The Siren Basics Sisters Are No Strangers To The Perils Of Family Business
Clara and Brenda Liang, the sisters behind Siren Basics, talk working together, building worlds, and embracing the panopticon.
There is a special kind of magic — maybe it’s electricity that flows invisibly — between some sisters. I say this as a sister. My sister and I are very different, but we still have that unspoken bond. We finish each other’s sentences (it’s a little freaky sometimes), read each other’s minds, and sometimes speak in unintelligible code.
Sisters and co-founders Brenda and Clara Liang have that buzzy kinship. When I get on the Zoom call with them, they are calling in from different cities – different countries technically (Clara is up north in Canada), but it has not been long since they last spoke. In very Gen Z fashion, they introduce themselves to me by sharing their astrology signs. Brenda, the older sister, is a Taurus, and Clara, the younger one, a Pisces. Together, they form the cool-girl underwear brand Siren Basics.
Siren Basics began to develop back when Brenda was a freshman at NYU and Clara was still in high school. Now, Brenda has graduated, and Clara is in her second year at McGill University in Montreal. Siren Basics began from a straightforward quest of Brenda’s: she needed new underwear. She was looking for a style that held up to the aesthetic of the glossy Instagram ads we all get for luxury lingerie but found that most of it was at an inaccessible price point, costing at times upwards of $50 a pair.
Now, a few years into their venture, the Liang sisters have found their groove in the business, each carving out a role, though they are always collaborating. Their underwear is meshy and colorful and falls somewhere at the intersection of girly and punk. Clara, who is a self-proclaimed numbers lover, runs the production side of Siren, which entails working with distribution as well as customer service and sizing. The creative direction originates mostly from Brenda, though they both describe each other as inherently creative individuals.
The sisters spoke about what it is like to have business be a family affair, explain “Tube girl” philosophy to me, and discuss what aesthetics are hot to them right now.
Alex: Could you start by talking a little bit about the origin story of Siren Basics?
Clara: So, the idea really started with Brenda. It's actually funny, I remember her calling us and I was at the dinner table with my family and Brenda just said, “I want to start an underwear brand.” I think a big reason that both of us really continued with this and the reason that I also joined in on this was that during this time we really wanted to find underwear that had the aesthetic quality that we wanted and was also accessible to most people. So we wanted to create this product that had a bespoke luxury feel and at a relatively accessible price point.
Alex: You said that you first went to your family with this idea. As a family are you often bouncing ideas off each other?
Brenda: Oh, yeah. Our parents are immigrants and our dad actually started a company when he first moved here, and that was a grueling process as it usually is. And so, I always looked to our parents as people who had kind of been through that, and understood the art of business, and just the steps that it would take. I always felt quite safe working with my family and I knew that they would always support me, support Clara, support the both of us in whatever we really wanted to pursue. I think we're really lucky to be able to say that. I think because our parents had that first-hand experience, especially as immigrants, they could walk us through not only the physical steps, but also the emotional and mental toll that it can sometimes take.
Alex: Where did the name come from?
Brenda: Well, we're Chinese, and in Mandarin, the pinyin, which is technically the spelling of something's pronunciation, is siren (sīrən), which translates to privacy. And we really toyed with the idea of privacy, especially in undergarments and in a digital world where, as a young woman on social media, there's this panoptic feel. The idea of privacy played a big part in how underwear was often seen as taboo or stigmatized, especially in our older generations, and especially coming from our heritage. And we wanted to play with the idea, like, is it something to be private? Is it not? But we took that word, siren, which I think now it's kind of relevant because people are talking about, like, “Oh, she's a siren,” kind of this Odysseus-like concept. We put basics at the end of it because we knew ultimately we wanted to build out into a full range collection of pajamas, loungewear, and things that are basics in your everyday wardrobe.
Alex: On that note of building out Siren, do you have a more long-term vision for the brand?
Clara: I would say for long-term goals, I really am just excited to see how it grows with me and Brenda because I think a lot of this brand was our personal aesthetics and personal interests, and obviously, that changed from when we were 16, 18, all the way until now.
Brenda: When we first started, as Clara said, we were pouring a lot of our personal aesthetic into it. And while I still think that we'll always be there, 'cause we really only wanna make and create a whole world that we wanna be a part of, yeah, we kind of realize the importance of having Siren exist as its own entity rather than one that's made up. We want it to hold its own universe. A lot of that will be manifested through tighter creative direction, brand direction, a stronger website, and more of a full-range collection. I've personally wanted forever to build out a digital world, a digital universe.
Alex: Can you explain what you mean by a digital universe?
Brenda: Yeah. Brands nowadays have to have, for the most part, a digital presence, whether it's on social media, your website, or whatever. Basically, all of our customers and our entire audience has been built through word of mouth or through seeing something on Instagram. So we see ourselves as a very digitally native brand. We've never had a main storefront or anything like that. So that interface is the first thing people see, and it lives on a digital screen. It's really interesting. This is so random, but I just saw someone talk about the “Tube Girl” effect and how these digital spaces are now more valuable than physical spaces, which I think is quite an interesting concept.
Alex: I'm wondering a little bit about your creative inspirations. I ask this especially because a lot of your online campaigns are really visceral and clearly digitally inspired.
Brenda: Oh my god, I love this question. When it comes to Siren as a brand, we always were obsessed with this idea of things being really sensorial and immersive. We also grew up loving fashion and taking photos even before Siren. I would say it's really inspired by the fact that we're Gen Z girlies who grew up on the Internet and loved Bratz, Barbie, and Y2K stuff.
Clara: Another really big inspiration, at least in the past few months, was that Brenda and I went to China with our family this summer. And that was an incredible experience, not just seeing family, but it was a very creative trip. We got a lot of exposure to unique styles, unique color sets, and a very different, more playful style than what we're used to here.
Brenda: Yeah, so, yeah, that is so true. We love Chinese style. It's so different, it feels so light and futuristic. Both of us love cyberpunk. For one of our recent shoots, we shot with Ramona Dai, who's actually from Guangzhou, which is where our dad is from. She's such a genius. Her whole project focuses a lot on East Asian identities and how a lot of the times in the media, East Asian people have been seen as kind of robotic in a way – maybe because of the futurism and technology of their cities and their surroundings. She wants to show a more soft and humanized version of people who look like us.
Alex: I love that. So you are sisters in business – how do your personalities complement … or clash in a setting where you work together so closely?
Clara: Character-wise, we're very similar, but Brenda and I are very different in ways that complement each other. It feels very balanced, like yin and yang, almost. Brenda is very creative, and I think both of us are very creative, but express it in different ways.
Brenda: Yeah. I think Clara really gets me. I would describe things as non-verbal. I would just be like, “It's very [gestures randomly without speaking], you know?” And she's like, “Oh yeah, that makes sense.” Like, who else would get that?