Underwear has a “don’t ask, don’t tell” problem. As a culture, we’re mostly raised to be hush-hush and discreet about our unmentionables. It’s called Victoria’s “Secret” for a reason. When we’re not hiding our underthings, though, they can be hypersexualized. Objects of objectification.
Siren Basics wants to change (or at least initiate) a new conversation. The New York-based brand was founded in 2019 and creates basic staples for individuals who want their underthings to be just as stylish as the rest of their clothing.
Founders and sisters Clara and Brenda Liang lean into their Chinese heritage through their designs — and hope to inspire others to embrace whatever it is that makes them unique. Brooklyn Magazine sat down with Brenda to discuss the brand’s growth, instilling wearers with confidence, and the latest underwater-inspired collection, Siren.
Courtesy Siren Basics
What is the origin story behind Siren Basics?
Our parents are immigrants and entrepreneurs so we always grew up with this desire to make something from scratch. We are innately creative people but also love the essence of business and world-building. I ideated Siren as a freshman at college. I was looking for new underwear and just felt like everything was overembellished, boring, tacky or out of my budget. I didn’t feel that cool, spunky, and pretty underwear had to be like $30 a pair, so we made our own. I also was so lost and had crazy imposter syndrome as an undecided student, and I always wanted to start my own business. All those factors in mind catapulted a pretty impulsive decision to start a family business that would soon become Siren Basics.
“Siren” is a phonetic take on the Chinese word 私人的 “Sīrén de” which means “private.” Clara and I wanted to stay true to our Chinese heritage and culture. We loved the idea of “Siren,” because as an underwear brand, we thought it would be cool to play around with ideas of privacy. Underwear in Chinese culture is pretty taboo, and in the States, it’s either stigmatized or oversexualized and hyper-visible. Using “privacy” and “Siren” loosely, especially with sirens’ correlation to Homer’s “Odyssey” allows us to move around in that space through our products.
Sirens are strong, sexy, a little dangerous?
Ultimately, Siren funnels back to our emphasis on self-agency. We see a lot of our supporters and customers wear our undies visibly under a pair of low-rise jeans, or treating it as an accessory to their outfit. It plays with ideas of privacy because you’re not completely exposed, but it’s a conscious decision to whale-tail it. We used to wear uniforms to school so underwear was the only thing we felt like we could stylistically resonate with — having a hot pink thong really made it that much better, even if it was a private thing.
Since you two are sisters, how do you balance working together — do you have different aesthetics or visions that Siren Basics brings together?
We love working together. We are each other’s best friends, or at least Clara is mine. We definitely have different but tangential aesthetics in our personal lives, but I feel like we’re always on the same wavelength. We think differently enough that when I’m experiencing a block or she is, we can always rely on each other to not only surpass that but also use it to our advantage to make something even better. Our vision is pretty much the same though, which is to make Siren the best it can be.
You don’t fight?
Since some of our discussions, especially around design, are pretty abstract; we find ourselves communicating a lot through hand motions and sound bites, and we can understand each other perfectly. Like all siblings, we have our moments. Once we were fulfilling orders together and screaming at each other the entire time, and later everything was fine. That really embodies our work relationship as sisters, I feel.
And you hand-pick each fabric for new collections?
We work with our aunt who connected us to a manufacturer specific to undergarments, so we will source fabrics we like the feel of, but we’ll always consult the manufacturers. Always lined with 100 percent cotton.
What are some of your favorite designs?
I’d say my favorite designs are the Mesh Thong because it was the very first style, as well as the Silkies. They truly feel so luxurious and buttery — I always say they feel like freshly shaven legs in clean bedding.
This new collection is inspired by aquatic sea creatures. Why did you decide to use that source of inspiration? Tell me about the cool spot in Brooklyn that you shot in as well.
We were really inspired by bioluminescent sea creatures and their cute little faces. They reminded us of little Pokemon. Their glowing colors and jelly textures also felt very “Siren” in the sense that we always gravitated toward pastels, plus we had our Mesh Thong style down, where the edges have an adorable ruffle, so it felt super aquatic and aligned. Our friend’s uncle has a sensory deprivation tank space in Brooklyn too, so we were lucky enough to shoot the campaign in there, which just brought the overall aquatic feel together. We were all encrusted with salt, but it just added to the experience.
What do you want people to take away from wearing Siren Basics?
Honestly, whatever they want. I think a lot of underwear brands and brands in general push to get their customers to feel edgy, soft, something bound by adjectives. We want to create basics everyone can envision themselves in and maybe find one or a few pieces that resonate with their personal styles. We’ve seen our customers with totally different vibes post in our undies and their styling choices just make sense. In general, we want them to feel effortless and cool, and like their underwear lights up a power from within.