Singapore design brands get new home at Design Orchard

Design Orchard – a 2½-storey development at the junction of Orchard and Cairnhill Roads – will open its doors on Jan 25, 2019.ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

Melissa Heng


SINGAPORE – Three years after Keepers: Singapore Designer Collective, a multi-label pop-up retail store in Orchard Road showcasing Singapore brands closed, a new space for local design has sprouted up at Keepers’ former location.

First announced in 2017, Design Orchard – a 2½-storey development at the junction of Orchard and Cairnhill Roads – will open its doors on Friday (Jan 25).

While Keepers was always meant to be a temporary space, Design Orchard – a joint project by the Singapore Tourism Board (STB), JTC Corporation and Enterprise Singapore – is a permanent home for some of Singapore’s emerging and established brands.

Keepers, which closed in January 2016, was actually a testbed for Design Orchard though.

Ms Ranita Sundra, STB’s director of retail and dining, says the pop-up was initially supposed to run for six months, but it was extended to 16 months because it did well.

“It helped us to get a lot of data and the feedback that we got from there showed us that we really needed something much more permanent.”

The 25,000 sq ft Design Orchard features a retail showcase, incubation and co-working spaces, and a rooftop amphitheatre.

The retail showcase, which spans 9,000 sq ft on the first floor, houses 61 labels across categories such as fashion apparel, beauty and wellness, food souvenirs and small home furnishings. Brands include wellknown names such as apparel label Matter and womenswear brand Yacht 21, as well as newer ones like Rocket Eyewear and resort wear label Pinksalt.

The first-level space is operated by local retailer Naiise.

Its founder and chief executive officer, Mr Dennis Tay, 34, tells The Straits Times that he hopes for Design Orchard to be the go-to spot for both locals and tourists to shop for “uniquely Singapore” items.

“We want to see the brands perform and hope that this will contribute to their growth and development as global brands.”

Will the retail space, with its multi-label concept, look similar to a Naiise store?

Mr Tay is adamant that it will not and says: “We made sure that there wasn’t any cannibalisation. Design Orchard focuses more on fashion while Naiise is more about lifestyle.”

More than 65 per cent of the labels at Design Orchard are not available at Naiise, which started in 2013 as an online retailer and has brick-and-mortar stores at Katong I12, The Cathay and The Star Vista.

At Design Orchard, brand founders and designers will also find opportunities for mentorship, collaboration and networking with industry players. An incubation space on the second level, run by the Textile and Fashion Federation Singapore (Taff ), houses co-working areas, professional sewing equipment and a fabric library. Taff had previously worked with home-grown jewellery label Carrie K. for Keepers.


1. Esse

A womenswear brand founded by 30-year-old Alicia Tsi, Esse uses sustainable fabrics and works with factories that ensure ethical labour.

Half of the label’s garments are made from renewable fibres, which use less resources and have lower impact on the environment as compared to conventional cotton and oil-based fabrics. The other half are made with rescued leftover fabrics.

The label has a minimalistic style with clean silhouettes and solid colours. A V-neck panelled jumpsuit costs $138 while a pair of organic cotton double layered pants costs $118.

2. Xoxojoy

Founded by mother of two Juliana Neo, 40, the label carries adorable matching outfits for parents and children. A checkered flounced dress for girls costs $49 while the same style for women costs $59.

Clothes are available for both women and men and for children aged three months to 12 years.

3. Re:erth

Though the skincare label launched only in 2017, it has already garnered awards from multiple beauty magazines. Designed in Singapore and made in Japan, the brand was founded by Singaporeans Toh Ziling,

Winnie Lim, Keith Cheong and Celestine Koh and Tokyo-born Shinji Yamasaki.

The brand’s star ingredient is Japanese white turmeric. The label says the special ingredient prevents the degradation of hyaluronic acid in the skin, while giving skin a more supple texture and greater clarity.

The label has seven products, including a cleanser ($70) and an eye cream ($99).

4. The Rocket Eyewear Company

Founded by brother and sister team Ong En Ming, 31, and Ong Ker Shing, 43, the sunglasses brand offers understated yet elegant eyewear.

