More local flavour at Boutique Fairs

Boutique Fairs, the fashion, art and design-led shopping event, may have started with only expatriate vendors 15 years ago, but it has taken on a stronger local flavour in recent years.

The first edition, held in Fort Canning in 2002, had only 16 expatriate vendors.

The most recent instalment was held last month at the F1 Pit Building and featured 150 vendors - of which 40 per cent were local designers. It drew 15,000 visitors.

The fair is held twice a year - in March and November.

Its Danish founder, Mrs Charlotte Cain, 56, says: "Singapore has so much more than just Orchard Road. I've noticed more millennials pursuing their passion in areas such as art and design and making a career out of it. The design, arts and fashion scene here has grown tremendously in the past five years."

Some of her favourite Singapore designers include womenswear designer Max Tan and jewellery brands Carrie K., Saught and Nian for their simplicity and clean lines, a style Mrs Cain says she embraces because she is Scandinavian.

For the fair's next edition in March, the theme will be Singapore & Beyond and half the vendors will comprise independent Singapore labels such as luxury bag brand Ling Wu and artisanal fragrance Scent by Six. About 150 vendors are expected to take part.

The fair has been held at the F1 Pit Building for the past four years and it will be there again in March.

It will also be held in collaboration with the Textile and Fashion Federation Singapore, which will have a dedicated space on the ground floor and will be organising workshops and activities.

While Boutique Fairs is not the first and only public market here to feature local designers, vendors are encouraged to "deck out their booths" and "do their branding", says Mrs Cain.

The hands-on fair organiser does her rounds before and during the event to look at the vendors' displays so she can give feedback.

"Branding is the most important thing - it's what makes your brand," adds the married mother of two.

At Boutique Fairs, do not expect booths one would typically find at a conventionin which vendors are glued to their chairs.

Instead, the open-concept space allows vendors to put up walls with signages, drape linen tablecloths over elegant long tables or put up shelving, display racks and mannequins, to better present their clothes or accessories.

The layout resembles that of a department store, albeit with a more inviting environment minus the fluorescent lighting.

Mrs Cain declines to reveal how much she spends on organising the fair and the rental fees paid by the vendors.

Although the fair was originally intended by Mrs Cain, a ceramicist, to be a space where an artist could interact with the buyer of his work, it evolved into an avenue for the expatriate community to widen their social circle here.

She says: "Many of the vendors were expat women who had left behind their home country and careers to follow their husbands who got job postings here. They were alone in a new place and had to figure out how to settle their children into schools here as well as socialise."

Many of these women derived a sense of fulfilment and satisfaction from creating and designing their goods to sell at the fairs, adds Mrs Cain, herself an expatriate wife.

She had followed her husband Bill, who works in the relocation services sector, to Singapore in 1989 - after living for a decade in Manila where she developed her love for charity work while working at an orphanage.

Professing to have a soft spot for children, Mrs Cain says she sponsors six to seven booths at Boutique Fairs for children's charities.

Seven years ago, she and her husband started looking after foster childrenfrom Sanctuary House, a now-defunct charity that takes in abused children and babies whose mothers were unable to care for them. The charity's fostering services were taken over by Boys' Town in March this year.

Says Mrs Cain: "Singaporeans and the expat communities here are immensely privileged. A lot of expats here do not know Singapore has charities and that there are people who are not as fortunate, so I want to raise awareness of it."

The next Boutique Fairs will be held on March 10 (9am to 8pm) and 11 (10am to 8pm) at 02-01 F1 Pit Building, 1 Republic Boulevard

This article was first published on Dec 29, 2016.
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