Singapore designers have traditionally struggled to build a successful brand, battled by the structural hurdles of non-existent local manufacturing, small population size, and critically, a penchant by local shoppers to buy international luxury labels rather than homegrown talent.
"It is true that Singapore lacks the local manufacturing, the 'hardware' such as pattern makers, seamstresses, and cutters," says Tjin Lee, chairman of Singapore Fashion Week (SFW). "But we can still overcome this limitation and help Singapore designers succeed internationally by improving upon the 'software' in terms of our location as an Asian hub."
Tackling these issues head on, SFW has introduced Fashion Futures; it's inaugural talent development programme in collaboration with the Council of Fashion Designers of America. Yes, the CFDA. The same non-profit trade organisation, which — through its partnership with Vogue and the creation of the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund — has successfully turned several American designers into international household names (think: Alexander Wang, Thom Browne and Proenza Schouler to name but a few).
"The push for the Fashion Futures programme was our aim to internationalise Singapore designers and the opportunity to do so through our partnership with the CFDA," says Lee. "With more than 50 years of experience in strengthening the influence and success of American designers, the CFDA has a wealth of strategic expertise and industry know-how that we can tap on to take Singapore designers to the global stage."
Funded by SPRING Singapore (a government agency responsible for growing Singapore enterprises), Fashion Futures is an undeniable boon for the local fashion industry. Selected designers will present their latest collection at SFW 2015 where top regional and international buyers have been seeded with a total of $150,000 to place orders; allowing Singapore designers to be showcased in some of the world's top retailers.
It all begins with the product. If you don't have a product that is desired, then all the marketing in the world won't help.
In addition, through its strategic alliance with the CFDA, selected designers will be taken to New York City to showcase their designs in front of influential fashion buyers, receive personal consultations with leading designers and members of the CFDA, as well as receive feedback and potential coverage from renowned media titles such as American Vogue.
"It's an opportunity for the designers to gain insights and develop invaluable networks," admits Steven Kolb, chief executive of the CFDA. "Success is measured in many ways. But to me, a successful fashion company has distribution and support from the editorial community."
In short, this is money-can't-buy exposure. A local designer's wet dream.
For 2015, the three designers participating in Fashion Futures are Priscilla Shunmugam of Ong Shunmugam, Sabrina Goh of ELOHIM and Chelsea Scott-Blackhall of Dzojchen.
"Chelsea, Priscilla and Sabrina were identified by a panel of industry leaders — including local media, buyers and retail owners — and invited to participate in the programme as they have demonstrated talent, consistency in their collections, and are export ready," says Lee. "The designers all have experience taking part in international tradeshows such as Tranoi in Paris, Coterie TMRW in New York, and Blueprint in Singapore among others and have received good feedback from media, both locally and abroad."
This approach to target established brands is a notable departure from Audi Star Creation (the talent program of Audi Fashion Festival, the predecessor of Singapore Fashion Week), which highlighted promising designers with no commercial experience from the graduate level.
"My advice to the selected finalists is to work hard, stay focused and to not pay too much attention to other designers," advises Kolb. "Create what you want to do. Having a unique code or DNA, and a core item that defines you, is essential. It all begins with the product. If you don't have a product that is desired, then all the marketing in the world won't help. Marketing amplifies a good product."
But the yardstick for success? "We hope to create an ecosystem of mentorship, where designers from the Fashion Futures go on mentor the next batch of designers," says Lee. "This, of course, won't happen overnight. We see this as a strategic and long-term programme to propel Singapore designers onto global fashion market place."
All we have to say is: If this doesn't put Singapore designers onto the fashion map, we doubt anything else will.