Wearing Our Heritage: Shining the spotlight on local fashion and heritage

The Textile and Fashion Federation’s new capsule collection helps raise the visibility of Singapore design and promote our culture.

If you were to tell your version of the Singapore story, what would you say?

This was the question posed to local fashion designers by the Textile and Fashion Federation (Taff), who called on them to participate in Spotlight: Singapore Stories, a capsule collection of clothes and accessories that is influenced by designers’ take on the Singapore story.

Held with support from DesignSingapore Council and Enterprise Singapore, this initiative aimed to promote Singapore’s heritage and culture, raise the visibility of local designers and encourage Singaporeans to support local labels. Designers were invited to think about the Singapore story and what “Singapore” really meant to them. Said a spokesperson for Taff: “Spotlight: Singapore Stories … (provides) an occasion to (not only) celebrate the work of (local) designers, but also … encourage designers to use their interpretation, perspectives or their own personal Singapore stories as inspiration for their work.”

Focus on heartlands and history

What made the Singapore story differed from designer to designer, with many drawing from various elements of our culture, history and architecture.

For CYC Made to Measure — whose fine, tailored shirts have given the 80-year-old brand its name — what stood out as uniquely Singaporean was our housing estates. Specifically, this meant HDB flats and kopitiam chairs, which were rendered in two separate quirky and intricate prints.

In the first, the exterior façade of flats is repeated with the all-too-familiar green rubbish bin, potted plants and clothes hung on washing lines.

Uniquely Singaporean Printed Shirts
A tailored short sleeved shirt, these prints celebrate quirky things about Singapore — the kopitiam chair, stray cats, and colourful laundry hanging in HDB windows.

The second print features the humble red kopitiam chair, with stray cats and mynah birds, as well as tissue packets and foldable umbrellas to break the monotony of the pattern.

“For us, the focus on the heartlands came naturally,” said Ms Cara Chiang, product development and marketing manager at CYC. “These are sights familiar to every Singaporean — and something we can all relate to.”

While CYC’s Singapore story was that of everyday sights and quirky heartland items, for ONE.61, the story of Singapore is found in our history.

Ms Jennifer at work with ONE.61 artisan

“What inspires me most as a designer is our history, particularly the period when we were growing from a trading port,” said Ms Jennifer Alejandro, founder and chief designer of the bags and accessories label.

In particular, she looked to Peranakan houses in areas such as Joo Chiat, which provided a snapshot of “where Singapore was and the future it was headed at that time” as well as Art Deco, a movement which Singapore appropriated and gave its own twist to back in the 1920s.

Her collection, called the Modern Peranakan, features chinoiserie designs, like the phoenix and the peony, on a range of bright orange, yellow or blue clutches. Their structural shape also recall the elegant curved arches in many Art Deco works. These motif were elaborately painted by hand — a nod to Southeast Asia’s handcraft heritage –resembling ceramic Peranakan tiles.

This clutch also reflects the colorful costume akin to Peranakan culture.

“Our collections always strongly focus on the culture and heritage as part of the architecture all over Singapore, and blending that with structure, form and functionality,” said Ms Alejandro. “To us, the Singapore story is about celebrating culture by translating it to modern accessories.”

Functionality meets design

Functionality and design come hand in hand for OETEO. The children’s wear brand is well-known among mothers for its “quick-wearing” baby rompers, which solves a problem many mothers have — trying to get their baby dressed while fiddling with the many buttons on most baby clothes. The innovative EASYEO eschews fussy snap buttons to make dressing for babies a cinch — mothers can simply slip their babies in the romper through a slit in the torso area, legs in first then wrap the top half of the romper over the head, or the other way around.

For Spotlight: Singapore Stories, the brand drew inspiration from the curiosity and imagination of children. The Panorama collection features paper planes and origami cranes, signifying both childrens’ lack of inhibition in allowing their imagination to take flight. This was also OETEO’s wish for Singapore. These prints, which range in colour from bright reds to pastel pinks and blues, are laid over EASYEO rompers and shirts. (OETEO presents a new way to dress your baby, watch here)

“Each of our collections aims to foster mother-child bonding, and these designs hopefully inspire mums to dream like a child again,” said Ms Joanne Lin, assistant director at OETEO.

Meanwhile, One Day We Forayed’s business model tackles sustainability in the fashion industry by having each garment made to order. “Our label embraces slow fashion, consciously making each article of clothing for each customer, thereby reducing fabric wastage,” said designer Ms Audrey Tang.

For this collection, Ms Tang said she looked to Singapore’s temples, incorporating their distinct shapes and architecture to its range of womenswear. Vibrant reds and deep teals, luxurious silk brocade sourced from Southeast Asia and clean, elegant lines mark this five-piece collection.

Left: A striking toga-esqe dual ruffle dress with hand-sewn Swarovski pearls to add a little touch of magic. Right: Gorgeous silk blend Slip Jacket in geometric print.

“I have always been inspired by mythology and deities, and looked to Singapore’s religions when coming up with a collection for Singapore Stories as I appreciate the diversity in religion that we have in Singapore,” she shared.

Helping local labels gain international exposure

On what motivated her to contribute to this capsule collection, Ms Tang said it was her desire to keep pushing her two-year-old label to try something new. “My participation was meant to be an exploration for me, to push my boundaries and grow as a designer.”

The initiative has also helped put her label in the spotlight. “There are plenty of small labels like mine and very talented designers in Singapore that can gain from initiatives like this.”

“Our fashion scene is a small one,” said ONE.61’s Ms Alejandro. “So it definitely helps that associations like Taff is putting emerging brands on the map by expanding their exposure overseas.”

The supportive community that Taff has built over the years has also helped, Ms Alejandro added. “Ours is a tough industry, but the journey is made a little easier by the support we give one another, which has been made possible by Taff.”

Since 1996, Taff, the official association for the fashion and textile industry in Singapore, has played an active role in the development of the local fashion industry, providing support to members at every stage of production, from manufacturing all the way to retail.

On the future of this collection, Taff said the items will retail at KEEPERS, the designer collective located at the National Design Centre. If you are as passionate about craftsmanship and unique, original design that tell meaningful stories, click here to find out how you can collaborate.

About Spotlight: Singapore Stories
Calls for submission were made in April 2018, which were answered by over 30 locally based designers. From these, 13 were selected, based on their unique interpretation of the Singapore story, they were given a month to bring their vision and creative ideas to life. Spotlight: Singapore Stories was unveiled on 18 July at Funan Showsuite, with over 120 guests, including Ms Sim Ann, Senior Minister of State at the Ministry of Communications and Information, and Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth in attendance.

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