Singapore Fashion Week will shift focus to Asia next year

Singapore Fashion Week Chairman Tjin Lee says that the name 'Singapore Fashion Week' is owned by the Textile and Fashion Federation (TAFF). PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - The curtain has fallen on Singapore Fashion Week (SGFW), with this year's edition - which took place from Oct 26 to 28 - being the last, at least as far as the current organisers are concerned.

Singapore Fashion Week Chairman Tjin Lee, the managing director of public relations and events firm Mercury Marketing & Communications, who has organised SGFW for the past 11 years, says that the name 'Singapore Fashion Week' is owned by the Textile and Fashion Federation (TAFF).

"I will hand the name back to TAFF," says the 43-year-old, who added that this was a decision she made.

But she is not throwing in the towel on the fashion scene - instead, she is setting her sights further. Next year, she will be organising a fashion week that will broaden its focus to Asia.

"It's not that I'm giving up on Singapore designers. I think the best way I can help them is to help our fashion week build something viable, that actually is sustainable," she says. "The current model is not sustainable... It's a question of cost."

Local designers, she explains, are not able to fund their own runway shows, and she bears most of the costs, she says, with the help of sponsors and government subsidies. The cost to run each SGFW event, including venue, setup, lighting, and models' fees, runs close to $1 million each year.

The root of the problem is that "we don't have a big enough domestic market. That's one of the real challenges," she says, adding that many retailers here have to deal with challenges of production and scale.

"Let's look on the bright side: maybe we are too small to have our own fashion week. Maybe we have to think bigger and be bigger than we are. That's why there is room for a bigger, more collaborative fashion week that engages and works with and supports the neighbouring fashion weeks as well," she says.

The move is not surprising.

This year's fashion week had already taken on a different direction from previous years, with a programme of fashion technology talks called Zipcode, as well as by including three modest wear runway shows as a nod to the rapidly burgeoning modest wear market in the region and beyond. Runway shows also took place over three days instead of the usual five.

Going forward, she says, the new fashion week - which has not been named - will continue to focus on the business of fashion in order to benefit designers and be viable.

Ms Lee is in preliminary discussions with several e-commerce retailers for next year's event. If e-retailers present the runway shows, the problem of local designers not being able to afford their own shows will be solved, preventing them from being crowded out by designers from the region, she says.

And it is possible that runway shows may take on different formats. Ms Lee is exploring possibilities such as holograms on the runway, virtual reality solutions and even see-now-buy-now options. In this instance, guests would gather in a studio space to watch the shows, which could be streamed to a larger audience. "We want to be a very forward-looking and innovative fashion week," she says.

Although plans are still in their infancy, she envisions next year's event to take place over three days at around the same time, with the Zipcode component being expanded to include more speakers and bigger topics.

She is also toying with the idea of having pitching dens in which businesses can meet with investors and venture capitalists to pitch their ideas and secure funding.

Leveraging on technology and Singapore's abundance of wealthy investors is the best way to grow the industry, she says.

When asked if it planned to continue running Singapore Fashion Week, Taff's ceo Lynette Lee, says that there are plans for Mercury and Taff to "issue a joint statement at a later date" and that they "will not be releasing any news right now."

It was a mixed bag of reactions from the industry.

"I think expanding the market from Singapore to Asia is a good idea, but it depends on how it's executed," says Ms Widelia Liu, 29, designer of Singapore-based brand Whole9Yards. And when it comes to runway shows, "I think there is still a place for physical shows in terms of the commercial impact of bringing in buyers. But the world is quite well connected - having a virtual space could be interesting."

Veteran local designer Lai Chan, 55, whose eponymous label's show opened this year's Singapore Fashion Week, says he supports Ms Lee's direction "totally", although in his opinion, a fashion week focusing on Asia could be both "good and bad".

"If sponsors find that the market is bigger - it is not just Singapore but Asia - maybe they will put in money," he says, adding that it is also healthy for local designers to be exposed to competition. "If you can't open yourself to competition in Asia, what about the rest of the world?"

At the same time, he says: "Before you nurture your babies, you cannot just throw them into the sea and say, 'Learn to swim'. I would like to help the younger designers, the next generation, find their first baby footings - in my capacity, if I can, or through platforms like a fashion week."

He adds: "Overall, I choose to think of it as a positive thing. Maybe we can learn along the way, as well."

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