The Making 0f A Concept Shirt

What goes into creating a shirt that’s can be worn in more ways than one, tells a story and is super stylish to boot? Designer Shannon Lee shares how he reinvents the classic white shirt.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

What do Netflix and whisky have to do with fashion? Plenty, for Shannon Lee, founder and designer of home-grown womenswear label Shirt Number White, known for its crisp, white sculptural shirts. The 33-year-old is a proponent of letting his ideas “fester”. To design his concept shirts, Shannon not only does lots of sketching and sampling, he also makes sure there’s time for ideas to “ferment” – by binging on cooking shows while sipping on his choice drink.

Shirt Number White’s latest launch, The Chrysalis, is no exception. This time, his inspiration came from a photo series of butterfly cocoons by British lensman Adam Fuss. He says: “One image of a white cocoon caught my eye. It’s not just the crystalline appearance; I was moved by the strength needed to emerge from the cocoon and that leap to spread its wings to take flight. The idea of breaking through became the basis of the collection.”

The collection comprises a variety of structural shirts – dramatic cape silhouettes, asymmetrical hems, and unexpected cut-out details – and was released in two waves: first in all white, then with colours and patterns. “None of the shirts are basic, each has a story to tell,” Shannon says. Still, his goal is that the pieces are versatile: by keeping the cuts flattering for different body types, ensuring quality and comfort, and innovating designs. The Monarch shirt, for instance, can be worn in five ways by changing the way it’s buttoned. 

Wearability is also key because of who the label was inspired by and intended for: the everyday heroine. “I see women around me who balance their many roles the best they can: as a mum, colleague, wife, friend, daughter...” he says. “This inspired me to create pieces that work seamlessly with their lifestyles, but with a touch of fun.”

After graduating from Raffles Design Institute in 2008 with a degree in fashion design, Shannon designed for local womenswear labels Noel Caleb and Al&Alicia, before joining local menswear brand Benjamin Barker in 2012. In 2015, he left and set up Shirt Number White as a side business while lecturing at his alma mater.

With a background in both mens and womenswear, Shannon strives to weave them together in his designs. “The approach is different. With womenswear, you start with a concept. Menswear involves building the collection around core products,” he states. “Production is different too. Menswear is synonymous with tailoring, while womenswear develops new silhouettes according to trends.” In designing for Shirt Number White, he bridges both by focusing on a small product range and refining the designs.

Despite just launching its ready-to-wear line and online store in November 2019 at pop-up shopping event Boutique Fairs, the brand has already garnered a solid customer base. To cater to the demand, the brand launched a made-to-order service. Made-to-order customers are also given a free matching hygiene mask made from leftover materials.

“Our ability to adapt quickly is another aspect we are proud of,” Shannon says. “All orders are sewn by me. It’s tiring but I enjoy it.”


Shirt Number White is available at Society A (#03-14A Ngee Ann City), and online at,, and https:// From $140 for a ready-to-wear shirt. 
My Reading Room
Inspired by art, especially sculptures, Shannon’s shirt designs are sculptural in their drape, such as the Papillon (left) and Origami (below,right). Versatility is also key, like the Reversible Shell shirt (above), which can be worn in two ways.
My Reading Room
My Reading Room
“My favourite shirt is the Monarch (right, $220), my spin on the cape shirt. From a designer’s perspective, it is a novel and technical accomplishment. From a styling perspective, it can be worn five ways: from a sleek minimalist cape shirt, to maximalist ruffle-sleeved shirt, with just a change of buttoning positions.” – designer Shannon Lee
My Reading Room