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​New home for local fashion in Orchard Road

Published on: 25-Jan-2019

The permanent 25,000 sq ft set-up in Orchard Road features a retail showcase, incubation and co-working spaces, and a rooftop amphitheatre  Three years after the closure of Keepers: Singapore Designer Collective, a multi-label pop-up retail store in Orchard Road showcasing home-grown brands, a new space for local design has sprouted up at its former location.

Announced in 2017, Design Orchard - a 2½-storey development at the junction of Orchard and Cairnhill roads - opens today. 

While Keepers was meant to be a temporary space, Design Orchard - a joint project by the Singapore Tourism Board (STB), JTC Corporation and Enterprise Singapore - is a permanent home for some of Singapore's emerging and established brands.

Keepers, which closed in January 2016, was a test bed for Design Orchard. Ms Ranita Sundra, STB's director of retail and dining, says the pop-up was initially supposed to run for six months,but was extended to 16 months because it did well.

"It helped us get a lot of data and the feedback we received showed us we really needed something more permanent," she added.

The 25,000 sq ft Design Orchard features a retail showcase, incubation and co-working spaces, and a rooftop amphitheatre. 

The retail space spans 9,000 sq ft on the first floor and houses 61 labels across categories such as fashion apparel, beauty and wellness, food souvenirs and small home furnishings. Brands include familiar ones such as apparel label Matter and womenswear brand Yacht 21, as well as newer ones such as The Rocket
Eyewear Company and resort-wear label Pinksalt.

The first-level space is operated by local retailer Naiise. Mr Dennis Tay, 34, Naiise founder and chief executive officer, tells The Straits Times that he hopes for Design Orchard to be the go-to spot for locals and tourists shopping for "uniquely Singapore" items.

"We want to see the brands perform and hope this will contribute to their growth and development as global brands," he says.

Will the retail space, with its multi-label concept, look similar to a Naiise store? Mr Tay is adamant it will not and adds: "We made sure there wasn't any cannibalisation. Design Orchard focuses more on fashion while Naiise is more about lifestyle."

More than 65 per cent of the labels at Design Orchard are not available at Naiise, which started in 2013 as an online retailer and has brick-and-mortar stores at Katong I12, The Cathay and The Star Vista. 

At Design Orchard, the brand founders and designers will also find opportunities for mentorship, collaboration and networking with industry players. An incubation space on the second level, run by the Textile and Fashion Federation Singapore, houses co-working areas, professional sewing equipment and a fabric library.

The federation had previously worked with home-grown jewellery label Carrie K. for Keepers. Naiise will run a mentorship programme covering areas such as marketing and merchandising. Mentors include well-known entrepreneurs such as Unlisted Collection founder Loh Lik Peng, Spa Esprit Group founder Cynthia Chua and Motherswork founder Sharon Wong.

Designers who showcase their brands at Design Orchard say they are eager to learn from their mentors as well as the other labels.

Ms Toni Chan, 37, founder of swimwear label August Society, says: "I'm looking forward to participating in the mentorship programme and connecting with other local brands because right now, everyone is kind of scattered all over the place. I hope to meet other designers and founders and maybe collaborate or see if we can hold events together."

For customers, Design Orchard is also where they can touch and feel the products.

Ms Alicia Tsi, 30, founder and designer of online womenswear label Esse, says: "Customers want to touch and see the pieces up close and try them on so they know how they fit. So having a long-term space is a good opportunity to grow the brand." The space at Design Orchard will be Esse's first physical store, though she has had occasional pop-ups. 

Before Keepers and Design Orchard, there were other spaces that brought Singapore labels under one roof, though with much less success.

In the 1980s, Hemispheres at Delfi Orchard was the first boutique to carry local fashion labels. It closed in 1990 as international brands proved more attractive to Singapore shoppers. 

In 2010, Japanese mall operator Parco opened a department store at Millenia Walk and set aside space for a fashion design incubator project called Parco Next Next. Local designers went through a structured training and mentorship programme and set up shop on the second floor of the department store. But sales were poor due to low footfall and Parco pulled out of Millenia Walk in 2014.

