Diversity drives the conversation on the little red dot, where local fashion is free to take on multicultural shapes and forms. For designers at Singapore’s homegrown brands, the city often acts as a moodboard—“a melting pot of inspiration,” as designer Iris Ramos describes it.
In the summer of 2018, Ramos co-founded Duxton along with her husband Dustin. The brand drew its name and identity from the street in downtown Singapore where the couple had established their first shop a year prior. “The original vision was a men’s line that was representative of all the wonderful folks whom we had met at Monument Lifestyle on Duxton Road,” Ramos recalls. “Men and women alike reinventing themselves, finding wonder and excitement in new life experiences—they would come into our shop and tell us about their adventures and challenges. That’s where Duxton was born.”
A fashion label built for the tropics, as it stands. Duxton prides itself on its aloha shirts and is probably responsible for dressing half the people at Sentosa on any given day. “When Dustin and I got married, we had a weekend bonanza with an aloha theme for the first day,” Ramos reminisces. “All our guests from around the world wore aloha shirts and they were so silly and fun. They lifted the mood and made everyone feel more relaxed immediately.”
Today, Duxton’s best-selling aloha shirts find a fitting home at the Design Orchard retail space—an immersive shopping experience built to celebrate Singaporean designers and their creations. The label draws from varied influences—from Japanese prints to knit fabrics from Los Angeles—all of which come together as fashion that fits the Singaporean lifestyle. “We love leaving our customers with a sense of relaxed confidence,” says Ramos.
It’s no surprise that Duxton’s diverse approach to design extends to the team of people behind the label—a trait which might be attributed to the brand’s Singaporean roots. Duxton owes its success to employees from around the globe, all of whom have come to call the city home.
"We started with half our team in Los Angeles and half our team in Singapore," explains Ramos. "When the pandemic hit, it was hard to keep both offices going. We made a very conscious decision to consolidate everything to Singapore, grow our team here, and even move over some of our manufacturing."
Even through these challenges, the Duxton family has only grown bigger over the past two years. “While others were closing their doors, we were finding new ways to expand,” explains Ramos. “There’s so much amazing talent here. Our team now is absolutely representative of Singapore and its diversity, talent, and beauty.”
These past few years have been instrumental in the evolution of Singapore’s fashion landscape. Local designers have found the freedom to explore bold ideas as consumers grow to be more and more open minded about their dressing choices.
As Lyn Chan and Kenneth Chia recall, their clientele was a lot more conservative when they first launched their mobile tailoring service, A Gentleman’s Tale, back in 2015. “Bright colors and prints were not readily accepted, short sleeved shirts had the reputation of being uncle-ish or only suitable for beach/resort wear…” says Chan. “These days, clients do a lot of research. They are receptive to colors and prints and are willing to step out of their comfort zone.”
"Foreign retailers cater to a wider crowd…but it still takes a Singaporean to understand another Singaporean"
Social media has played a pivotal role in contributing to this heightened consciousness. “People are willing to spend on quality and fit and are very excited about incorporating subtle differences in their outfits which make them unique,” says Chan. On top of that, the pandemic has people spending more time staring at themselves, over Zoom calls, than ever before. “We’ve noticed a positive response to short-sleeved shirts, which are versatile and suitable for wear on a variety of occasions, whether it’s a Zoom call, an in-person client meeting, or even a day out on the weekend.”
Throughout this tumultuous period, A Gentleman’s Tale has swiftly adapted to the times. The brand has had to make tough decisions such as giving up its physical showroom and selling its mobile tailoring bus. However, it’s core identity remains strong as ever. “For our individually tailored items, we keep production in Singapore even though it leads to a higher cost,” says Chan. “We like to believe that this is one of the reasons why Singaporean consumers have continued to support us, especially over the last two years.”
