Show of support for Asian labels

A handful of retailers here is out to prove that home-grown and Asian fashion designers can hold their own against their international counterparts.

These multi-label boutiques carry either purely Singapore and Asian brands, or a selection of such labels mixed with international ones.

Such stores include SocietyA, Revolte x SheShops, L'armoire, Keepers and W.E. Workshop Element. Trixilini, previously at Millenia Walk, will reopen at Scotts Square on Saturday, carrying a handful of home-grown labels alongside international ones.

Ms Pek Lay Peng, 31, says she set up SocietyA because "we saw a growth in Asian designers well trained in the fashion industry, but under-represented. We want to dispel the misconception that Asian designers are not of international standards".

SocietyA, which started as an e-commerce site in 2014, has a showroom in Race Course Road. It started with 13 home-grown and Asian brands. It now has 25, including Singapore womenswear label Aijek and jewellery brand Diliya B, and South Korean labels Soulpot Studio and Grace Raiment.

Jewellery designer Carolyn Kan, 43, who started design collective Keepers in 2011 and recently opened a permanent space for it at the National Design Centre, says the market is ripe for concept stores to cast the spotlight on Asian and Singapore designers.

She says: "There are more strong Asian designers to choose from and a growing pool of Singaporeans who seek home-grown brands with unique and well-made designs."

She names womenswear brand In Good Company, bag designer Ling Wu and watch brand Hypergrand as home-grown brands to watch, as they "know how to balance unique design aesthetic with commercial know-how and are focused on sustainable growth".

Ms Vivian Lim, 26, product and brand development manager of Revolte, says Revolte x SheShops gives Singapore designers a platform to showcase and sell their designs. The store is a joint venture set up last year by Singapore retail brand Revolte and SheShops, an SPH Magazines-owned fashion e-commerce site. It carries nine home-grown labels, including Revolte.

She says: "Our customers are a mix of Singaporeans and tourists, which gives the labels good exposure."

Revolte x SheShops has two outlets, at Wheelock Place and Raffles City. A third is in the works.

Designers are all for being stocked at such multi-label boutiques as it helps them save on operating costs and widens their customer reach.

Eight Slate designer Savina Chai, 22, says she previously sold mainly to customers who were "more experimental with trends" when her womenswear brand was available only at the brand's online store. But since being carried at Revolte x SheShops, she says her customers now include more "mature women aged 35 to 45 who go for pieces that are timeless and work-appropriate".

However, multi-label fashion boutiques championing Singapore and Asian designers say business can be challenging, especially in this tough retail climate.

In October last year, 5,000 sq ft multi-label store Mporium opened at Suntec City, carrying more than 35 Asian and Singapore brands such as Aijek, Amos Ananda and Q Menswear. It closed in April. Owner Jennifer Yii declines to share why it closed, but says she is moving into e-commerce.

Mr Alfie Leong, 46, founder of W.E. Workshop Element, which has branches at Suntec City and 313@Somerset, says there are times when the retailer does not turn in a profit, especially when the brands it carries do not have new stock to sell, leading to a sales dip.

He says: "It boils down to time management and decisions on production and design. If designers have no stock to sell, they might miss out on peak periods such as Chinese New Year or Christmas."

Mr Leong, like other boutique owners interviewed, declines to give sales figures.

Another challenge these retailers face is that Singaporeans are reluctant to shell out money for homegrown and Asian designers.

Ms Lim says: "Many shoppers would rather pay a high price for established international brands or pennies for fast fashion."

Founder of L'armoire, Mr Rocco Wu, in his 30s, agrees: "The majority prefer to spend money on a brand they are familiar with. Only a few would follow their heart and pay for a design that they like, regardless of the brand."

Mr Walid Zaazaa, 38, director of multi-label shop Manifesto at Capitol Piazza, feels that to win customers and compete against global brands, Singaporean and Asian designers "have to be original and retail business ready".

He says: "The only way for Asian designers to compete with international brands is to come up with original concepts and designs and not copy or follow their favourite brands. The most important factor is to not compromise on quality."

His 14-month-old store carries only one Singapore label: biro. He says the menswear brand was chosen because "it has a timeless aesthetic and its focus on quality complements the rest of our international labels".

Advocates of home-grown and Asian labels feel there is a demand from consumers who are bored with mass-market brands and want to stand out from the crowd.

Operations manager Jade Khoo, 28, is a regular patron of SocietyA. She says: "The styles carried are not commonly seen in other stores, but yet are easy to pull off. I feel unique when I wear the clothes."

Public relations freelancer Alicia Ali, 28, who shops at Keepers and lists Hypergrand and Malaysian womenswear designer Cassey Gan as her favourites, says: "Compared with mass-market brands, Singapore and Asian designers cater more to the Asian silhouette and because they produce their designs in limited quantities, I find that they are more exclusive."

