"Brands with Singapore stories carry great appeal at The Emporium"
Clad in a chic dress with geometric motifs, Sylvia Lim is as much an approachable icon of style as she is an earnest businesswoman. Co-founder and group managing director of Triologie by The Tricot Studio, Lim conceptualises and designs for Triologie, a womenswear label which retails at The Emporium. “We first came up with the idea and concept sometime in 2011, and saw the birth of our first season in Spring 2012,” says the 45-year-old. “It was a culmination of [effort by] three brains with more than 50 years of industry experience, each separately helming design, manufacturing and business.” With that, the trio of friends decided to put pen to paper and draw up their vision of a fashion label dedicated to the happy, free spirited and savvy woman – Triologie.
Triologie was conceived to first address the need for appropriate clothing for our tropical climate, hence the use of only natural fabrics. The Triologie woman, who possesses a lust for life and embraces spontaneity, wearability and versatility, is a traveller who loves to tell her travel stories. This is depicted in the print stories on the fabrics for each season.
Lim also wanted to put out garments with cheery appeal. “We want to create happy prints on happy dresses!” she says. The collections soon caught on with appreciative customers, especially those who are well-travelled, who enjoy wearing renowned fashion labels and also want to support local brands.
“It has to be wearable clothing that you feel happy in,” she says. “We aren’t going to be the most fashion-forward silhouettes on the runway, but we want to offer something that is wearable and which appeals to women living in our climate!”
Lim started her business without a brick-and-mortar store. Triologie was consigned to department stores in Singapore and neighbouring Malaysia, which gave her the opportunity to test the markets. In Malaysia, her collections were retailed at Parkson department store in Bukit Bintang and at various Tangs stores across the country. “The sell-through was encouraging and that kept us going, giving us the assurance that the brand could continue.” But the weekly travels across the Causeway soon took its toll. At the same time, manpower issues as well as the weakening ringgit made it harder to do business. Triologie soon became somewhat out of reach for the average Malaysian customer. Sylvia eventually decided to pull out of Malaysia, just before the ringgit plummeted.
Moving out of Malaysia meant that there was a need for retail distributing points in Singapore, so the label launched pop-up stores in malls such as Millenia Walk, Wheelock Place, Raffles City, Westgate and I12 Katong.
Lim later founded The Emporium Group which opened its first store at Millenia Walk, two years before the flagship outlet at Orchard Gateway. Today, The Emporium is in three permanent locations and Triologie is its in-house label. Triologie also retails at two counters in department stores.
Today, The Emporium is home to various labels and merchandise that include furniture and curios, which share the space merchandised and curated by Lim. The Emporium is conceived to be a fashion lifestyle store, dedicated to supporting local independent designers through retail collaboration. “We are a synergised retail platform that local designers, of complementary trades across multi-product categories, partner with to commercialise their brand,” Lim says.
“I am a big champion of collaborations, so I was on a shopping spree for people like myself, running businesses on a scale not unlike mine at that time such as ‘hole-in-the-wall’ type of businesses — small, perhaps not big enough to fill up a store on their own, and with interesting brand stories.” Lim soon found opportunities to collaborate with like-minded Singaporeans, including those onto their second careers — among them a Cambridge graduate who quit banking to solder jewellery at home!
“The whole is greater than the sum of its parts when we collaborate,” she says. “This is the beauty of collaboration — it also brings about new possibilities, creates interesting complementary adjacencies and makes everything more affordable!”
Lim ensures a stringent selection process at The Emporium and all merchandise is carefully curated. The Emporium represents and sells brand stories. “We engage our customers with our stories in a quintessential premium shopping experience with the purpose to excite, explore and be different. And that perhaps is what keeps customers coming back to The Emporium,” she says. “Every brand and [piece of] merchandise comes with a story, and that is what makes them special. The same goes for our stores — every outlet is merchandised and customised according to its location, but in a similar handwriting.”
An advocate of and believer in local talent, Lim believes more should be done to showcase local brands and the Singapore story.
The Emporium may be localised for Singaporeans but that will not prohibit a similar style of localisation of The Emporium in another country, Lim shares, adding that she has set her eyes on bringing the brand and concept to the region. “Consider The Emporium in Vietnam or Thailand. It can be localised with the similar handwriting, character, and heartbeat, while also incorporating into the mix native influences and culture. Curating and storytelling is the most enjoyable part of my job.”
The economic climate may seem uncertain but Lim is undaunted. “I believe in perseverance and finding new opportunities. Retail is undergoing disruption at the moment; we need to leave our comfort zone, our usual way of doing business and explore new opportunities,” she suggests. “There is art and science in business. Both areas are as critical, which requires careful balancing or it will not work for the long haul. Entrepreneurship is about character building.”