LOCAL interior design firms looking to move into China will soon be able to count on assistance from the recently revived Society of Interior Designers Singapore (Sids) which has lined up ambitious plans to advance the industry's interests.
Back after more than a decade of dormancy, Sids is now working with design associations and design institutes in China and has set up four Singapore Design Outposts (SDOs) in Yunnan, Hangzhou, Changsha and Chongqing.
Through the SDOs, Sids aims to facilitate collaborations and partnerships via activities such as public lectures and exhibitions, and in so doing, expand the reach of Singapore interior designers into China.
Similarly, through the SDOs, its Chinese counterparts can use Singapore as a gateway and launch pad to penetrate markets in South-east Asia and beyond.
Said Keat Ong, president of Sids, who wants to make the association the bridge to the world: "We are engaging and outward-looking now to work in a more collaborative manner."
Mr Ong also wants Sids to be a platform where everyone comes together to elevate the industry and the profession with activities such as lectures and industry engagement programmes.
Other trade bodies such as the Singapore Food Manufacturers' Association and Singapore Furniture Industries Council have successfully helped members internationalise by exploring overseas markets together.
The other design industry trade body, Interior Design Confederation (Singapore) (IDCS), also has a slew of measures to take the industry forward.
At the end of 2016, it asked its 360-strong members to re-register at a higher membership rate of S$150 a year and to update their working experiences and education backgrounds.
George Budiman, president of IDCS, said: "The reason is after they had registered as members, they were not really contributing, they were not participating in events and programmes."
So far, it has gathered about 130 paid members, excluding students whose membership is free.
It also signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Renovation and Decoration Advisory Centre (Radac), during the recently concluded Singapore Design Week held from March 3 to March 12.
The MOU aims to promote professional interior design consultancy services and thus prevent public misunderstanding of interior design contractors and designers.
IDCS is also tying up with lawyers to offer services such as pro bono legal mediation services to members to resolve issues between members and clients.
These developments are a far cry from over a decade ago when the industry was fraught with rampant undercutting, intense rivalry, petty politicking and slipping standards of professionalism as it grappled with issues of accreditation.
Then, two rival trade bodies - Sids and the now-defunct Interior Design Association - had merged in 2004 to form IDCS, aimed at lifting standards in interior design in Singapore, after trying unsuccessfully to do so for at least eight years before.
There was talk of drawing up accreditation standards for the industry and a database of reputable designers for public reference, but these failed to materialise.
Fast forward to 2016 and the industry is still talking about having an accreditation scheme for Singapore interior designers.
Mr Ong, who took up the presidency of SIDS in January 2016, said an accreditation scheme is on the cards to protect and raise the profile of the profession.
He said: "We have been fighting for the longest time for ID (interior designer) to get properly recognised against the untrained. The accreditation is to differentiate the two.
"It doesn't mean we are discriminating; we want the untrained or the undertrained to move up to the professional level. It needs time to be able to develop that."
Unlike professions such as medicine, dentistry and architecture, there are currently no accreditation standards for interior designers.
"So the only way is assessment through the society. That is the last filter mechanism that we have to differentiate the trained and the untrained ones," said Mr Ong.
Currently, Sids has in excess of 150 members, with more applications yet to be assessed, said Mr Ong.
The qualifications and backgrounds of applicants will be evaluated before professional membership is awarded. Those who don't make the mark will become associate members, said Mr Ong.
Singapore is late to the game as markets such as Hong Kong, Malaysia and Philippines already have accreditation systems in place, with Taiwan having it legislated, he said.
Mr Ong said: "This a very urgent task that we want to get on track. It is one of our long term plans because these are things where we need to engage more than a party to execute and not something you can do alone."
This article was first published on March 20, 2017.
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