Designed to dress kids in Singapore

Designed to dress kids in Singapore
Ms Joanne Sim (left) buys her daughter, Sophie, 21/2, outfits from home-grown children's fashion brands as she finds their designs "whimsical and unique".
PHOTO: The Straits Times

Home-grown childrenswear labels find fans in parents who appreciate their whimsical patterns, breathable fabrics and less mainstream designs

A peek into 21/2-year-old Sophie Lim's wardrobe will show that most of her clothes are made by Singapore designers.

Her mother, Ms Joanne Sim, 39, often buys her daughter outfits from such brands as she thinks them "whimsical and unique".

The corporate communications manager, who reckons 70 per cent of Sophie's wardrobe is locally sourced, says the fabrics some of these brands use - pure cotton, for instance - are more suitable for Singapore's warm weather.

"Many of these local labels create their own prints and unique designs like quirky prints of vegetables or pretzels. It's something different from the mass-market Disney cartoons or Minions," says the mother of one, who is married to a portfolio manager at a bank.

"Sophie is an active child who loves running around, so I find the soft breathable fabric that many local brands use more comfortable for her. Since many of these designers are Singaporean mothers themselves, they're more likely to know what suits shoppers here."

Parents such as Ms Sim are fuelling the growth of local childrenswear brands here.

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At least six home-grown labels for young ones have launched since the start of last year, going by checks by The Straits Times.

The newbies include Sea Apple, which makes clothes for children up to six years old, with original prints; Leia + Lauren, known for robust and fun styles; and Elizabeth Little, which uses popular fabric brand Liberty Art Fabrics from Britain.

Girls' clothing brand Voon & Daughters; boys' clothing label Boys By Mark; and unisex childrenswear label Mummyfique also entered the fashion scene here last year.

Older Singapore childrenswear brands - such as Elly, Chubby Chubby and BaeBeeBoo - have seen sales surge.

Elly co-founder and designer Audrey Ng, 38, says sales for the seven-year-old brand, which has a store in Cluny Court, doubled in the past year.

"We also see more Singaporeans shopping at our store now. They make up the majority of our customers now, not expatriates, which was the case in the past," she says.

About 70 per cent of its customers are Singaporean, up from about 50 per cent three years ago, she adds.

Sea Apple founder Ho Su Mei (above) says more shoppers here are starting to appreciate made-in-Singapore brands for their original designs. Photo: The Straits Times

Chubby Chubby founder and designer Nix Deng, 29, says sales at the four-year-old brand has doubled last year compared with 2015. She puts the increase down to the brand's "fun and modern yet nostalgic and cutesy style".

The label, which operates online and is sold at stores including Mothercare in Paragon and Naiise @ Central, puts a local spin on its designs. For its Chinese New Year collection this year, it sold a cheongsam with pastel geometric patterns and a bag with a small five-stone piece tied to the front - evoking memories of the kampung game.

Clothes from Chubby Chubby range from $45.90 for a Mandarin- collar shirt to $62.90 for a cheongsam.

Ms Ana Abdat, founder of reversible clothing label Maison Q, says sales for her two-year-old brand have more than doubled in the past year. Prices range from $55 for a reversible babydoll dress to $52 for a pair of reversible shorts.

Local kidswear brands are one up against fast-fashion labels, says Ms Abdat, because designers like her choose fabrics which suit the Singapore weather.

They also fill the price gap between expensive high-fashion kidswear labels and affordable but mass-market brands.

The mother of two says: "I think more home-grown brands are getting recognised for quality design and production. With this growing awareness, Singaporeans are more willing to give their support. Local doesn't mean not good anymore."

Sea Apple founder Ho Su Mei, 34, agrees that more shoppers here are starting to appreciate home-grown talent. "I think people like that local designers are expressing themselves more with their brands. They like that made-in-Singapore brands have original designs that are modern, beautiful and unexpected," she says.

Read also: Singapore group knits 2,500 pieces of winter wear for underprivileged children in Thailand

Retail experts concur.

Ms Regina Yeo, adjunct senior lecturer of marketing at the National University of Singapore's Business School, says that in the past, the impression local shoppers had of home-grown brands was that they "lacked standard and style".

"This mindset has changed. Now, home-grown labels understand their customers better and work hard to meet shoppers' expectations. The design, quality and construction of clothes have improved," Ms Yeo says, adding that Singapore designers now push out products that are equal to, if not better than, many global clothing brands.

The trend, she says, is here to stay.

She describes a chicken-and-egg scenario: "As Singaporeans become more accepting of locally designed children's clothes, we will also see more local designers opening shops here."

Dr Seshan Ramaswami, associate professor of marketing education at the Singapore Management University, says the surge of interest in local brands was also impacted by the SG50 celebrations.

