Heralding a long-awaited turn of the tides for Singapore retail

Noticed all the mysterious scaffolding at the junction of The Heeren, H&M and UOB? After a year of renovations, the former site of pop-up store Keepers will open its doors as Design Orchard on Jan 25. No ordinary retail hub, the 2.5-storey building will serve as a new platform for local designers and innovation, bringing together 61 local brands on our notorious shopping district.

Divided into three main areas, the project is a collaboration between Enterprise Singapore, JTC, and the Singapore Tourism Board (STB). Level One will be a retail showcase of the 61 brands, operated by homegrown retailer Naiise. Level Two will serve as an incubation hub for nurturing independent designers and fashion businesses, run by the Textile and Fashion Federation Singapore (TaFF) and called The Cocoon Space—so named for its aim of encouraging metamorphosis for its brands. And the top floor, a sloping rooftop with lush greenery and seats, will be a public space open for events and brand showcases. The amphitheater-style seating and location is set to make a great vantage point for people-watching too.


The rooftop at Design Orchard

For the everyday shopper, all the good stuff happens on the first floor. The 9,000 sq ft. space is designed as a garden-style concept, to house uniquely Singaporean brands that range from fashion to lifestyle to souvenirs and even food. Of the 61, three are established brands (the likes of Yacht 21 and Depression), 47 are emerging, and 11 are all-new brands. Cult favourites like fashionwear Ying The Label will be showcased alongside newer designers like The Rocket Eyewear, scent retailer Artisan of Sense, and even social enterprises like The Animal Project—which turns art from persons with disabilities into animal-themed gifts. 

The current featured brands were curated from more than 100 designers received in an open call in November 2017. While most of the brands will remain in the showcase for six months to a year with an option to renew, shoppers can expect a full refresh every two years—to keep the experience fresh, as well as provide an opportunity to nurture other young brands.

As part of the role, Naiise will also run a mentorship programme for the brands in the showcase, to help designers with business aspects like marketing, merchandising, and global expansion. Bigwig entrepreneurs like Unlisted Collection's Loh Lik Peng and Spa Esprit Group's Cynthia Chua have also been brought on as mentors for the programme.


Neoprene pouches from The Animal Project

The launch has been a long time coming. Orchard Road has been on the receiving end of a dismal retail slump for years. Local shoppers can find more unique items and better deals online, while visiting shoppers just aren’t interested in the same global brands they can get back home—usually at more attractive prices too.

In addressing this, a representative from STB clarified that Design Orchard does not intend to compete with the surrounding malls, but rather provide something new to tourists who want to bring home a slice of Singapore. Diversity on our nation’s prime shopping street has always been a goal—though previously a seemingly impossible one given the high barriers to entry for many young designers. STB explained that while local talent is prevalent, high rental costs often prevented newer brands from stepping out to add to the retail scene. “It’s something where if the government didn’t step in, the private sector wouldn’t step in to do this,” added the STB representative.

Could this be the start of a great new year for Singapore shopping? Only time and the Department of Statistics will tell.


Design Orchard opens Jan 25 at #01-01, 250 Orchard Road. More information here.