Why Love Bonito isn’t a fashion brand, and why that’s not a bad thing … also something about the Singapore fashion plagiarism controversy

For a long time I’ve had an issue with Singapore media describing certain companies that make clothes as ‘fashion brands’ but which are actually ‘retail’ labels. These brands – Love, Bonito is one of them – are not really ‘fashion brands’; they are companies that make nice clothes, at reasonable prices, with a bit of personal style, for people to wear on a daily basis. These brands are more similar to Topshop and Uniqlo than they are to Dior or Chanel, or even Vetements.

In Singapore there are number of quite successful retail brands that have been making their way into popular shopping memories, but which are not fashion brands per se. Brands like Love, Bonito, By Invite Only, Beyond the Vines and Benjamin Barker, were recently featured at the Singapore Fashion Awards 2017, as part of the ‘marketing’ section, not as part of the design awards. And having been a founding judge for the awards, I know that the reason these brands are featured is because they are popular and much more retail-friendly than many less wearable or conceptual designer brands. Designer brands that are more appropriate to be considered as ‘fashion’ labels.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that more retail-friendly brands are worse than the more fashion-forward labels. What I’m trying to highlight is that these types of clothing companies are not ‘oranges and apples’, they’re more ‘oranges and coffee-smoked buffalo tongue’. The first is something that doesn’t scare the shopper, the second is only for the very adventurous.

I have a great deal of respect for Love, Bonito’s founders. They have created a very lucrative business in a fashion retail environment that’s been under a great deal of pressure for the last 2-3 years. The brand knows exactly who their customer is; they know what she wants; and they know how to give it to her in a seamless online-to-offline experience. The brand has a variety of price points, but retains its core directive from its launch, expanding only as much, and as directionally, as is needed to grow the business. Love, Bonito is not a fashion brand swinging on the weird wind of trends and concepts; it’s sailing along smoothly along in a clear direction. And this is not a bad thing.

Image from Love, Bonito Chinese New Year 2018 capsule collection. Model: Jasmine Sim

While I may not consider Love, Bonito to be a hardcore fashion brand – you can read about the Singapore brands I do consider more ‘fashion’ – the founders have never claimed it is one. They are purposefully creating a business that has long term prospects in the retail market.

Unfortunately, there are a number of so-called fashion brands based in Singapore that claim to be something they’re not. The most obvious is the ‘celebrity’ brand Exhibit by Yoyo Cao. It showed at Singapore Fashion Week 2017, and had some obvious problems. There were distinct issues about plagiarism, so bad in fact that cult fashion Instagram account Diet Prada dedicated an entire post to Yoyo Cao’s label’s knock-offs. Considering that Yoyo is a certified fashionista, it really was remarkably naive to think that no one would notice.

There are a few other Singapore brands that are also not exactly pristine when it comes to plagiarism. Whole9Yards has been cited for knocking off first, Self Portrait – the classic coloured lace dresses of its earliest collections – and now Malaysian designer, Jonathan Liang. Pleatation is obviously a copy of Issey Miyake’s Pleats Please label.

For Pleatation, the concept arose at the same time as micro pleated skirts started flooding Zara and Topshop; the brand cleverly linked up with this trend.

Image from Jonathan Liang SS17

When Whole9Yards first launched there was not a whole lot to talk about. The design concept was very ‘office lady’. However, after Self Portrait’s iconic lace dresses took off in 2013, Whole9Yards began to specialise in lace dresses the average OL could afford. The lace dress became a staple of its output. And very successful it was too. Although I’ve noticed that the brand has massively increased their prices now that they’re doing items that look like those of Jonathan Liang.

Image from Whole9Yards AW17

Again, I’m not saying that affordable retail options are an entirely bad thing. What I am saying is that making items that so closely echo the creative work of other designers is not fashion; it is copying. It is the lack of original design coupled with riding a wave of commercial popularity that makes it ‘retail’ and NOT fashion. At least as far as I’m concerned.

As I was quoted in this very flattering story by Adele Chan, the Editor-in-Chief of Nylon Singapore … As always, I want to remind readers that this is my personal opinion, and as with anything, you can always have your own.”



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