Despite brutal competition, Singapore’s fashion industry experiences a rebirth
April 20, 2012 by Terence LEE
It's a packed house at the retail launch of PARCO next NEXT's new labels on 14th April.
Globalization has dealt local fashion labels a bad hand.
It used to be that fashion designers in Singapore could fill a niche between mass market apparel from the department stores and expensive luxury brands.
David Wang, vice president of the Textile & Fashion Federation (TaFf), lived in that era. As a local fashion pioneer in the 80′s, the runway for him to maneuver was much wider. Global brands like Topshop, Uniqlo, and H&M were not around to compete for the Singaporean’s fashion ...view middle of the document...
The fashion designers are required to clock eight hours a week on the shopping floor, not so that they can become “cheap sales staff”, but because they would be able to understand customers and get better feedback.
This incubator has gotten such a strong reputation that delegations from Southeast Asia have come to learn about it. In fact, fashion designers from other countries wish they have something like this in their homelands.
But setting up PARCO next NEXT wasn’t easy. It required funding from the government, expertise from an industry body like TaFf, and also retail space from a wealthy private company like PARCO, based in Japan.
The government initially thought fashion was a sunset industry, but reassessed after reviewing the figures, says David, who is the incubator’s project advisor. They pledged funding through SPRING Singapore, a government agency that promotes enterprise.
Next came the challenging task of finding a retail partner. They considered many locations, and even approached Orchard Central, a mall along the Orchard Road belt.
“When it first opened, TaFf sent someone one to ask for space. We wanted a huge space for the incubator, but they said ‘oh, we don’t have the space for you, can you go opposite and look at Meridian?’”
“Can you imagine?” he adds animatedly, “luckily I wasn’t there, otherwise I’d slap the lady. She was just looking at the computer screen, and didn’t even look at my girl’s face, one of TaFf’s managers. Meridian is full of those sleazy massage parlors!”
Young fashion labels find it hard to enter prime shopping spaces, and David cites cases of discrimination against Singapore brands. Even well-known ones, like m)phosis, are not exempt. It was once asked to relocate one of its branches to a less prominent part of the mall to make way for a more well-known label.”
“International brands find it easier to negotiate for rental space. For example, Wing Tai Group can easily ask for five shop spaces for their different brands. New brands, on the other hand, usually start with one outlet and see how it goes. They lack financial clout,” says David.
These things happen because malls and department stores prefer having strong, international brands to local ones. They are less risky than an untested local label and more likely to push sales with their advertising and promotions budget, as well as powerful branding and economies of scale. It’s all about profits.
“The only times when they come knocking on our door is is during the recession, or when the mall is dying,” he says.
Eventually, they settled on PARCO as a home for the incubator. PARCO at that time wanted to re-enter Singapore again after successfully developing and selling off Bugis Junction, a shopping mall.
In recent years, the tide appears to be slowly turning. Ignored by the mainstream media in the past, indie fashion labels have become the latest media darlings.
A new crop of promising fashion designers are now starting to make their mark,...