Inspired by their mother, the designs are based on her favourite eyewear shapes. These include the classic round frame, originally designed for American soldiers during World War II and made popular by old Hollywood stars such as Grace Kelly and James Dean. The lenses used are polarised and offer 100 per cent UVA and UVB protection.

Prices range from $149 to $169.

5. Tresse

The small leather goods brand, founded by Altaf Parpia, combines traditional leather weaving techniques with classic modern silhouettes.

The woven exterior of the label’s wallets is made using vegetable tanned goat skins, which are cut into thin strips and woven using a loom. The interior leather is made from hairsheep leather, which is known for being both strong and soft. A card holder costs $85, while a bi-fold wallet is $135.

Naiise will run a mentorship programme, covering areas such as marketing and merchandising. Mentors include well-known entrepreneurs such as Unlisted Collection founder Loh Lik Peng, Spa Esprit Group founder Cynthia Chua and Motherswork founder Sharon Wong.

Designers who showcase their brands at Design Orchard say they are eager to learn from the mentors as well as the other labels.

Ms Toni Chan, 37, founder of swimwear label August Society, says: “I’m looking forward to participating in the mentorship programme and connecting with other local brands because right now, everyone is kind of scattered all over the place. I hope to meet other designers and founders, and maybe collaborate or see if we can hold events together.”

For customers, Design Orchard is also where they can touch and feel the products.

Ms Alicia Tsi, 30, founder and designer of online womenswear label Esse, says: “Customers want to touch and see the pieces up close and try them on, so they know how they fit. So having a long-term space is a good opportunity to grow the brand.”

The space at Design Orchard will be the brand’s first physical store, though Ms Tsi has had occasional popups.

Before Keepers and Design Orchard, there were other spaces that brought Singapore labels under one roof, though to much less success.

In the 1980s, Hemispheres at Delfi Orchard was the first boutique to carry local fashion labels. It closed in 1990 as international brands proved more attractive to Singapore shoppers.

In 2010, Japanese mall operator Parco opened a department store at Millenia Walk and set aside space for a fashion design incubator project called Parco next NEXT. Here, local designers went through a structured training and mentorship programme and set up shop on the second floor of the department store. But sales were poor due to low footfall and Parco pulled out of Millenia Walk in 2014.

But retail experts are optimistic about Design Orchard.

Mr Samuel Tan, course manager in retail management at Temasek Polytechnic, says the strategic location indicates the importance of the initiative and raises the profile and prestige of the featured brands.

“The busy human traffic at that junction will naturally be drawn to the venue, giving exposure and visibility to the curated brands, among local and overseas shoppers alike.”

Dr Seshan Ramaswami, associate professor of marketing education at Singapore Management University, says the concept of a Singapore-centric shopping space is a distinctive one.

“It is a one-stop place where people can browse a wide assortment of locally designed merchandise. The home-grown aspect of the brands will help the development to connect with the identity of local shoppers as Singaporeans. And for tourists, they now have an easy way of shopping for something truly Singaporean beyond the ordinary souvenirs.”

Another thing working for the brands at Design Orchard is that the government-run building will not be charging brands what it would typically cost to rent a space in Orchard Road. Instead, designers will pay a commission from their gross turnover as well as a small fee for the manpower cost.

But prime location and lower rental aside, the retail landscape is still a challenging one.

Adjunct Associate Professor Lynda Wee from the Nanyang Business School says the retail space must go beyond sales and engage customers.

“It has to go beyond the transactional and the brands cannot operate as silos sharing the same space where each focuses on their own profit or loss. There has to be synergy and story-telling.”

Fashion expert Lionnel Lim, who has been in the industry for over 20 years, says he hopes Design Orchard will offer original designs that have good quality and workmanship.

The senior society editor with Prestige magazine says: “Designers need to study their merchandise selection very carefully. Create things that are not similar to what you can find everywhere. From what I have seen, the items looks pretty generic. It will work if there is enough to entice shoppers, local and tourists.”


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