Local Guide

Through The Designer's Eyes: Singapore

Part of what makes the Not Just A Label community so unique are the countless designers that hail from all around the globe. Tapping into this diverse and expansive network, we're featuring local city guides from the viewpoint of some of our designers. To kick off the series we have Singapore-based designer, Dawn Bey.


How would you describe the creative scene in Singapore?

The creative scene has been on a steady improvement over the past decade or more which is extremely encouraging. Art & Design was seen as something frivolous and an impossible job to make a living from but the mindset has shifted quite a bit with education and more arts activities for the public.

How long have you lived in Singapore? 

I spent 22 years in Singapore since birth before I moved to Hong Kong to pursue my studies in fashion design and it's been 1.5 years since I moved back!

Is there a large design community in Singapore? How do you interact with it? 

There is a substantial community here! I love discovering new designers on Instagram but nothing beats meeting them in person which doesn't happen often unless you're at a social event or you hang out in the same area. Perhaps everyone is much too busy with their work to be hanging out often.

How does the city inspire you? How has the city influenced your design work?

I'm increasingly intrigued by our melting pot of cultures. We have 4 dominant races here and many religions that live harmoniously beside one another. To be honest, such an environment has been so normal to me that I found it hard to be inspired by it but my years in Hong Kong pulled me away from Singapore and made me view it in a whole new light. That was very necessary for me.

What are the must-sees and must-dos for visitors? 

We have some cool attractions like the Gardens by the Bay and theNational Gallery. But, to me, the must-do is to eat, eat, and eat your way through Singapore! The thing I missed so much about Singapore when I was away was the food, hands down.

In your opinion, where is the best place to stay in the city?

The Tiong Bahru and Chinatown area is charming! Tiong Bahru has heritage buildings and an awesome market with lots of good local food, so that's everything you need in one place.

What do you love most about Singapore?

It has to be the hawker food. We're so serious about our food and the ones in the hawker centre are affordable and good!

What cuisines are distinct to Singapore? Name a few of your favorite eating and drinking spots! 

Chinese, Malay, Indian and Western food... since we have 4 major races here! But we're very global in our palette. We have tonnes of Italian and Japanese restaurants here. My favourite haunts includes a local thunder tea rice place in Tanglin Halt and Italian food at Singapore Art Museum. I'm Asian but pizza is my comfort food (LOL). A beautiful place for drinks is Atlas which is a 1920s bar with beautiful ceilings and interior. The architect of the building went all out with the decor there! It's beyond what you usually get at a bar.

Can you provide a small overview of what a typical day in Singapore is like for you?

I juggle multiple jobs but on days when I have to head to work at a fashion design studio, I take the bus to work. Public transport is very efficient in Singapore and we even have an app that lets you know how long the wait for the bus is and you can even track its location! After that, it's work work work in a new members-only club called Straits Clan where they focus on bringing the creative industry and everyone else together! If work ends early for me, I'll head back home for a run along the streets (hasn't happened in a looooong time) and then it's dinner at home with the family where my mom cooks Chinese/Peranakan food and then it's back to sewing for me if I'm working on personal projects!

There’s a large ex-patriot community in Singapore. How does this influence the lifestyle and culture there? 

Yes indeed! They're often found around the Robertson Quay and Tanglin Mall area. They definitely contribute to the society by bringing in new ideas and ways of thinking. And they're probably the reason why we have so many Italian restaurants here (LOL). It's nice having ex-patriots bringing in their own cultures be it from Europe or Africa because it injects more diversity into our Southeast Asian city and makes us more metropolitan. 

Singapore is not a "fashion capital" like Paris, Milan, or London. Does this impact your work in any way? How does it help or hinder your design process?

With every situation, there are pros and cons. Singapore is a small market so if I was to solely concentrate on Singapore as my main market, there is a limit to growth. That being said, being in Singapore helps for exposure and support since the number of local designers is small so that helps for funding of the brand. But we need to keep in mind that we can grow to become a top local designer here in Singapore, much like being a big fish in a small pond, but when we go overseas, we will become a small fish in a big ocean. So, we have to learn not to solely concentrate on the Singaporean market and keep our eyes on the international market. That would also bring a lot more competition but much bigger economies of scale for production.

What does Singapore offer creatively that other cities do not?

Given its geographical location and political stability, Singapore has a unique blend of many races living harmoniously together and many Singaporeans grow up with exposure to each other’s culture without realising how precious that is. We are also in South East Asia so we have become a melting pot for various Asian cultures, not just Chinese but Malay, Indian and many other minorities too.

You mentioned that the cost of production is rather high in Singapore. How do you mediate this? In your ideal world, how could you change this?

For me the cost is high because of my methods of production. I do a lot of printed work and hand work on the garments after the production. But that also ensures that the pieces I produce are unique and cannot be replicated. I have no problems of them being expensive because they are wearable art pieces to me but I would definitely explore a range of clothing that would be more affordable to sustain the business. In the ideal world, I’ll invest time into building up the ecosystem here from having more garment factories to fabric wholesalers and trim shops.

Singapore is known for having some rather strict laws. Does this ever impede the fashion industry there? Does it ever impact your work?

We’ve learnt to work around it! I guess being born here means we don’t feel like it has limited us because we are used to it. When I was in Hong Kong, I did enjoy the freedom to express your creativity openly and easily on the streets with street art or in the press. Singapore is much more orderly so that happens in very confined spaces. It does get to me sometimes but all these “limitations” simply push me to find creative solutions around the problems. I’m still trying to have discipline to fight these limitations because it is so much easier to sit back, defeated and say that the situation doesn’t allow me to do anything so I don’t do anything instead of actively finding solutions around it.