A design-and-production studio in boutique

At Ong Shunmugam's new store, customers can see seamstresses working in a studio.
At Ong Shunmugam's new store, customers can see seamstresses working in a studio. PHOTOS: ONG SHUNMUGAM
At Ong Shunmugam's new store, customers can see seamstresses working in a studio.
Priscilla Shunmugam.

Home-grown fashion label Ong Shunmugam, now five years old, has opened a new flagship at Chip Bee Gardens.

Founder and designer Priscilla Shunmugam, 35, has created a hybrid space merging a shopfront with a design-and-production studio, so customers can glimpse into the making of her Asian-inspired contemporary womenswear.

She told The Straits Times: "When the label turned five last year, it made me question where we wanted to go from here, how ambitious do we want to be and how far do we want to go?"

The label has seen an upward trajectory since its launch in 2010.

With designs inspired by Shunmugam's Indian and Chinese heritage, the brand blends traditional Asian fabrics with modern flair, and its pieces have appeared on the runways of both the Paris and Singapore fashion weeks.

Sales have consistently grown, according to Shunmugam. As of last month, the label's revenue for this year has surpassed the total revenue for last year.

The entrepreneur and former lawyer conducted a six-month research and strategy exercise with financial firm Deloitte late last year and the results gave her a "clear direction forward and clear steps to take".

One step was scaling up and moving from a 250 sq ft retail space in Hong Leong Building to the new atelier, which spans 1,300 sq ft.

"We knew we had outgrown our original space," she says.

Another step was to officially launch the label's made-to-measure line. The premium line of custom womenswear focuses on bridal and eveningwear and complements her ready-to-wear collections. Ready- to-wear pieces range from $399 to $999, while the customised line starts at $1,600.

The new store also combines a boutique with a studio where customers can get a behind-the- scenes view of the workspace where Ong Shunmugam pieces are made.

Just beyond the boutique's elegant counter, behind a large glass window, seamstresses in crisp white coats draft, cut and sew among bolts of fabric and dresses waiting for new owners.

On why this experience, unusual in retail, may be desirable, Shunmugam says: "Considering our price points, the challenge for us is still to convince people that they should pay this amount of money for a locally designed and made product."

She hopes to change perceptions, easing scepticism towards made- in-Singapore fashion and raising its perceived value.

On what it takes to survive in the tough retail climate, she says: "It comes down to businesses knowing their product and their audience and paying equal attention to both. You have to make sure you have a good product to sell."

It helps that she has positioned the label as beyond fashion.

"I think we've used our designs as signposts for exploring and expressing Singapore history and identity," she says.

Shunmugam, who is in a relationship, is in for the long haul.

"Doing well for five years is not a guarantee that you will continue to do well and, as a business owner, the reality is that the fight continues. But it is a good fight."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 01, 2016, with the headline 'A design-and-production studio in boutique'. Print Edition | Subscribe