01 | State Property
State Property has only been on the scene for five years but its bold and bright architectural designs have already garnered celeb fans the likes of Michelle Obama, Nicole Kidman and Lady Gaga. The husband-and-wife team started out producing objets d’art before transitioning to ready-made demi-fine jewellery as well as bespoke designs. In addition to an atelier in Singapore, State Property also stocks internationally in stores including Gallery de Kasuga in Tokyo, Goop Lab in London and New York, as well as on saks.com.
#1 LEARN TO WORK WITH LOCAL CRAFTSMEN
“All our pieces are made in Singapore and we hope to continue that. We are lucky to have found craftsmen who share with us a good synergy. They trust our vision and are willing to experiment with new ideas and unconventional methods. For example, we once tried to get them to paint over gold with black and file it down after. Initially, they were hesitant because they felt gold should be polished and shiny instead of the rough texture we sought. But they took the opportunity to learn a new technique. Experiences like this allow us to help push the manufacturing industry forward in some small way.”
#2 VALUE ADD TO THE SCENE
“Perhaps the biggest challenge we face in Singapore is the attrition of skills. Most craftsmen are older. Together with some other jewellery houses, we’re exploring training programmes to allow people who are interested to learn and join the trade. Did you know Singapore was a jewellery hub during the 1980s (before Hong Kong took over)? To revive the local jewellery scene, we must keep pushing for more training schemes. And as external examiners at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts for the past three years, we could identify budding talents who showed potential in jewellery craftsmanship and encourage them to pursue this as a career.”
#3 REACH OUT TO YOUNGER BUYERS WITH SMALLER BUDGETS
“In the US — that’s our largest overseas market — people who buy fine jewellery are younger in age. In Singapore, however, they feel fine jewellery is either old fashioned or out of reach. So we’ve kept our designs contemporary; our Udan Liris collection is a reference to traditional batik motifs but incorporates modern lines and abstract shapes. And to help them feel less intimidated by the high prices, our price range is more similar to that of demi-fine jewellery, from a couple of hundred to $5,000.”
02 | Max Tan
Since launching in 2010, Max Tan’s eponymous label has garnered a loyal following for its strong shapes and silhouettes in a predominant palette of black and white. Through softly tailored lines that allow fabrics to drape and move around the body with ease, he explores the principles of geometry.
#1 BE SELECTIVE ABOUT THE ADVICE YOU ACCEPT
“I participated in several mentoring schemes when I started out but over time, I realised that some advice didn’t necessarily apply to the
fashion industry. For example, I was told I should start a diffusion label, which I actually did. While it did well in terms of sales, it drained me creatively as I was losing my brand DNA and my drive. Looking back, I should have hired another creative team to handle that so I could focus on my main line.”
#2 ASK — AND YOU SHALL RECEIVE
“I was quite lucky to have begun the label with the now-defunct Parco Next Next, which wanted to create a dedicated space for local designers. That opened doors for me to cities like Copenhagen and Amsterdam. Interactions with foreign buyers helped me define my business model, which was more wholesale- based and less dependent on retail. I also tapped into several financial support schemes from the government in the early days of my label, and Spring Singapore did a dollar-for-dollar match of the capital I raised. There is a support network that local artisans and designers can access.”
#3 CULTIVATE AN AUTHENTIC VOICE
“If Singaporean designers don’t develop an original point of view and continue to rely on overused cultural motifs like batik prints and orchids, we will not be able to move forward. Designers in neighbouring countries like Indonesia and Taiwan have successfully found creative and modern ways to represent their cultural motifs, rather than simply printing them on a fabric. Toton in Indonesia is a great example, because he tries to redesign cultural motifs with a very modern perspective.”
03 | Biro
Opened in 2013, the brand was realised on the ethos of producing high-quality menswear. Brothers and co-founders Kenghow and Kage spent three years researching denim types and sourcing for manufacturers before finding theirs in Japan. Their shop at Mandarin Gallery stocks their well-loved line of denim, as well as their collection of everyday wear, F. Classic.
#1 UNDERSTAND WHAT CUSTOMERS WANT
“Everyone has a part to play in building a stronger fashion ecosystem for the future. Designers need to identify their market niche to better address the consumers’ needs while retailers need to better present their brands to consumers. And having our own retail space allows us to gather insight from shoppers about our work and inspires us to help build a local industry voice.”
#2 GIVE YOURSELF TIME TO LEARN
“We didn’t jump into retail in the beginning because we had a lot to learn about consumer expectations. Instead, we worked with retailers, both local and overseas, before deciding that they couldn’t aptly represent the brands. Having our own bricks-and-mortar store minimises the risk of our brand being miscommunicated; we can better educate customers on why our jeans come with a premium price and point out details that they might normally miss.”
#3 USE MENTORSHIP PROGRAMMES TO CONTINUOUSLY EVALUATE YOUR PROGRESS
“We took part in a mentorship programme called Fashion Futures 2.0 in 2016 and that was very good. It covered the fundamentals of running a brand such as bookkeeping and branding, valuable industry insights and a final appraisal on whether we were ready for international exposure. Since we were self-taught, we had a much longer learning curve, so the mentorship experience allowed us to assess if we were on the right track. It’s also a great way for young designers to learn the ropes in a more concise manner while remaining informative and educational. It is no longer running but we feel this is something incubator programmes should emulate.”
04 | Ling Wu
Ling Wu is the go-to for high-quality leather and exotic skin bags in contemporary designs: just look to its minimalist Stevie hobo bag or the transformable Le Sac as a testament. Goh’s standalone retail space, Le Salon, opened in 2017 and doubles as an artist residence for fellow creators to practise their craft and display their wares, which includes the demi-fine sparklers from Tsura Jewellery, candle company A Dose of Something Good and vintage clothing label Dark Horse Vintage. The space has also hosted private shopping events for local womenswear brand Rye.
#1 GROW AT YOUR OWN PACE
“I’ve often noticed that for brands to qualify for support, they need to first show accelerated growth. And this is measured by — and it’s from my own experience — staff strength. I disagree because for niche brands like us, growth needs to be organic; a smaller scale
allows me to better manage quality. Having said that, the government has always reached out by organising training programmes or asking if we require any assistance in other forms.”
#2 PAY ATTENTION TO LOCAL CUSTOMERS
“Even though Singapore is a small market for us, it’s great for testing new products. If anything needs addressing, it’s easy to refine; that will take a lot more monetary and logistical effort once you stock and sell overseas. Singapore is a very good starting base for smaller scale brands.”
#3 TURN SHOPPING INTO AN EXPERIENCE
“Le Salon was inspired by my travels, particularly to Tokyo and New York. You may have to go up a staircase of a residential building to hunt down a cool boutique, where you can chit-chat with the designer. I thought this could give customers a different and more exciting shopping experience. The price point I retail at means it’s crucial for us to develop a personal relationship with customers. They can drop by our space, have a conversation and check out what’s available. The relationship between brand and consumer must go beyond a transaction.”
This article first appeared in the August 2020 issue of A Magazine.