Six boutiques housing Asian brands

1 SocietyA

What it carries: Modern and contemporary apparel and accessories from Singapore and Asian designers.

Shop feminine lace dresses and jewellery from home-grown designers Aijek and Amado Gudek, or more colourful and graphic separates from South Korean label LIE.

The store also carries PH5, a New York-based brand of knitwear by Chinese designer Mijia Zhang.

Prices start from $39 for accessories and from $79 for apparel and shoes.

Best buys: 3D-printed gold stainless steel earrings (above), $129, from Amado Gudek; and polyester jumpsuit, $519, from South Korean label Ti:Baeg

Where: 452 Race Course Road, Level 2; open daily from 9am to 6pm, by appointment only - call 6570-0177 or e-mail to book a slot

2 W.E. Workshop Element

What it carries: Mostly apparel and accessories for women from home-grown brands such as Sabrina Goh and the store's in-house label BSYM, which was formerly known as MU Apparel.

It also carries Japanese label Nocturne #22 In C Sharp Minor , Op. Posth, as well as South Korean brand Headline Seoul.

For men, there is a selection of shirts from Singapore menswear brand Sixth Empire.

Prices range from $14 for a pair of socks to $249 for a polyester dress from home-grown brand Ying The Label.

Best buys: Pleated multi-colour dress (top), $59.90, from MU Apparel; and striped tote bag with leather handles (above), $159, from Good Feel

Where: 313@Somerset, 313 Orchard Road 02-25, open daily from 11am to 10pm, tel: 6509-1500; 438 Suntec City Tower 5, 3 Temasek Boulevard, 02-433, open daily from 11am to 9.30pm, tel: 6694 -3397; a pop-up at Wisma Atria Isetan will open next month

3 Revolte x SheShops

What it carries: Casual and slightly more dressy apparel and accessories from nine home-grown brands such as Eight Slate, Soigne and in-house label Revolte.

There is also a small selection of skincare from South Korean brand Algovital Angel and menswear from home-grown label The Authority.

Prices start at $35 for an envelope clutch from home-grown brand Pleatation to $796 for a lattice coat by Taiwanese label Nude made by Suoi.

Best buys: Sleeveless grey knit top (top), $99, from Revolte; and red camisole (above), $52, from Soigne

Where: Raffles City Shopping Centre, 252 North Bridge Road, 02-32, open daily from 11am to 10pm, tel: 6255-7762; Wheelock Place, 501 Orchard Road, 02-02, open daily from 11am to 9.30pm, tel: 6235-3307

 4 Manifesto

What it carries: Singapore menswear brand biro, which is known for its casual wear of cotton T-shirts and jeans, is stocked alongside Japanese labels such as menswear brand Omiyage, and cult European brands such as French labels Maison Kitsune and Lemaire. Luxury British eyewear label Linda Farrow and sneakers from brands such as adidas and Swear London are also stocked here.

Prices range from $65 for a pair of plastic bathing shoes from British brand F-Troupe to $2,788 for a wool-knit winter jacket from French designer Isabel Marant.

Best buys: Men's denim jacket, $519, from Japanese brand Talking About The Abstraction; and women's hibiscus print cotton shirt, $325, from Maison Kitsune

Where: Capitol Piazza, 13 Stamford Road, 02-19; open: 11am to 9pm (Sunday to Thursday) and 11am to 10pm (Friday and Saturday); tel: 9003-3418

5 Trixilini

What it carries: Womenswear from a range of international brands, such as New York-based Yumi Kim and Bali-based Uma & Leopold, and home-grown brands Aijek, Stolen and underwear brand Perk by Kate Intimates.

Prices start from $129 for a top to $549 for a dress.

Best buys: White sleeveless dress (top), $159, from Bali-based Paulina Katarina; and blue maxi dress (above), $469, from Yumi Kim

Where: Scotts Square, 6 Scotts Road, 03-08; open: 10am to 8.30pm (Monday to Saturday), 11am to 8pm (Sunday and public holiday); tel: 6338-7060; store's soft launch is on Saturday

6 L'armoire

What it carries: Cutting-edge apparel, shoes and accessories from Asian and Western designers, such as Paris-based Korean designer Moon Young Hee and American fashion designer Rick Owens. About 60 per cent of the merchandise is for men.

Prices range from $75 for a pair of cotton ankle socks from 11 by BBS, the contemporary diffusion line of Barcelona-based menswear designer Boris Bidjan Saberi, to $5,560 for a blue horse leather jacket, also by the same designer.

Best buys: Cotton vest with plastic knit overlay (top), $1,550, from Moon Young Hee; and detachable patterned jogger pants (above), $615, from South Korean label D. Gnak

Where: Raffles Hotel Shopping Arcade, 328 North Bridge Road, 02-25; open daily from noon to 8pm; tel: 6336-0357

This article was first published on Jul 14, 2016.
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