Not long ago, the phrase “made in Singapore” was associated with a handful of tech companies like Razer and Creative and old-school health products like Tiger Balm and Axe Oil (a cure-all for headaches, stomachaches, insect bites, and “giddiness,” among other maladies). Meanwhile, shopping in Singapore was largely limited to designer brands or fast fashion lines sold inside gleaming mega malls on Orchard Road. It was an enjoyable, convenient experience—you could walk for half a mile and never leave the air-conditioning—but one that remained indistinguishable from any other capital city.
With over 20 malls on a 1.3-mile strip, Orchard Road remains a shopping destination unto itself, but for anyone keen to discover small, independent brands, the shop-local opportunities were scattered at best—until the unveiling of Design Orchard in January 2019. The three-in-one, concrete-and-glass complex on the corner of Orchard and Cairnhill Roads offers a self-proclaimed “integrated retail and incubation space”: On the first floor is a showcase of more than 100 Singapore brands curated by the Textile and Fashion Federation (TaFF). The second-level coworking/fashion incubator the Cocoon Space has a fabric library, pattern-cutting tables, and overlock sewing machines. On the roof, local coffee roaster Alchemist dispenses flat whites, and a public-access garden offers a sweeping view of Orchard Road. There’s also an amphitheater and various breakout spaces designed to host fashion shows and events like the recent Heritage Festival celebrating Asian culture and fashion.
The visual impression of the structure is memorable. Designed by WOHA Architects, Design Orchard lives up to its name with a lavish green roof and indoor landscaping throughout; its distinctive Swiss-cheese-like concrete facade is offset by glass and timber elements. Self-checkout counters and interactive mirrors that tell a brand’s backstory offer a modern retail approach while driving home the made-in-Singapore distinction.
Make time to check out a few of our favorite brands:
To don a piece of clothing by Thomas Wee is to wear a piece of Singapore’s fashion history. The esteemed veteran designer is locally known as “the grandmaster of precision tailoring,” and his cutting-edge 3D forms were well ahead of their time in the ’80s. Today, his clothes impart an instant refined elegance to their wearer: relaxed dropped shoulders, slightly voluminous silhouettes with flared hems, most only available in limited runs. Look closer for hand-finished details done by the designer himself, who still drafts and cuts all his paper patterns and fabrics manually. If you buy just a single item, make it one of his signature white tops.
Commemorate your trip to Singapore with brag-worthy bling by Singapore designer Carrie K., known for versatile modular creations. Design (and architecture) lovers will zero in on her Icon collection of geometric, diamond-shaped earrings, rings, and brooches inspired by the renowned National Theatre’s five-point façade, which was built in the 1960s and demolished in the ’80s. The Fu line is another distinctive conversation starter: Made in collaboration with noted cheongsam designer Laichan, the Fu line draws on Chinese heritage for its delicate jade ear jackets, gold bangles, and pretty pearl clips.
Known for designs that leverage the clean, sleek lines of a minimalist silhouette, Singaporean Gin Lee’s jumpsuits and dresses have clever fashion-intelligent details like pin-tucked sleeves and imperfect pleats for a relaxed, flattering fit that is always in style. Originally launched in Israel (where her partner and c0designer Tamir Niv is from), the brand continues to embrace its original ecoconscious approach using sustainable viscose fabric and two ongoing initiatives (GOOD and _/\/\/\ake) aimed at tackling the issue of waste and overproduction while highlighting the importance of tactile-led fashion.
The Lab Fragrances
What better way to remember a place than to bring home a scent that recalls your time there? While Lab Fragrances doesn’t have any blends inspired by Singapore’s famed orchids or its Merlion sea-creature mascot, what it does offer are handmade small-batch scents in simple evocative notes like the Pepper&Tobacco (think spicy notes of saffron, pepper, and cinnamon) and Ginger (a fresh blend of lime and bergamot, lifted with vibrant ginger) stamped with your name on them.
Arm candy that’s often carried by Singapore’s fashionistas, Ling Wu’s buttery soft leather bags are beloved for their handmade touch. Each piece of leather is hand-rolled with glass bottles—and the bags’ practical designs mean they hold more than just a cell phone and lipstick. Wu uses sustainably sourced hides stained in rich hues inspired by Asian ingredients like turmeric, chile, and star anise. Best sellers include the Miller bag in black woven leather and the tote-style Oscar in rattan, handcrafted in partnership with Handep—a social enterprise that empowers Dayak women weavers and craftsmen in Kalimantan, Borneo. (She sources products that fall within the standards set by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, aka CITES.)
Bessie Ye’s minimalist designs bear a certain timelessness: Many local fashion editors wear her trend-proof pieces during fashion week. She turns out quality knit pieces and pared-back separates in neutral hues like navy and olive. Of special note are her cocoon dresses with a subtle balloon-shape silhouette and chic lounge and boyish-fit basics that can be dressed up or down.