Singapore’s fashion industry is entering a new chapter with the recent rebranding and new strategic direction of its leading trade association, which is now known as the Singapore Fashion Council (SFC). The organisation, formerly known as the Textile and Fashion Federation, hopes to better support the aspirations of its members and the wider fashion industry with the overall aim of building a more connected fashion ecosystem. It has pivoted its role as a catalyst for new and diverse partnershi
nerships across sectors and geographies to bring benefits across the value chain. “I think overall 2022 has definitely been quite a big step on the accelerator for us,” Leonard A Choo, director of industry development at SFC, told Inside Retail. Putting Singapore on the map Choo shared that the recently concluded Singapore Stories fashion event was a success, attended by a host of high-profile guests, and the marquee fashion runway event was a great wrap-up for the organisation as a whole. The event is a fashion design competition that invites fashion designers to showcase their craft and personal interpretations of a Singapore-inspired capsule collection featuring both men’s and women’s apparel. For 2022, the organisation invited designers to create a six-look capsule collection, themed ‘Fashion United’. The event saw Kavita Thulasidas taking home the title as the winner of the competition. Thulasidas impressed the panel of judges with the ingenuity and exceptional craftsmanship on display in her capsule collection. Innovation Rules Thulasidas’ collection, titled Heritage Reinterpreted and Beyond, paid tribute to Singapore’s Asian roots while looking forward to the nation’s global aspirations for the future. Incorporating various design elements from Indigenous cultures in the region, the collection highlighted highly intricate traditional embroidery techniques that are fast disappearing, while bringing a contemporary perspective to these Asian fashion practices. Choo observed that clever innovation is energising the fashion world and elevating Singapore’s fashion ecosystem. “We are looking into innovation, and the new frontier of the metaverse, as well as a renewed focus on sustainability. It’s like we are coming out of this fog with the pedal to the metal, so 2022 has been equal parts challenging and thrilling for us,” he said. A holistic perspective According to Choo, the SFC plays a very important role in Singapore’s fashion ecosystem as the representative trade association for the island-nation’s fashion industry. “This means we not only represent local Singapore fashion businesses, but also international businesses that find a home in Singapore. When we say fashion, we don’t only refer to apparel companies, as for us, fashion is both vertical and lateral,” he noted. The association is looking into every aspect of the industry, from fibres to post-consumer issues along the value chain. From supply chain matters, including packaging to issues revolving around sustainability, all of it matters to the organisation. “We’re talking about tangential services and related ecosystems such as payment systems, technology systems, sizing solutions, e-commerce gateways and all kinds of lifestyle elements, we house it all together through our various initiatives,” he said. Technology focused According to Dr Charles Ling, senior director of innovation and technology at SFC, the organisation is also heavily involved in individual incubation strategies for start-ups. “We are working with a whole range of partners, and one example is our collaboration with StarHub to go into augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) and explore avenues in the metaverse as well,” he told Inside Retail. Ling revealed that the organisation is also in the midst of talking to government agencies to explore ways to elevate the fashion industry to new heights in the ever-evolving technology landscape. SFC recently signed Memorandums of Understanding with 10 partners that will work with the association to support the industry in these three strategic thrusts. They include both local and global names such as Asian Civilisations Museum, B Lab Singapore, Deloitte Singapore, DBS, HSBC, LASALLE College of the Arts, Ngee Ann Polytechnic, STACS, StarHub, and Temasek Polytechnic. Sustainability is key Interestingly, the organisation just released a green financing ecosystem starter pack for start-ups. “We see this as a really important part of the industry, because there is a very strong directional pull for the industry to move towards standards based certifications,” Carolyn Poon, SFC’s director of sustainability, told Inside Retail. According to Poon, when companies want to increase their working capital or find financing for their expansion or innovation plans, they need to go to the banks, so SFC sees the banks as ecosystem partners that can develop standards in this space. “We have managed to rope in B Lab Singapore as a market stakeholder and standard-based body, they can help businesses become better at environmental issues and social issues, but also have a verifiable pathway to showcase their ESG capabilities,” she added. Asian craftsmanship The SFC is very focused on ensuring the heritage of Asian craftsmanship remains something that is cherished for generations to come. “We work very closely with the Asian Civilisations Museum (ACM), here in Singapore, and the idea is to give designers and companies access to greater knowledge and celebrate our cultural history and material heritage in this part of the world,” Choo said. The second element of its approach is a regional outlook, and SFC is still in the nascent stages of creating these programs to promote and elevate Asian craftsmanship and businesses in the region, as a natural extension of Singapore’s historical position as a trading hub. “SFC works with partners such as the LaSalle College of the Arts and ACM, and we are looking into creating possibilities for contemporary craft trade shows or perhaps even study trips abroad to learn more about artistic communities in other countries,” Choo said. Singapore to the world In Choo’s opinion, SFC’s role is to showcase Singapore to the world, and bring the world to Singapore. “The overarching theme is to position ourselves as a strategic hub for the intersections of fashion businesses, be it through the centring of talent and resources or market opportunities, by bringing it all together for the larger global community,” he said. To sum it all up, Poon believes SFC is now at a critical juncture in its journey to bring the power of enterprises and the voices of consumers together into the same picture to champion sustainability well into the future. “Helping businesses to launch sustainability practices that are certifiable and verifiable is key so that they don’t get themselves into greenwashing type of accusations. Things are evolving rapidly in this space, so we hope to shape the right direction going forward,” she said. Onwards and upwards Poon also feels there is room for improvement in the customer space. In her opinion, an education gap is keeping consumers from making more sustainable choices. “We are not just talking about handing out books on the topic, but we are talking about starting the conversation around sustainability among young school students as well. This is something we will continue to work hard at,” she said. Ultimately, Choo believes that the trade winds are shifting, and more fashion businesses are looking to set up operations on the island. “One big thing we are looking at is capability development, which is the preparation on the ground, getting the talent ready to work for these companies. This will solidify Singapore’s place in the global fashion ecosystem,” he said.