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Rye.

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(Left) Superga X Paper Bunny. (Right) Akinn.

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The Missing Piece X Matter Prints.

Tough times for local fashion

Singapore's fashion brands are looking to online sales and local support to keep their businesses afloat
Apr 3, 2020 5:50 AM

FOR OVER TWO months, production flow at Singapore fashion brand Akinn practically ground to a halt due to the lockdown in China to contain the raging Covid-19 outbreak. Its creative director Wykidd Song says that its supply chain was disrupted in January and while things are more or less back to normal, the brand lost just as much in development and production time.

This is just one of the major challenges facing the local fashion industry as, like most other industries, the global health crisis wreaks havoc on their bottom lines.

Founder of Rye and head of womenswear design Bessie Ye, is equally concerned with production issues."With the supply chain frozen for the last two months, we are still figuring out how to operate normally. Inventory levels are facing the same volatility. We are either facing under-stocking or overstocking problems," she says.

SOCIAL DISTANCING IMPACT

A further collapse in consumer spending due to social distancing and stay-at-home measures also means that many events and launches have been put on hold. Boutiques Fair, a bi-annual event scheduled for March and November had its March date cancelled so far. The fair had been a lucrative outlet for Rye, so its cancellation will definitely dampen the brand's overall growth.

Ee-Ling Fock, who is the founder of The Missing Piece – a popular brand known for modern cheongsams – had also plannedto launch her second collaboration with sustainable fashion label Matter Prints at Boutique Fairs last month. They launched online instead. Dr Fock, who has a PhD in medicine, says, "The dresses were sold out in less than an hour." However, she was quick to add that despite this online success, launches for the rest of the year "will likely be more conservative".

E-COMMERCE GROWING

Also making the shift online is stationery and lifestyle brand Paper Bunny's collaboration with sneaker maker Superga. According to Paper Bunny's Jaime Lee, the four-piece capsule collection was originally meant to launch both online and in Superga stores. "Due to the tightening guidelines, we felt it was necessary to keep the launch strictly online." Even so, Ms Lee reports that her partners, retailers and stockists have all been hit hard. "It has also affected our offline sales," she says.

With staying indoors being the new norm, e-commerce is set to see exponential growth – but whether local labels get a share of it is another matter. Dr Fock perhaps speaks for the brands when she says, "Keep the conversation going amongst your peers and on social media about your favourite local brands, as it would really make a difference to us. At the end of the day, the local brands depend solely on the support of Singaporeans."While the health crisis makes it almost politically incorrect to think about fashion shopping, "We need to pause and rethink the way we consume – buy with a conscience," says Ginette Chittick, Programme Leader of Diploma in Fashion LASALLE College of the Arts. "Now more than ever, we should support local fashion." Why? Because when you purchase directly from the designer, the profits go to them, their employees and suppliers. Which in turn helps save local designers and their independent businesses.

BUSINESS STRATEGY

While some refrain from aggressive marketing to save money, Keng How of Biro Company begs to differ. The cofounder and designer of the menswear label known for its tailored Japanese denims says: "We have not been aggressive on our online platform before and this would be a good time and reason for us to do so." Keng How who designs with his brother Kage Chong plans to launch a pre-order online campaign for their new denim collection.

How brands choose to boost sales in these turbulent times is up to them, but PR consultant Sandra Cameron feels that they should not be pressured to extend discounts. Ms Cameron, a familiar face in the local fashion scene, advises, "If anything, they should go the extra mile – service wise." Ms Ye concurs, adding that heavy discounting has never been their practice. Instead, she prefers a long-term solution. "We focus on our customers… maintaining an open communication with them during this uncertain period allows us to stay top of mind."

A noteworthy example of a unique marketing strategy is startup brand Minor Miracles. This womenswear label has just launched its "Try a Miracle" campaign, where customers have seven days to try all the pieces they want in their own home (courier charges are taken care of). All payments will only be processed after seven days, if they choose to keep their order.

At Akinn, Mr Song and his team want their customers to experience their craft first hand. They recently took to social media with an IGTV video series, called Akinn Features. In the video, they share their design process and focus on different topics such as fabric, silhouette and style. Says Mr Song optimistically, "We are always driven to connect with our customers, during the worst and best of times."

And underlying his brand's efforts is a simple message – that when you buy a dress, you're also contributing to someone's paycheck.