The jubilee festivities, which brought forth nostalgic memories, drew attention to made-in-Singapore products. This, says Prof Ramaswami, sparked a renewed interest in Singapore heritage.

Nonetheless, Mr Samuel Tan, course manager of the diploma in retail management at the Temasek Polytechnic School of Business, says that to be successful, retailers must "continue to review brand relevance to local shoppers in terms of design details, fabric and material used, as well as pricing".

Lawyer Jasmine Chew, 35, whose son's wardrobe is half-filled with clothes from Elly, says her son, Sean, 21/2, loves the brand's bright prints.

Read also: Bloom time for kids' fashion

"Mass-market brands like H&M and Uniqlo have more kids clothes that mirror adult fashion. But Elly has fun and colourful patterns that Sean prefers," she adds.

Ms Chew, who is married to a lawyer and gave birth to a girl on Tuesday, says the relationship that has formed between her and Elly's founders contributes to her fondness for the brand.

"Even before my son was born, I bought clothes from this brand as gifts for friends. I came to know the owners and we are like friends now."

She also likes that Elly is a home- grown label.

"It's a story that everybody wants to believe in. That Singapore brands can make it too. There's definitely a bit of local pride involved."

Quirky prints in comfortable cotton

When Ms Audrey Ng, 38, co-founder of local label Elly, was living in Britain, one of her side jobs was to buy childrenswear and bring it back to Singapore for her newborn niece.

The former lawyer also sourced interesting fabric - with prints of objects such as scooters, birds and fruit - to send to a tailor in China to make simple A-line dresses for her niece.

Ms Ng says her sister Carol, 40, also a former lawyer, often sent her shopping lists of specific brands of clothing she wanted for her baby. Many of these brands were available only in Britain.

Back then, about seven years ago, the prices of these items, she says, were up to 30 per cent cheaper compared with items of similar quality sold here.

"There was less variety for children's clothes here at the time. People just went to Mothercare and there were very few brands that were just for young children," she recalls.

Sisters Carol (far left) and Audrey Ng, founders of children's label Elly, at their store in Cluny Court. With them are Carol's daughters Sophie, seven, and Emelie, three. Photo: The Straits Times

The lack of variety in the kids' department here was what prompted the sisters to launch Elly in 2010. They quit their professions and pooled together about $12,000 from their savings to set up the brand, which is named after Ms Ng's favourite soft toy - a pink elephant.

The label started with just four styles for girls. It now has more than 20 designs for girls and boys.

Both sisters design the pieces and the clothes are made in Indonesia, China and Vietnam in factories that they sourced for themselves.

As to what inspire their designs, Ms Ng says: "I believe children should still dress like children. We like prints that are not mainstream. They should remind us of childhood."

The garments are mostly made of 100 per cent cotton. The duo source the fabrics - from China, South Korea and the United States - themselves and also design their own prints.

On the career change, Ms Ng says: "Our relatives thought we were mad to start our own business. But there's never a good time to quit a stable job and start something of your own."

The sisters gave themselves two years to see if Elly would work. In that time, they broke even and started turning a profit.

Since then, the business, which started out online, has grown.

Read also: You can now buy clothes from our pictures in AsiaOne

A 300 sq ft physical store opened in Cluny Court in 2012. This expanded to 650 sq ft in 2015.

Apart from clothing, it also stocks toys and children's shoes from countries including the US, Australia, New Zealand and France.

Sales has doubled in the past year and in October, the label expanded its range from clothing for children up to seven years old to outfits for kids up to 12.

They get more than 100 customers a week, mostly Singaporean families who love their whimsical patterns, which have included prints of pandas eating ice cream, traditional paper umbrellas and Singapore's landmark dragon playground, popular in housing estates in the 1980s.

Ms Ng, who is married with no children, says: "The ones who shop with us often, they'll regularly ask about upcoming designs and consult us on what cuts and sizes will suit their kids. And because we get to know them, after a while, we can also suggest prints that suit their taste."

Ms Carol Ng, who is married to a lawyer, has two daughters, Sophie, seven, and Emelie, three. The two girls often model for the brand's online store.

Prices range from $32 for a baby onesie with a ginkgo leaf detail to $69 for a tiered cream dress with gold trim.

Going forward, Ms Audrey Ng says she hopes to expand the variety of clothes for tweens.

"It's exciting to be able to design for slightly older children," she says.

"The journey getting here has been 10 times harder than we had imagined, but it has taught me a lot and I like being able to decide what my future will be. It has been worth it."

The Elly Store is at 02-31 Cluny Court, 501 Bukit Timah Road; tel: 6466-8718; open: 10am to 7pm (Mondays to Saturdays) and 10am to 6pm (Sundays and public holidays).

This article was first published on Apr 06, 2017.
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