It’s no easy feat to survive in a dwindling retail scene let alone have one thriving. Enter KEEPERS, a retail showcase created to promote and provide awareness of the works of Singaporean designers. Founded by Ms Carolyn Kan (Founder & Designer of Carrie K Jewellery), as well as Ms Lynette Lee (Chief Executive Officer of Textile & Fashion Federation), it’s no surprise that the duo went on to receive the Special Recognition Award at the Singapore Tourism Awards 2016 for establishing KEEPERS: Singapore Designers Collective, the largest pop-up showcase of Singaporean designers’ offerings to date.
Initially launched as a pop-up at Orchard Green next to the Singapore Visitors Centre, its burgeoning success, eventually extended the store’s run, and finally to the birth of a permanent home befittingly at the National Design Centre.
We talk to co-founder Carolyn Kan on what it takes to survive in a brutal retail scene and the future of KEEPERS.
Can you share with us some of the designers that you carry at KEEPERS and your top picks from them, along with images of these items?
KEEPERS features designers who not only have a unique design aesthetic and create quality designs, but who are also selected to fit changing themes. We recently opened at our new nest at the National Design Centre with the theme “Home Is Where the Heart Is”. Here, we have spotlighted Singapore designers who create products for the home, like Onlewo who tells Singapore stories through home furnishings, candles by “A Dose of Something Good”, chocolates by “DemoChoco” and jewellery by “Carrie K.” In September, our theme was focused on the adventures of sea travel in the “Seven Seas” featuring sunglasses by Visual Mass, Travel Journals by “The Travel Bandit” and scarves that tell Singapore stories by “Binary Style”.
What made you decide to open up KEEPERS?
KEEPERS was created to grow awareness and appreciation for the work of independent designers, artists and artisans in Singapore.
In 2011, I noticed that there were many talented designers and artisans in Singapore, who had few options to retail. At the same time, there were customers looking for designs with a unique point of view and that were well-made. Hence, we started KEEPERS as a quarterly showcase to start bringing the community together and to spotlight our local talent.
In 2014, with the support of the Singapore Tourism Board and Spring Singapore, Carrie K. co-organised with TaFf (Textile & Fashion Federation) the KEEPERS: Singapore Designer Collective on Orchard Road, to further our goal to spotlight Singapore Designers, Artists and Artisans, as well as to nurture national pride in the calibre and diversity of our local talent from fashion to furniture to food. Being in one accessible location was a great advantage, which also promoted opportunities for designers from different disciplines to collaborate.
How do you think KEEPERS has helped emerging designers?
Firstly, KEEPERS presented a select group of Singapore designers and artisans, whose work is of international calibre, in one accessible location. This gave locals and visitors a clearer view of the diversity and quality of Singapore designers. Following KEEPERS’ 16 month pop-up on Orchard road, local department stores were more open to supporting and featuring Singapore designers. Lastly, we have started to build a community amongst designers in different design disciplines who may not have had the opportunity to meet and collaborate previously. Today, we still get emails from tourists who visited KEEPERS a year ago, asking where they can now find their favourite Singapore designers.
Do you think KEEPERS has helped to change Singaporean’s mindsets with regard to local designers being just as good as foreign ones?
I think that visitors to KEEPERS have been pleasantly surprised with the diversity and calibre of Singapore designers, artists and artisans that we had brought together under one roof. Because Singapore designers are scattered all over the island, most people were not aware that we had such a rich community of designers beavoring away under the surface. Most visitors provided feedback that it was a good idea to bring the designers under one roof and that having discovered these emerging designers, they would seek them out in their studios. I believe that 16 months is too short a time to have shifted the perception of the general public, but there are a few key designer brands who have won a strong Singapore fan base.
What are some of the struggles you think young local designers face?
The key issues facing designers in Singapore are the small market size, high rentals, and a lack of understanding about the business side of fashion.
Would you decide to ever expand KEEPERS to other countries?
If the right opportunity comes up, KEEPERS in other countries is definitely a possibility. Collaborating with artisans and designers from around the region will help grow our perspective and raise the calibre of craftsmanship by our Singapore designer brands, as well as help put Singapore on the global design map.
Check out some of our top picks at KEEPERS
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