Why It Matters

Fashioning Singapore labels

Within a short span of two weeks, two well-known Singapore fashion labels made the news for calling it quits. One is doing so for greener pastures - Jo Soh of whimsical women's-wear label Hansel is folding her 12-year-old brand for better opportunities and exposure as head of fashion for Laura Ashley Asia.

M)phosis, founded in 1994 and known for its women's basics, folded because of "severe cashflow problems", according to director Hensley Teh.

In a tough retail climate, casualties are inevitable. But what makes the loss of these two especially regrettable is that they had carved out a niche for themselves and had a following for over a decade at least, more so than many other local labels here.

At the height of its success in the early 2000s, M)phosis was Singapore's most widely exported fashion label, with distribution in nine Asia-Pacific countries. Hansel was named as one of two Singapore brands worth being proud of and championing by Singapore Tourism Board chief executive Lionel Yeo in 2013. The other was Ong Shunmugam.

 
 

So what went wrong? A large part is a lack of support for local brands, which just do not figure highly on Singaporeans' radar when there are so many recognisable high-street brands.

While not all local labels work, there are a number deserving of support, such as In Good Company and Aijek, because they have a clear identity and produce good-quality, wearable designs. Sure, they may cost more than Zara and H&M, but that is inevitable as they lack the scale of these retail giants. Singaporeans need to do away with prejudices such as "If it's local, it should be cheap" - something local designers say they often hear.

Designers also need to cultivate a clear style so Singaporeans will be proud to wear them, just as the Thais and South Koreans are of their own talents.

So before SG50 draws to a close, consider giving local fashion some support. You may be surprised at what you find and you could save some deserving labels from the same fate as M)phosis and Hansel.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 19, 2015, with the headline 'Fashioning S'pore labels'. Print Edition | Subscribe