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Singapore's indie childrenswear retail scene heats up

Home-grown childrenswear labels find fans in parents who appreciate their whimsical patterns, breathable fabrics and less mainstream designs

A peek into 2 1/2-year-old Sophie Lim's wardrobe will show that most of her clothes are made by Singapore designers.

Her mother, Ms Joanne Sim, 39, often buys her daughter outfits from such brands as she thinks them "whimsical and unique".

The corporate communications manager, who reckons 70 per cent of Sophie's wardrobe is locally sourced, says the fabrics some of these brands use - pure cotton, for instance - are more suitable for Singapore's warm weather.

"Many of these local labels create their own prints and unique designs like quirky prints of vegetables or pretzels. It's something different from the mass-market Disney cartoons or Minions," says the mother of one, who is married to a portfolio manager at a bank.

"Sophie is an active child who loves running around, so I find the soft breathable fabric that many local brands use more comfortable for her. Since many of these designers are Singaporean mothers themselves, they're more likely to know what suits shoppers here."

Parents such as Ms Sim are fuelling the growth of local childrenswear brands here.

  • Six locally unique pieces for kids

    1 Leek short romper, $39, from Leia + Lauren, available at www.leialauren.com and Motherswork in Great World City

    An adorable mini romper for little ones, with printed leeks that will hopefully encourage them to eat their vegetables. Available in sizes three months to two years old. Made of 95 per cent cotton and 5 per cent spandex, this romper has a bottom opening for easy diaper changes.

    2 Mandarin-collar shirt with panda print, $45, for sizes one to three years old, $49 for sizes four to 12 years old, from Elly, available at ellyloves.com and The Elly Store in Cluny Court

    A cute shirt made of 100 per cent cotton that will have your child looking smart and feeling comfortable.

    3 Abstract flora reversible dress, $55, from Maison Q, available at maison-q.com and stores including Motherswork in Great World City and Robinsons in The Heeren

    Get two dresses in one with this reversible feminine piece. It has a bright floral print on one side and a polka-dot pattern on a pastel pink base on the other. Made of lightweight Japanese cotton, this dress is available in sizes one to six years old.

    4 Bubble cheongsam, $62.90 to $65.90, and bag with five-stone detail, $18.90, from Chubby Chubby, available at chubbychubby.sg

    This sweet cheongsam with a bubble skirt will make young tots look cuddly and cute. The dress is made of lightweight cotton and comes with a lining and concealed zipper at the back. Available in sizes for children up to 10 years old.

    5 Dots pinafore skirt, $39, from Sea Apple, available at seaappleshop.com

    A bright blue pinafore that your child can easily run around in. The piece is made of 100 per cent organic cotton. It comes with an elastic waist band and has detachable straps so that the skirt can be worn on its own.

    6 Nobu golden afternoon shirt, $69, from Elizabeth Little, available at www.elizabethlittle.co

    A garden print with frogs, mice and birds that is both adventurous and imaginative. Made of 100 per cent Egyptian cotton that is soft and breathable. Available in sizes for children aged one to eight.

    PHOTOS: CHUBBY CHUBBY, ELIZABETH LITTLE, ELLY, LEIA + LAUREN, MAISON Q, SEA APPLE

At least six home-grown labels for young ones have launched since the start of last year, going by checks by The Straits Times.

The newbies include Sea Apple, which makes clothes for children up to six years old, with original prints; Leia + Lauren, known for robust and fun styles; and Elizabeth Little, which uses popular fabric brand Liberty Art Fabrics from Britain.

Girls' clothing brand Voon & Daughters; boys' clothing label Boys By Mark; and unisex childrenswear label Mummyfique also entered the fashion scene here last year.

Older Singapore childrenswear brands - such as Elly, Chubby Chubby and BaeBeeBoo - have seen sales surge.

Elly co-founder and designer Audrey Ng, 38, says sales for the seven-year-old brand, which has a store in Cluny Court, doubled in the past year.

"We also see more Singaporeans shopping at our store now. They make up the majority of our customers now, not expatriates, which was the case in the past," she says.

About 70 per cent of its customers are Singaporean, up from about 50 per cent three years ago, she adds.

Chubby Chubby founder and designer Nix Deng, 29, says sales at the four-year-old brand has doubled last year compared with 2015. She puts the increase down to the brand's "fun and modern yet nostalgic and cutesy style".

The label, which operates online and is sold at stores including Mothercare in Paragon and Naiise @ Central, puts a local spin on its designs. For its Chinese New Year collection this year, it sold a cheongsam with pastel geometric patterns and a bag with a small five-stone piece tied to the front - evoking memories of the kampung game.

Clothes from Chubby Chubby range from $45.90 for a Mandarin- collar shirt to $62.90 for a cheongsam.

Ms Ana Abdat, founder of reversible clothing label Maison Q, says sales for her two-year-old brand have more than doubled in the past year. Prices range from $55 for a reversible babydoll dress to $52 for a pair of reversible shorts.

Local kidswear brands are one up against fast-fashion labels, says Ms Abdat, because designers like her choose fabrics which suit the Singapore weather.

They also fill the price gap between expensive high-fashion kidswear labels and affordable but mass-market brands.

The mother of two says: "I think more home-grown brands are getting recognised for quality design and production. With this growing awareness, Singaporeans are more willing to give their support. Local doesn't mean not good anymore."

Sea Apple founder Ho Su Mei, 34, agrees that more shoppers here are starting to appreciate home-grown talent. "I think people like that local designers are expressing themselves more with their brands. They like that made-in-Singapore brands have original designs that are modern, beautiful and unexpected," she says.

Retail experts concur.

Ms Regina Yeo, adjunct senior lecturer of marketing at the National University of Singapore's Business School, says that in the past, the impression local shoppers had of home-grown brands was that they "lacked standard and style".

"This mindset has changed. Now, home-grown labels understand their customers better and work hard to meet shoppers' expectations. The design, quality and construction of clothes have improved," Ms Yeo says, adding that Singapore designers now push out products that are equal to, if not better than, many global clothing brands.

The trend, she says, is here to stay.

She describes a chicken-and-egg scenario: "As Singaporeans become more accepting of locally designed children's clothes, we will also see more local designers opening shops here."

Dr Seshan Ramaswami, associate professor of marketing education at the Singapore Management University, says the surge of interest in local brands was also impacted by the SG50 celebrations.

The jubilee festivities, which brought forth nostalgic memories, drew attention to made-in-Singapore products. This, says Prof Ramaswami, sparked a renewed interest in Singapore heritage.

Nonetheless, Mr Samuel Tan, course manager of the diploma in retail management at the Temasek Polytechnic School of Business, says that to be successful, retailers must "continue to review brand relevance to local shoppers in terms of design details, fabric and material used, as well as pricing".

Lawyer Jasmine Chew, 35, whose son's wardrobe is half-filled with clothes from Elly, says her son, Sean, 2 1/2, loves the brand's bright prints.

"Mass-market brands like H&M and Uniqlo have more kids clothes that mirror adult fashion. But Elly has fun and colourful patterns that Sean prefers," she adds.

Ms Chew, who is married to a lawyer and gave birth to a girl on Tuesday, says the relationship that has formed between her and Elly's founders contributes to her fondness for the brand.

"Even before my son was born, I bought clothes from this brand as gifts for friends. I came to know the owners and we are like friends now."

She also likes that Elly is a home-grown label.

"It's a story that everybody wants to believe in. That Singapore brands can make it too. There's definitely a bit of local pride involved."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 06, 2017, with the headline 'Designed to dress kids in Singapore'. Print Edition | Subscribe