SINGAPORE - Popular shopping event Boutique Fairs Singapore has gotten so big, it now has a room for shoppers to catch their breath in.
For its 36th edition from Nov 15 to 17, the bi-annual fashion, art and design-led shopping event has introduced a new room aptly named Breathe.
Inside the break room of sorts, visitors will find a cafe set up by sustainable furniture store Arthur Zaaro. The raw wood furniture pieces, repurposed from trees and parks in Singapore, can seat 60 to 80 people. Refreshments from a vendor, cafe-caterer Fine Palate, will be sold too.
A second cafe area run by Violet Oon Kitchen sits in another room.
"Boutiques keeps growing in intensity - I just wanted a space that is a little more airy and not so packed with brands, where customers could sit back and relax," says founder Charlotte Cain, 59.
You can still shop in the Breathe room. It will house 30 eco- and sustainable brands (compared with the usual 50 in a room) who are part of the slow movement, including socially conscious businesses The Social Space and The Nail Social. The former retails items like recyclable cutlery and bamboo straws.
Mrs Cain has also curated workshops and talks for the fair. Hosted by participating vendors, they will take place inside Breathe as well - within a circular installation with a vertical green wall - and explore topics ranging from sustainability to mental health.
One such vendor is local youth charity Beyond Social Services, who has invited community volunteers and beneficiaries to speak on giving back to the community.
"We realised some of the vendors have some very interesting stories to tell that we'd like them to share with a larger audience," says Mrs Cain, who has sponsored 15 charities and social enterprises to set up booths at the event.
With more than 300 brands participating this year, it is Boutique Fairs' largest turnout since its founding in 2002.
The debut edition had been a small affair with just 17 expatriate-owned brands. There were already a number of pop-up sales back then, recalls Denmark-born Mrs Cain, who had followed her Canadian husband here for work in 1989.
To make Boutique Fairs stand out, she organised it in Fort Canning Centre.
The fair has grown year on year since. In 2012, it moved to its current home at the F1 Pit Building because of the sheer volume of vendors. Now the fair is held across seven rooms on two floors over 10,160 sq m of retail space.
"It just seems that in the last 10 to 12 years, (the number of designers in Singapore) has increased by leaps and bounds. I could fill up several more rooms of curated vendors because there's just so much more talent here."
The vendors are now split evenly between Singaporean and expat designers, and nearly all are Singapore-based.
Since 2017, Boutique Fairs has also collaborated with the Singapore Textile and Fashion Federation (TaFF) to curate a room called Edit, housing Singapore brands and members of TaFF. This year, these include designers Esther Tay, Sabrina Goh, and veteran maison Thomas Wee in his first attendance at the fair.
Other local brands such as Reckless Ericka, Carrie K, and designer Wykidd Song's new label Akinn, are peppered across the rest of the rooms.
There are new, emerging designers too. It has been rewarding to see young brands grow, says Mrs Cain, who remembers labels like resort wear designer Simone Irani "literally bringing suitcases of stuff" in early editions. Irani now has two stores here, in Tanglin Mall and Cluny Court.
"We also wanted to tell tourists that this is what Singapore has to offer," says Mrs Cain, adding that she receives e-mail enquiries from tourists who plan specifically to be in town for Boutique Fairs. "It's another way of putting Singapore on the map."
BOUTIQUE FAIRS SINGAPORE
WHERE: Levels 2 and 3, F1 Pit Building
WHEN: 9am to 8pm on Nov 15, 10am to 8pm on Nov 16, and 10am to 6pm on Nov 17