But retail experts are optimistic about Design Orchard.

Mr Samuel Tan, course manager in retail management at Temasek Polytechnic, says the strategic location indicates the importance of the initiative and raises the profile and prestige of the featured brands. 

"The busy human traffic at that junction will naturally be drawn to the venue, giving exposure and visibility to the curated brands among local and overseas shoppers alike."

Dr Seshan Ramaswami, associate professor of marketing education at Singapore Management University, says the concept of a Singapore-centric shopping space is a distinctive one.

"It is a one-stop place where people can browse a wide assortment of locally designed merchandise. The home-grown aspect of the brands will help the development connect with the identity of local shoppers as Singaporeans. For tourists, they now have an easy way to shop for something truly Singaporean beyond ordinary souvenirs."

Another thing working for the brands at Design Orchard is that the government-run building will not be charging brands what it would typically cost to rent a space in Orchard Road. Instead, designers will pay a commission from their gross turnover as well as a small fee for the manpower cost.

But prime location and lower rental aside, the retail landscape is still challenging.

Adjunct Associate Professor Lynda Wee from the Nanyang Business School says the retail space must go beyond sales and engage customers.

"It has to go beyond the transactional and the brands cannot operate as silos sharing the same space where each focuses on its own profit or loss. There has to be synergy and storytelling." 

Fashion expert Lionnel Lim, who has been in the industry for over 20 years, hopes Design Orchard will offer original designs with good quality and workmanship. The senior society editor with Prestige magazine says: "Designers need to study their merchandise selection very carefully, create things that are not similar to what you can find everywhere.

"From what I have seen, the items look pretty generic. It will work if there is enough to entice local shoppers and tourists."

5 new Singapore labels to check out at Design Orchard

1 Esse

This eco-conscious womenswear brand founded by 30-year-old Alicia Tsi uses sustainable fabrics and works with factories that ensure ethical labour.

Half of the label's garments are made from renewable fibres which impact the environment less than conventional cotton and oil-based fabrics. The rest of the garments are made with rescued leftover fabrics.

The label has a minimalistic style with clean silhouettes in solid colours. A V-neck panelled jumpsuit costs $138 while a pair of organic cotton double layered pants costs $118 (photo).

2 The Rocket Eyewear Company

Founded by brother-and-sister team Ong En Ming, 31, and Ong Ker Shing, 43, the sunglasses brand offers understated yet elegant eyewear.

Inspired by their mother, the designs are based on her favourite eyewear shape, which is a classic round frame. It was originally designed for American soldiers during World War II and made popular by old-school Hollywood stars such as Grace Kelly and James Dean.

The brand's lenses are polarised and offer 100 per cent UVA and UVB protection. Prices range from $149 to $169.

3 Re:erth

Though the skincare label launched only in 2017, it has already garnered awards from multiple beauty magazines.

Designed in Singapore and made in Japan, the brand was founded by Singaporeans Toh Ziling, Winnie Lim, Keith Cheong and Celestine Koh, and Tokyo-born Shinji Yamasaki. Their ages range from mid-20s to 33.

The brand's star ingredient is Japanese white turmeric, which claims to prevent the degradation of hyaluronic acid in the skin, while giving it a supple texture and greater clarity.

The label has seven products, including a cleanser ($70, above) and an eye cream ($99).

4 Tresse

This small leather goods brand, founded by Mr Altaf Parpia, combines traditional leather weaving techniques with classic modern silhouettes.

The woven exterior of the label's wallets is made using vegetable-tanned goat skins, which are cut into thin strips and woven using a loom.

The interior leather is made from hairsheep leather, which is known for being both strong and soft. A cardholder costs $85, while a bi-fold wallet costs $135.

5 Xoxojoy

Founded by mother-of-two Juliana Neo, 40,the label carries adorable matching outfits for parents and children.

A checkered flouncy dress for girls costs $49 while the same style in adult size costs $59.

There are outfits for women, men and children between the ages of three months and 12 years.

Source: The Straits Times, 25 January 2019

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