Chan and Chia have sought out the silver linings and made the best of their time, despite the setbacks around every corner. “We took this opportunity to pursue diplomas in fashion business and apparel design,” says Chan. “Our rationale was that if we can’t embark on our business plans, let’s embark on an upgrading journey for ourselves instead. After all, if we are not earning, we should be learning. Every phase in life—every situation—provides an opportunity. We just have to look for it.”
Through this time, A Gentleman’s Tale has also expanded its online presence as the founding duo continue to offer their bespoke sartorial services. With the launch of AGT Basics, the brand has entered the world of online retail too. Offering uniquely handcrafted shirts, bermuda shorts, and masks, AGT Basics’ apparel is made-to-order so as to promote sustainability and cut down on waste. The designs are a keen blend of stylish and comfortable, created with the Singaporean customer in mind.
“Being a homegrown brand, we’re able to develop designs that are readily acceptable yet fashionable. As locals, we understand the culture and nuances of being Singaporean. Along with that, the exposure which we’ve had overseas allows us to intertwine foreign fashion influences into our designs,” says Chan. “Foreign retailers cater to a wider crowd and their staples would meet the local requirement but it still takes a Singaporean to understand another Singaporean.”
It was this nuanced understanding of the local fashion landscape which also led QianQian Xie and Calvin Sim to start their own clothing label, Graye. “Whilst there are increasing options for local womenswear designs, most of our male customers only shop at a handful of brands—mostly international retailers,” says Xie. “Graye was built to bridge the gap for ready-to-wear men’s and unisex apparel.”
“We saw the potential in growing an authentic and unique brand which offers design-led products and at the same time, advocates for positive values in the fashion industry.” Graye champions a sustainable approach through initiatives such as in-house upcycling and post-sale recycling and repair services. Even through the pandemic, the brand has stayed on course despite the impact on its bottom line. “Change is hard, but it pushes us to innovate. We are committed to designing more responsibly as we continue to evolve. This includes sharing more about our processes and creating a space for mutual learning.”
“We’re fortunate to be brought up in a society where we are exposed to a variety of cultures, people, and lifestyles."
Headed to Wheelock Place for a retail reopening with a fresh rebrand, Graye’s new outlet has been planned out with this vision in mind. “We believe that a store is not just a place to browse and purchase products, but a space for us to foster a sense of community. Our customers will be able to get a behind-the-scenes look at our creative process; customise the products they like; and bring back products for repairs, or to give them a new life in our store. This rebranding takes us towards a livelier, contemporary atmosphere which will set ground for a more inclusive design environment.”
On the topic of design, Graye has carved out a niche for itself through a balance of aesthetic and functionality, and a uniquely transformative approach. Some of the studio’s most popular pieces include the all-season buttoned kimono and the stand collar pocket shirt. As displayed on the website, these pieces draw influence from local culture while being versatile enough for everyday wear. Not only that—they’ve also been created for everybody. “My style generally gravitates towards unisex apparel,” says Xie. “This ambiguity allows me to think beyond gender, and cast my focus on design ideation and details.”
“I love playing with a subtle fusion of elements,” she adds. “Whether it’s adding a modern touch to a seemingly traditional design, or bringing in traditional inspirations to minimal casual wear.” This idea of transformation permeates into the functional process too. “We want to utilise our design and technical skills to develop the products such that they serve more than one function. For example, a vest turning into a bag, or a hat that could also serve as a pouch. Most importantly though, our goal is to create sensible designs that can transform one’s lifestyle for the better.”
Xie echoes the sentiments of the aforementioned brand owners, acknowledging the unique position which sets apart Singaporean designers. “We’re fortunate to be brought up in a society where we are exposed to a variety of cultures, people, and lifestyles. Although Singapore’s fashion market is mostly dominated by major international retailers, I think there’s a lot of room and potential for us to build our very own fashion landscape.”
Even through these trying times, Singaporean fashion continues to flourish through the ingenuity of local brands and designers. Head over to KrisShop now to discover more homegrown brands similar to Duxton, A Gentleman's Tale, and GRAYE.