Retailers are launching new private fashion labels tailored to the Singaporean

More department stores and multi-label retailers are producing their own in-house clothes and accessories

Understanding the Singapore shopper is the goal of many retailers here and it seems that their efforts are bearing fruit.

A check with 12 retailers here, from lone multi-label outlets to department stores, found that half have launched new private labels in the last two years.

Designed in-house and tailored to the needs of the local consumer, such house brands offer products such as reversible men's collared shirts, classic work blouses made with stain-resistant cotton for laksa lunches and pants with pockets lined with anti-radiation material.

There are now seven private labels at Metro, up from just two in 2013.

The department store's fashion director Christy Wong, who is in her 40s, says such labels allow the store to offer "unique features that cater to local customers".

Its resort wear label M. Maison and office wear brand Jo Burton, for instance, carry shirts and dresses made of 100 per cent linen or cotton. Both fabrics are light, comfortable and breathable, and hence are more suited for the tropical heat, she says.

Metro's Kurt Woods private label features men's pants with anti- radiation pockets for those who keep their mobile phones in their pockets and stain-resistant shirts and blouses as "Singaporeans love their laksa and mee pok".

Although Ms Wong declined to reveal sales figures, she says the labels have been well-received at the three Metro outlets here.

Demand is so good that the number of items under each brand went up by about 30 per cent in the past three years.

Department store OG started two new private labels last year and will launch comfort sandal brand Florencia, which targets older women, next week. It now has 25 private fashion labels in total.

Such brands, which require the store to deal directly with factories, also mean quality merchandise at reasonable prices, says an OG spokesman.

Retailers can also be more nimble this way. For instance, when OG started seeing an increase in demand for plus-sized clothes in the early 2000s, it tweaked three of its own private brands to include larger sizes.

Independent retailers - Kapok, Perk by Kate, Actually and Emporium of the Modern Man - also launched private labels recently.

Fashion and lifestyle concept store Kapok, which has outlets at the National Design Centre and at Tangs at Tang Plaza, launched its own label, Future Classics, last July.

Pieces from the minimalist Scandinavian-style fashion brand include a white top with a sailor collar for $135 and a khaki jacket for $265.

Kapok founder Arnault Castel says the new range is made of lighter fabrics such as cotton and viscose (a man-made fabric that is delicate and light).

"One reason why I created the label was so that I could make clothes that suited the warmer weather here," he says, adding that the store imports many Scandinavian and French brands in the clean and modern style they carry.

"But the thicker fabrics that they use are not always suitable for the heat in Hong Kong and Singapore."

"The natural answer is to create these clothes ourselves."

Future Classics, he says, was also started so that Kapok's designers would have a creative outlet. The private label is now the top-selling brand at its two outlets here.

Urban contemporary streetwear and lifestyle store Actually launched its own fashion label, Everyday, in March last year.

The owner of the multi-label retailer, Mr Paul Khor, 50, says the label came about organically.

"I think it's a very natural step and most businesses will want their own label," he says.

"Just like how every singer will want to write his own songs, every designer will want to have his own products."

Everyday, which broke even late last year, offers basic black and white shirts, shirt dresses and pants in simple silhouettes.

Prices range from $25 for a basic black T-shirt to $79 for a pair of pants.

Home-grown lingerie label Perk by Kate launched its eponymous label in 2014; and fashion and lifestyle brand Emporium of the Modern Man launched its in-house label, Ultramarine Studio, last year. Both say they are doing well.

Experts say the rise in the number of private labels here is not surprising.

"With in-house labels, retailers are able to create their own image when promoting the brand and forge a strong brand identity," says Ms Regina Yeo, adjunct senior lecturer of marketing at the National University of Singapore's business school.

"It also promotes stronger customer recognition and loyalty as their frequent customers are able to associate the in-house label with their favourite department or multi-label store."

Dr Seshan Ramaswami, associate professor of marketing education at the Singapore Management University, says another benefit is lower prices for shoppers, as there is no middleman between the manufacturer and the store.

Stores could, for instance, approach the same manufacturer that designer labels use to make products of similar quality and style, but at lower prices.

But he warns that there may be a conflict of interest between the private label and other brands being sold in the same category, especially if the store gives preference to its own brands.

"As the retailer is in a position to provide better display and salesmanship for its own brands over other brands, big brands might decide not to sell through these retailers anymore."

Fans of these private labels say they like the comfortable fabrics and appreciate that the products are different from conventional mass market brands.

Manager Teo Lee Cheng, 38, says she likes Metro's house brand M. Maison for its light linen dresses.

"I own a few pieces. They are easy to wear for both work and casual events and the material means that I don't feel so hot all the time," she says.

Marketing executive Jaslyn Chieng, 29, who is a fan of Kapok and its in-house label Future Classics, says she likes the brand because it offers clothing that is different from fast-fashion labels.

She says: "The designs are simple and classic, but I like that they are still different from what you would see at Zara and Topshop."


Products from private labels

COCOON DRESS WITH WHITE GRID PATTERN FROM FUTURE CLASSICS 

$195, available at Kapok at National Design Centre

This 1960s-inspired silhouette has a hem that ends just below the knee. The dress has convenient side pockets and comes with a double-wrapped belt for a more visually flattering shape. The fabric, 98 per cent cotton and 2 per cent spandex, is light and breathable.

BERMUDAS FROM GUSBEAR 

$49.90, available at OG

Dapper shorts for a casual, chic weekend. The subtle detailing and print on these trousers keep them classic yet different.

INDIGO BLUE JUMPSUIT FROM M. MAISON 

$89, from Metro

Made of 100 per cent cotton, this one-piece jumpsuit is comfortable, fun and stylish.

ALLY CONVERTIBLE PADDED BRALETTE FROM PERK BY KATE

$59, available at www.perkbykate.com 

This unwired padded bralette with removable padding is made with delicate eyelash lace that is both comfortable to wear and sexy. It offers the coverage of a padded bra, but with more comfort.

CHINO WITH ANTI-RADIATION POCKETS FROM KURT WOODS 

$69, available at Metro

Slim-fit chinos that claim to also protect the wearer against radiation emitted from a mobile phone. These pants come in a variety of colours to fit any style or mood.

EMBROIDERED QIPAO WITH HIGH SLIT FROM NINA

$489.90, available at OG

A bold red dress that does not have to be worn only during Chinese New Year. This embroidered piece has a conservative hem, a high slit and half sleeves.

Metro's fashion director, Ms Christy Wong, says the department store's resort wear label, M. Maison, is made with lightweight fabric for comfort in hot weather.

MAXI DRAPE DRESS FROM ULTRAMARINE STUDIO 

$174.90, from Emporium of the Modern Man, available at shop.eomm.co

With a silhouette inspired by the traditional South Korean hanbok, this loose-fitting dress has a structured top and a feminine skirt made of silk-cotton chiffon.

BLACK DRAWSTRING BAG FROM EVERYDAY

$30, available at Actually at Orchard Gateway

A large carry-all bag that can be worn as a backpack or held as a tote. This piece is practical, lightweight and marries a minimalist style with a street vibe.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 18, 2017, with the headline 'Label intensive '. Print Edition | Subscribe