Local brands pop up under one roof

Walk along Orchard Road and you will see billboards featuring international labels such as Prada and Topshop adorning the exteriors of the malls.

To find local brands, you have to navigate your way through malls.

But from today, fans of Singapore designers can find their favourite local brands or discover new ones all under one roof at a new pop-up space next to the Singapore Visitors Centre.

The 4,300 sq ft space will be home to Keepers: Singapore Designer Collective, the largest showcase yet of home-grown products by more than 50 local designers specialising in various disciplines from fashion to architecture to furniture.

Running till Feb 15 next year, the event will feature 21 resident and more than 30 guest designers who will display and sell a changing selection of work over the five months. Designers and artisans include artisanal perfumery Code Deco, letterpress studio The Gentlemen's Press and luxury bag label One.61.

Talks, workshops, exhibitions and performances will be available for visitors to learn more about the designers' creative and development processes.

Keepers was started in 2011 by the founder of jewellery label Carrie K., Carolyn Kan, as a quarterly event to connect consumers and artisans.

"It was a solution to a frequent complaint that there is no one place where you can easily find works by independent designers and artisans in Singapore," says Ms Kan, 41.

Over the past three years, she has noticed a growing interest in Singapore designers and artisan craftmanship.

"We started with 60 visitors at our first Keepers and now, we have 100 to 150," she says.

This year's pop-up is co-organised with the Textile and Fashion Federation. As Ms Kan and Ms Lynette Lee, Textile's chief executive officer, wish to raise the awareness of local designers among the public in a bigger way, they opted for a longer showcase.

This will give the public more time "to experience and understand the high level of skill required to create some of the works", Ms Kan explains.

A key event during the showcase that will coincide with the F1 Singapore Grand Prix weekend (Sept 19 to 21) is the Keepers Extended Remix, where more than 30 of the resident and guest designers will be present to share the stories behind their work.

"We see this as an opportunity to introduce a diverse range, capabilities and craftsmanship of Singapore designers and artisans to a wider group than just those who are in the know," says Ms Kan.

This is a pivotal reason why Mr Quanda Ong, founder of accessories label Gnome & Bow, is participating in the event.

"Consumers are exposed a lot to international brands and think they are the ones worth going for... but there are local brands that make quality products that are just as good or even better," says Mr Ong, a resident designer at Keepers.

His story is no different from many young entrepreneurs starting out on their own, as he faced financial struggles when he launched the brand last October.

However, the 28-year-old made use of crowdfunding platform Pozible in March and raised more than $37,000 in just five weeks, becoming the largest fashion project ever run on the Australian website.

Currently, Gnome & Bow items such as backpacks, wallets and cardholders are available in eight stockists in Singapore, though Mr Ong hopes to open his own store eventually.

For fellow resident designer Chee Sau Fen, who runs Heads of State Millinery, a big challenge for local designers here is finding space. Her hats are stocked at W Hotels The Store at Sentosa Cove.

"We need space to work and sell our products. High rentals and a lack of suitable locations where designers can be based to work, collaborate, produce, showcase and sell our products make it very challenging for us all the time," says Ms Chee, 40, who set up her business in 2011.

She will be one of the designers who will make use of one of the two studio workspaces available at the pop-up, to make her hats onsite and share her production process with the public.

"The five-month Keepers pop-up is a good start. It would be great if we could get support to find a permanent home for Keepers after this," she adds.

New kid on the block Subashini Balakrishnan, who recently released a collection of 10 saree designs to tie in with last month's National Day, will be a guest designer at Keepers.

Her debut collection, in which she created designs based on the Singapore flag, HDB neighbourhoods and the Esplanade, has drawn non-Indians such as Singaporean Chinese and tourists.

"I want to appeal to a younger crowd and nonIndians with my collection by creating sarees that are not too heavy and gaudy and can be worn not just during festive seasons but to evening functions as well," says Ms Balakrishnan, 31.

She hopes to widen her reach and appeal at Keepers - where she will hold a saree draping workshop - and rid the perception that the outfit is simply "ethnic wear".

Her collection is stocked at a boutique in Club Street and is available online.

Ms Balakrishnan also looks forward to communicating with the other designers and immersing herself in the communal spirit.

"It helps to be around like-minded designers who understand the struggles that exist but have a passion to persist. I look forward to coming together and standing proud along with the rest for local talent," she says.



Book it


Where: Orchard Green, at the junction of Cairnhill and Orchard roads

When: Opens today till Feb 15 next year, 11am to 10pm daily

Admission: Free, with some events ticketed

Info: Go to keepers.com.sg or e-mail info@keepers.com.sg

This article was first published on September 12, 2014.
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