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The next big thing

It has been two years since Parco Next Next, the designer incubator project at Millenia Walk, was launched
The Straits Times - February 17, 2012
By: Rohaizatul Azhar
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The next big thing -- ST PHOTO: JOHN HENG

What started out as an experiment to give budding designers a platform to showcase their work has turned out to be a boon for home-grown labels. From March 27 to April 4, 10 out of 25 local designers from the pioneer batch of the Parco Next Next fashion incubator programme will be featured as part of a pop-up store at Parco Shibuya in Tokyo.

The designers are now into the second year of their 18-month programme.

They include Mae Pang by Pang Ai Mei, L'ile Aux Ashby by Rayson Tan and Yumumu by Lu Yilin. These labels have not only made waves locally, but also piqued the interest of the region's fashion insiders.

The Japan show marks the first time the programme will have a retail store overseas. The collections will be curated by Mr Yuji Yamamoto, son of Japanese designer Yohji Yamamoto and owner of popular Japanese multi-label concept store Make One's Mark (MOM).

Womenswear label Yumumu has also been selected by Mr Yamamoto to be sold permanently at his MOM store in Tokyo.

The label's designer, Ms Lu, was also recently selected for a six-month internship with London-based Scottish designer Christopher Kane.

She says: 'Being part of the pioneer batch of Parco Next Next designers has given me a lot of exposure and opportunities to showcase my designs. Everything that I have learnt, both creatively and business-wise, has given my label a strong foundation.'

The success stories do not stop there. A spokesman for Parco Japan says the Japanese mall retailer is 'actively looking' at expanding into other Asian cities. Currently, the Parco retail concept is only present in Japan and Singapore. He declines to comment on how many more stores it intends to open in the region.

With each new Parco, the intention is also to create a Parco Next Next platform showcasing Singapore designers.

Ms Lai Sau Kuen, general manager of Parco Singapore, says: 'Singapore is a brand name that is well respected overseas. So, having our Parco Next Next designers in our future ventures caters to an existing interest and demand.'

If this happens, it would mean the newer made-in-Singapore labels will find it easier to break into foreign markets and find themselves on the retail floors of Asia's capitals.

Indeed, Parco Next Next has come a long way since its inception in March 2010.

Launched as a project to nurture and develop budding talent into fashion designers with viable businesses, it was developed by Parco together with Spring Singapore and the Textile & Fashion Federation (TaFf).

Each year, a batch of up to 20 designers is picked from a pool of applicants.

They then undergo an 18-month mentorship with industry veterans such as Mr David Wang, vice-president of TaFf as well as established home-grown designers such as Nic Wong and Daniel Yam.

After that, their designs are stocked at the 6,000sqft Parco NextNext store in Millenia Walk for a year, during which the designers pay subsidised rentals. Parco Singapore declines to disclose details of the rental subsidies.

In the first year of the programme, however, the remote location of the boutique and the subsequent bad sales threatened to break the initiative.

There was also the question of what happens to the designers once their 18 months with the programme comes to an end.

Those teething issues, says Ms Loh Soi Min, director of lifestyle at Spring Singapore, have since been resolved. Last year, Parco Next Next organised fashion events, such as styling workshops and fashion runway showcases, to publicise the venue.

The designers were also involved in big events such as the Audi Fashion Festival; Nation Pride in conjunction with National Day; and Zouk's annual Model For Hope charity event.

'We have also refined the programme and training to shorten the learning curve for the participants,' says Ms Loh.

'For example, we realised that an incubation period of one year was insufficient for the designers to learn the various elements of what makes a successful fashion designer-cum-retailer. The programme was thus extended to a second year so as to better prepare designers on how to sustain a business.'

This is especially good news for the newest batch of 18 fledgling designers, aged between 23 and 39, who will take over the retail space at Millenia Walk in April.

They were picked from a pool of about 30 applicants - double the number of applicants compared to last year, a sign that more are starting to recognise the benefits of a Parco Next Next mentorship.

There is, however, still room to grow. Ms Lu points out that to present a better and more effective retail concept, the works of designers have to be more tightly curated in order to create a stronger identity.

She says: 'Right now, the programme offers range but there needs to be more cohesion. It is fine to have a range of styles but our target market should be the same in terms of price point and customer demographic. Otherwise, it would be difficult to market the retail concept.'

 

 

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