There is a tendency in small communities to rave about any local brand or designer simply because they ARE local.
While it is important to support local talent, it is just as important to give praise where due, and to not simply celebrate the ‘localness’ for its own sake.
This is what has happened over the last 6 years in the Singapore fashion industry. Local brands with little to no true originality have been patted on the back and given media coverage simply because they exist. It’s like giving all the kids in a race a certificate and no medals for first, second or third.
When you don’t appear to get anything more for standing out from the crowd and being better than others, what’s the point of trying?
Conversely, just because you have a lot of friends in the local media, it shouldn’t mean that your work is placed higher on the tent pole of adulation.
In Singapore there has been a general creep towards admiration for retail brands that have successful social media accounts, rather than support for labels that do their own thing and focus on creating original work.
Yes, we should be proud of the brands that have continued to be economically viable in the current difficult retail environment – and indeed, they deserve praise simply for surviving. However, retail-successful brands are not going to be cutting edge fashion design in a trend-focused, shopping-driven country like Singapore.
Over the last 9 years in Singapore I have seen so many fashion brands come and go. Some deserved to disappear from our fashion radar, but others succumbed due to the lack of media attention, the lack of fashion education for shoppers – also media-led – and a general oversupply of any, and every, fashion brand in the world. Not to mention, of course, the increasing rise of online shopping.
Out of this complicated mess of being ignored in favour of someone’s friend’s new blogshop sourced from Dongdaemun Market; fighting for sales against global retail giants; and forever being forgotten by the fashion media except for the annual ‘Singapore issue’, there have risen a few fashion and accessories brands worth talking about.
These are my personal picks for Singapore fashion brands that actually work from a creative base of originality; no, they’re not all perfect (no brand is) but they have worked to ensure that they have a brand identity that doesn’t depend on ripping off other brands.
Yes, I admit that I am personal friends with the designers behind Singapore streetwear unisex brand Depression. However, this doesn’t mean I can’t objectively appreciate what Kenny Lim and Andrew Loh have done over the last 10 years. Yes, Depression is 10 years old.
A brand that began as t-shirts for the impoverished junior industry creatives and hairstylists of Singapore, has grown into a brand that has a distinct DNA, is stocked globally and has shown at Berlin Fashion Week.
Depression is not a brand for everyone. It’s mostly black, drapey, oversized, punk-influenced streetwear for guys who work in the creative industries and girls who don’t like wearing pink lace dresses. But this doesn’t mean it’s not good.
Depression has a particular point-of-view and a targeted customer. And these are the reasons why it has survived Singapore’s ‘retail apocalypse’.
Depression does have some issues. Over the years the brand has had hiccups in fabrication and fitting, but the team of designers tend not to make the same mistakes twice. As the brand owners have branched out into a multilabel store – Sects Shop – and a number of in-house brands, their ‘learnings’ have been incorporated into improving the Depression label.
Despite, or in fact, because of this, Depression is a Singapore fashion brand worth celebrating, whether or not you love an all black wardrobe.
Depression is available from Sects Shop located at Orchard Gateway #04-14, Singapore, and online at www.depression.com.sg.
IN GOOD COMPANY
Designed and owned by the creative team behind now-defunct original Singapore brand Alldressedup, In Good Company is a tight collaboration between two designers who have their own specialties, and who know exactly who they are designing for. I’ve always said that the team, who worked together for about 10 years, made all their mistakes with someone else’s label, which is why they have grown from strength to strength since the brand launched in 2015.
Jaclyn Teo, Sven Tan, Kane Tan – no relation – and Juliene Aw, are the co-founders of In Good Company, which started out with contemporary womenswear designed specifically for Singapore and the Southeast Asian region’s hot weather in a series of capsule collection ‘drops’, and has now expanded into matching ‘mini me’ collections for kids, and menswear. The brand is stocked in a number of stores in Singapore and the surrounding region, including in Jakarta, and has its own ‘tropical minimalist’ flagship store in ION Orchard on Orchard Road.
The reason I describe the brand as being ‘tropical minimalist’ is that its aesthetic is a mix of Scandinavian minimalist design (yes, there’s a fair bit of COS in the shapes of the clothes) combined with a love of strong colours, ease of wear and machine-washability; perfect for tropical weather.
Cuts tend to be on the smaller, Asian side, however the brand launched first as an online store and has a wide range of global customers. The signature very-fine shoulder and back strap details, and unique fabrics like machine-washable silk and cotton ‘neoprene’ means In Good Company remains modern without being trend-driven. Pieces from early collections can just as easily be worn with the latest launches and also fit nicely into ‘arty’ wardrobes that feature a lot of Comme Des Garçons. Yes, there are a few ‘basics’ that have a tendency to look like COS summer collections, but overall, In Good Company retains its own voice.
The co-founders knew exactly who they were selling to before they launched the brand, and continue to stick to that very defined demographic despite the brand’s increasing profile as original Singapore design. They’ve been offered opportunities internationally – in countries that are definitely NOT tropical – but have stuck to their guns when it comes to designing for the region, not being beholden to global weather and not sticking to arbitrary fashion seasons.
It’s the combination of sticking to their preferred business model, knowing their customers and always exploring technology to create new, more comfortable fabrics, that has seen In Good Company continue to grow and establish itself as a strong independent Singapore fashion brand. This is not a brand that wants to become a global behemoth, the founders are all about staying true to their personal aesthetic and likewise living a life that allows for family and friends.
In Good Company is located at ION Orchard, 2 Orchard Turn, #B1-06, Singapore. Open daily: 10am – 9:30pm, Tel: +65 6509 4786. You can shop the brand online at www.ingoodcompany.asia, and the store is also home to a cool cafe, Plain Vanilla Bakery.
CARRIE K. ARTISAN JEWELLERY
Once again I have to own up to being personal friends with the team behind Carrie K. Artisan Jewellery, but hey, Singapore is a small place.
Carolyn Kan, the founder and designer of the brand is the perfect example of a Singapore creative just doing her thing, being excellent at what she does, and ignoring the shallow, wider world of globally focused trends and social media ra-ra.
Carolyn launched the label way back in 2009 as a way to ‘tell stories’ after changing her career. Almost immediately the brand took off as an international jewellery exporter; her quirky designs based on everything from nuts & bolts to paint splatters and morse code, struck a cord with people looking for ‘wearable art’ that was not only affordable but also unique and told a personal story. Carolyn has always done commission work, creating very personal pieces for customers who want something that tells their own story.
The retail side of the business has grown over the years to encompass pieces in silver for less than a $100, to fine jewellery versions that can go for thousands. Every collection starts from Carolyn’s odd-but-interesting brain and continue to tell fun and unique tales about her world and the fans who have bought into it.
On top of all this, Carolyn has been the backbone of the creative design scene in Singapore. Her creation of the Keepers Studio concept from pop-up weekends and stores, to a permanent retail space at Singapore’s National Design Centre, has seen her become the most important person in the national design scene. Without her, there would not be successful Singapore brands – a bold claim but one I’m ready to defend.
The Carrie K. Artisan Jewellery atelier is located at National Design Centre, 111 Middle Road. #02-03 (Annex building along Queen Street), Singapore. Open: Monday to Saturday, 12:00 – 7pm, Tel: +65 6352 2559. You can also shop the brand online at www.carriekrocks.com, and at the Keepers store. For a full list of stockists including international, go to www.carriekrocks.com/stores.
These are my current best Singapore designer fashion and accessories brands. I’ll continue to update and add to the list.