We’ve seen them all: the professional marathons, the runs that only crazy people attempt, and the gimmick runs, where people walk away with great medals and shirts that they can post pictures of on Instagram and brag about. Here in Singapore, it might seem like we already have all the runs we could ask for, yet a local garment company has decided to enter the fray with what could be the most challenging run yet — the YOLO Run.
The challenge in this run lies not in the distance or the physical effort, but the mind. Its organiser is pushing for people to take a chance and run 5km shirtless — but not topless — in the name of charity. For every shirtless runner, the YOLO Run pledges to donate a shirt to an underprivileged child from a developing country, supported by a non-profit organisation called T Foundation.
The word YOLO, an acronym for “you only live once”, might cause many netizens to cringe; the term has been overused in various Internet memes and obnoxious hashtags. But look at the company behind the run — Singapore-based garment manufacturer X-Change Republic — and you’ll see why the concept behind YOLO is very appropriate. After all, the founder of this company is Xavier Bay, a 25-year-old Singaporean man, who started the company right after he completed his A levels at age 18.
A Shirt For Every Person
“Bill Gate has this motto that says that he wants to put a desktop on every computer. My vision at the moment is to provide every person with a shirt directly or indirectly from my company.”
Xavier said this to me in a noisy café at Raffles Place. The lofty goal took me by surprise; he seemed uneasy talking about his goals and achievements even when prompted. When he shared how he started his company at the young age of 18, he spoke without any pride or egotism, like it was natural for any 18-year-old coming out of junior college to start their own company.
“I thought I wasn’t going to do too well so I just started this,” he joked.
Xavier’s parents worked in the school uniform industry, something that he attributed the beginnings of his company to. He had started helping his parents out in the company even before he took his PSLE, and when his friends needed help customising T-shirts for school, he seemed like the obvious person to ask. This landed him a role as an agent, taking in orders for customised shirts, and reaching out to distributors to fulfil the orders. And thus X-Change Republic was born.
As sole proprietor of X-Change Republic, Xavier began to grow the company while serving his two years in NS and enrolling at the National University of Singapore to study e-commerce in the School of Computing. His parents, understandably, had some reservations.
“My parents, although they were doing the uniform business, they didn’t really approve [of] what I’m doing, because I was doing this through my uni days. They’re very afraid that it would affect my uni days,” he said. But university only proved to bolster his business. Universities, after all, provide a huge market for T-shirt printing, and he was right in the middle of it.
Five years after he founded X-Change Republic, the company has since moved on from being simply an agent to become one of the largest customised T-shirt distributors in Singapore. Recently, they also acquired 50% of a T-shirt manufacturing factory in Malaysia. Xavier is currently director for two components of a value chain, so unsurprisingly, when I asked if his goal to have every person in Singapore own one of his shirts was realistic, he replied in the affirmative.
“We’re manufacturing 60-70% of all marathon shirts at the moment, for the no-brand T-shirts we’re covering 30-40%, I think it’s a reachable goal in 2-3 years time,” he said, without hesitation.
Changing The Meaning Of YOLO
When asked if the creation of his company would count as a YOLO move on his part, he laughed.
“Well, if that is YOLO, then it’s a long YOLO process,” he said. An 8-year process, in fact. But people like Xavier, who pursue their goals and trust in their own judgements while everyone else speak against them, are redefining YOLO. And he plans to do so again, through the YOLO run. The shirtless run, which began as a lingerie run, will truly push Singaporeans to the limit — especially those who are self-conscious and uncomfortable with the idea of running without a shirt on. The run will encourage people to be more comfortable in their own skins, and step out of their comfort zones for a good cause.
Interestingly enough, the people they found most uncomfortable with the idea of a shirtless run during their market survey were men.
“For me, for my team, we’re always living on this you only live once. So no matter what your mother says or what society says, you just do it. I believe in the You Only Live Once philosophy…YOLO always has this [misunderstanding of being] like parachuting or jump off the cliff, but we want to project YOLO as you live very beautifully.”
The run will also include a yoga segment: once runners have completed their run, they will be presented a finishers’ shirt as well as a yoga mat, and everyone will be able to do yoga together in the spirit of embracing themselves and their community. Women who sign up can also look forward to receiving an event sports bra in place of the usual event shirt.
Of their goal of 5,000 sign ups, they’re hoping that 20-30% of runners will do so shirtless, but as this is the first run of its kind, Xavier admits that he has no idea how it will turn out. Still, with partners like event organiser Celebrity Trainer, who also did the Meiji Run and Run For Your Life, it’s sure to be an event not to be missed.
Despite coming a long way from operating a small dealership amongst classmates to dominate the marathon-shirt printing industry, Xavier is still hesitant to call his business a success. He’s aiming for bigger things, and his foray into events is a big step out of his comfort zone. Perhaps this is a YOLO moment in itself — taking off a shirt during a run seems to pale in comparison with the risks Xavier has taken to reach this point.
You can find out more about the YOLO Run here.