A peek into Singapore’s homegrown fashion scene

SINGAPORE (The Jakarta Post/ANN) - The biggest setback experienced by Singaporean local designers was the small domestic market, preventing millions from readily adopting a style.

With a plethora of malls along Orchard Road packed with major international labels and designers, Singapore is indeed a shopper’s paradise for many Southeast Asians.

However, the island city-state’s own fashion scene is not often a familiar topic among shoppers from outside Singapore.

The Jakarta Post recently spoke with the CEO of Singaporean nonprofit Textile and Fashion Federation (TaFF), Ho Semun, about her country’s sartorial direction and its future.

“The Singapore style is very practical and very tropical. Because of the weather, our clothes are meant to be comfortable in a humid environment. It’s also very practical because, again, they are meant to be comfortable and [range from] sports-casual all the way to office wear,” Semun said of the general style adopted by many regular Singaporeans and designers.

So, a style perfect for a stroll up and down Orchard Road, then. Yet the malls there carry foreign brands, from fast fashion to luxury.

Semun explained that the biggest setback experienced by local designers was the small domestic market, preventing millions from readily adopting a style.

“There are the ones who know how to embark on e-commerce, like Love, Bonito. They are big, or rather much bigger compared to some of the others. Quite a number of them are still offline, so in terms of scaling, I think there is still some way to go to compete with international brands,” she said.

During the month-long GSS: Experience Singapore, a fashion bonanza brings in huge island-wide discounts. However, with fast fashion, clothes that are quite affordable become even cheaper, further creating competition with the local scene.

“If your product is very similar to the fast fashion where the price is half of what you are offering, there’s no reason people want to buy from you [...] Our local designers do encounter a lot of these challenges, and [this] also explains why some of our designers are still trying to find their way,” she said.

“That brings us to TaFF. We are helping them to find their unique selling point. For example, people can have sleeveless designs, but combinations with other styles take somebody with a design eye to create. When this is popular, would people with fast fashion copy what is happening?”

The answer is a definite yes, but Semun further explained that it was the DNA, the genesis and the narrative of the design that would set brands apart.

“When consumers buy your narrative, I think they tend to be more loyal to a brand. They go for your brand because you stand for something,” Semun said, noting that clothes that were merely pretty were very transient in an age where trends come and go as fast as taps on a phone screen.

Another obstacle faced by Singaporean designers is the lack of trade shows.

For comparison, in close neighbor Indonesia, fashion weeks and trade shows are becoming increasingly common to get designers’ offerings to large-scale buyers and retail consumers.

According to Semun, the lack of trade shows meant that designers actively participated in overseas expos, citing the limited buyers for the domestic market as well as exposure to the international market.

“Having said that, that doesn’t mean we will not [take part in trade shows]. We hope to become the melting pot of Asia, where we can bring in Asian designers and buyers from the West or vice versa,” she said.

To advance in the interbrand competition, Semun said that redefining fashion itself was of utmost importance. Aside from the usual suspects of apparel and accessories, the changing landscape and technology means that the definition should also change.

“There are three key areas we are focusing [on]: technology, sustainability and ASEAN arts and culture. With technology, we want to encourage taking a look at the fashion industry, whose areas can be automated or use technology to resolve certain issues.

“The second area is sustainability. Fashion is the second-most polluting industry in the world, [...] How can we raise the awareness of more sustainable consumption? How can we increase the awareness of designers using more environmentally friendly products?

“The third thing for Singaporeans is that we are hoping to see more fusions of ASEAN arts and culture,” Semun explained, adding that they were open to collaborations with Indonesian designers.

“How can we be more educated, more knowledgeable about our ASEAN heritage and culture so that our designs can be richer, so that they can be more interesting for our immediate neighbors?”

She provided an analogy using fast food giant McDonald’s, noting that every country’s branch had its own local flavor. Singapore, Semun said, was the same.

“We can be very international, but I think it is important to have heritage and culture to give the city a bit more soul. Otherwise, we’re just pure sleekness, pure modernity.

“I think that is what we hope [for] – to not be another faceless city. We also don’t want to lose some of that cultural aspect that we have to give, that uniqueness.”

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The Jakarta Post was invited by the Singapore Retailers Association (SRA) to experience the Great Singapore Sale: Experience Singapore.

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