Young Designers Uncertain Time Wilson Teo

When one thinks about fashion designers, it’s easy to have a romanticised view of them as pure creatives, sketching beautiful designs on paper that somehow become wearable works of art. The reality is that they also have to consider the nitty-gritty of a complex chain involving the sourcing of materials, manufacturing and retailing. It’s something Wilson Teo, the recently minted president of the Textile and Fashion Federation (Taff ) is familiar with. He is also executive director of Teo Holdings. Its businesses include apparel manufacturing, trading and outsourcing, as well as brand development for wholesale, retail and distribution in children and baby wear. Teo shares his strategic vision for Taff – a non-profit trade association whose goal is to uplift the fashion industry – and how it is helping players in local fashion navigate an uncertain future.

What are your main goals for Taff?

Our goal is to uplift Singapore’s fashion industry and position ourselves as an innovative fashion hub in South-east Asia. There are three main ways we are doing this: advocacy, communication and education. Advocacy involves championing a few key themes we think are essential for the industry – technological innovation, sustainability and Asian craftsmanship. In communication, we want to build a community and an ecosystem and bring together all the stakeholders and industry players. Finally, education involves providing resources to help members, so they can better grow their businesses.

Could you highlight a few key initiatives?

We have many initiatives and programmes. For instance, we secured The Cocoon Space from the Jurong Town Council that’s located at Design Orchard right in the heart of Orchard Road, where most of Singapore’s fashion industry is located. We want to create an environment where we can bring together all the participants in the fashion ecosystem. We just took over the running of Design Orchard’s retail showcase, and intend to make it an iconic shopping destination to promote local brands better. We also run The Bridge Fashion Incubator (TBFI), an accelerator programme that provides emerging brands with tools and mentorships so they can build their businesses and create breakthroughs.

(Related: Leslie Danker has seen it all, and he’s now revealing the history of Raffles Singapore)

What are some specific challenges fashion designers here face?

One challenge for local brands and designers is that we do not have an entire supply chain in our backyard – unlike for example, Hong Kong, which has China as its hinterland. In a smaller way, Thailand has a robust textile and garment supply chain. Singapore doesn’t have that luxury, so our designers need to know where to go to find textiles or supplies. Taff tries to support their needs and connect them with our partners, such as (global fibre manufacturer) Lenzing and other suppliers.

(Related: Bridging the physical and digital in fashion)

Innovation is one area Taff has been focusing on. What innovations can help brands become more prominent?

There are many ways to innovate. One of the participants in the TBFI programme, Evrywear, is a digital rental service platform that lets you rent womenswear instead of buying it. Another brand that graduated from the TBFI programme, Republiqe,develops fashion in the digital space. These are excellent examples of how an apparel business can embrace technology and disruption, constantly rethinking business models and methodologies. For our brand Oeteo, my wife and I wanted to make life easier for parents. We have four kids, and I’ve always been very hands-on as a parent. I found it challenging to dress a struggling and crying baby, so we designed a romper without any snaps or zippers. We have since introduced other functional elements into our products. This is about innovating to differentiate your products and address different needs. In this Covid-19 era, there are a lot more antibacterial functionalities in textiles. It would be interesting to see how local brands can put their spin on such features
to meet new needs.

(Related: The future of fashion collaborations)