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BESIDES flocking to malls for the many Pokestops and lures, take a break from spotting a rare Pokemon by, well, actually shopping.
A handful of international and local brands alike are expanding their retail footprint, just as other mega-brands are declaring bankruptcy or closing shop. Announcements such as Coach shuttering a quarter of its US department store shops, Gap closing 175 standalone stores in the US, and Ralph Lauren having closed 43 stores in FY2016, may be making headlines, but smaller brands are slowly and quietly building an empire amid a slowdown. And they are doing so in Singapore.
"We don't want to saturate the market with the brand, but Asia is important for us, especially Singapore and Hong Kong, which are important transit locations for visitors from around the world," says Peter Williams, owner of British heritage-inspired fashion brand Jack Wills, during the brand's Spring/Summer 2016 presentation in Hong Kong.
"We are a very experiential brand, we are always in old buildings and need to find a building that is interesting, like a store in the US which is in an old speakeasy in Martha's Vineyard, or we just rebuilt an old townhouse into a shop. The store in Hong Kong is also great because it is quite big, with furniture and other design elements."
After opening its first store here in Raffles City in 2014, it is set to open a second outlet this November in Ngee Ann City. Currently, the brand has 70 stores worldwide, and while it has downsized its presence in the US and Hong Kong, it is upbeat about its local market and maintaining a brick-and-mortar chain.
"The whole campaign for next summer will be a story from the road from London to Singapore," says Mr Williams, who adds that the brand might hold a runway presentation here next year.
"Digital is important for us because we have a young demographic, and we were one of the first brands to have gone on social media. But I really want to drive awareness in Asia."
For brands such as Jack Wills, the retail experience is much more than a mere dispensing of this season's clothes. Instead, it is selling an entire lifestyle. The British label's Causeway Bay flagship in Hong Kong is a sprawling duplex filled with kitschy Union Jack flags, framed vintage prints, and retro furniture that could have come from the set of The Royal Tenenbaums.
As much as building a buzz-worthy Instagram feed or high-traffic blog is crucial for establishing brand identity, many companies are taking the opposite route, investing in a physical store to elevate their image. And Jack Wills isn't the only brand to be going strong offline in a bid to build a brand experience. Even homegrown retailers are taking the plunge and opening up more storefronts here.
"As we look at the long run, we have a vision of building the brand to be relevant and viable, whether the market is good or bad," says Rehan Amarasuriya, general manager of The 1872 Clipper Tea Co, a Singaporean premium tea brand that has recently opened standalone stores in Raffles City and Ion Orchard.
"We have seen growth in the business on a yearly basis, and it has given us the confidence to expand."
The company's flagship outlet at ION Orchard serves cold-brewed teas crafted from single origin Ceylon black tea and homemade syrups, as well as tea-time treats such as tea-infused choux puffs, to inject a lifestyle element to tea consumption that expands upon its status as a maker and retailer of fine teas. Inspiring the customer with a slew of services that goes beyond just selling of products is what creates engagement, and brings the customer back time and again.
Menswear chain Benjamin Barker also seems to buck the trend of streamlining by unveiling its 11th outlet at suburban mall JEM during the week, which followed the launch of a boutique in Tampines 1 in June. It offers the added service of styling customers in full looks, one that could hardly be replicated through an e-commerce site, and reinforces its position as not just a purveyor of shirts but an authority on men's fashion.
"We sit between the high-profile designers and the low-cost retailers as we cater to clientele who do not wish to shop at mass-market brands, but yet cannot afford clothes with designer price tags," says Nelson Yap, founder of menswear brand Benjamin Barker.
"We embody fashion's middle ground with a level of quality that is not matched by the fast-fashion retailers. We are also a one-stop solution for men (from head to toe) and more importantly, we offer well-constructed, good-looking clothes that are accessible."
While fashion is one of the most cut-throat categories in retail, a couple of new labels are set to debut their first international boutiques right here. Kuala Lumpur-basedcontemporary women's fashion brand d.d collective is opening a boutique within department store Robinsons The Heeren next month, after launching its online store and flagship in the Malaysian capital last year. "Our designs are very much defined by the use of luxurious, tactile fabrics, like an intricate guipure lace midi skirt or a silk organza dress," says Aveline Kok, brand development manager of d.d collective.
"To fully appreciate the quality of d.d collective designs and the sculptural silhouettes of the pieces, you need to touch, feel and try on the clothing. Besides, our separates are made to be mixed and matched with any other item in each collection. We encourage our customers to create their own mash-up of looks in our stores."
Another more avant-garde brand has also recently unveiled its global boutique: Tokyo label Christian Dada officially opened its flagship on 268 Orchard Road, right next to Robinsons, during the week. The hyper-sleek, futuristic space reflects its conceptual designs for men and women, and helps it stand out among the slew of cookie-cutter chain stores on the strip.
"We like to do things a little differently," says Masanori Morikawa, designer for Christian Dada.
"As a new, young brand opening a flagship on Orchard Road, our statement is bold and strong for Asia. It is important for our brand to grow organically but at the same time whenever opportunities arise, we would look into opening more stores in the region."
The brand, which is backed by Singaporean luxury group D'League, is all about making waves while competitors are lying low. Designed by Fumiko Takahama Architects, the plate glass-fronted store is punctuated by faceted, rock-like seats to create a space inspired by a Japanese rock garden.
"I want them to be shocked - but in a good way," adds Mr Morikawa.
"Because Christian Dada is a label that embraces imperfections and rejects societal norms, this attitude is reflected both in my own life and my designs where I constantly work to deviate from the norm and create pieces that are unique."