration from things around her and does not simply put her name on a product she’s had very little association with.
“I’ve just come back from Jordan and Morocco and I found some amazing patterns and colours there. One of our collections is called Mirage, a blend of the rock colours, the sand, the sea and the desert. I took some pictures of the water there and then photo-edited them out so that I could get the right shade of blue I was looking for. In Morocco, I took my inspiration from the many types of mosaics and as such the line is called Mosaic. It’s a mixture of the vibrant colours and patterns,” she adds.
So going forward, Cindy informs me she plans to open more Leluu stores in and around the capital in addition to the outlets already in Bangkok and Phuket. While for Jantzen, she hopes to continue this relationship that obviously brings so much passion, joy and motivation for her.
And talking about passion, I decided to ask her who was her mentor?
“Oh that’s easy,” she says. “It’s my husband. He supports me, he’s my best friend and we’ve been together for years. So I can go to him when I need guidance. It’s really good to have him in my life.”