I sat down with the strong-willed and independent Tjin Lee on a sunny afternoon in one of her favourite cafes, P.S. Cafe, to chat about her achievements in advancing Singapore’s stance as a fashion capital.
Tjin, the founder of Singapore Fashion Week, Mercury Marketing & Communications and CRIB, is not only the reason we have a world-renowned line up, but also why Singaporean designers are finally gaining opportunities to be recognised globally.
She is involved in initiatives to advance the positioning of local talents and guide them to become more successful. Last year during Singapore Fashion Week, fashion icons such as Diane Von Furstenberg are coming to Singapore to present their collections but they didn’t simply bow and leave.
“I felt that we should take it one step further and get a partnership with LASALLE where we will be having talks inside the schools.”
Now, budding creative talents will have the chance to get career advice from the masters of the industry and find out what it takes to make it.
Not only are budding talents learning from these designers, but so are other Singaporean designers like Ong Shunmugan, who met these iconic designers during SGFW to learn more about working in the global industry.
There is also another campaign where three buyers will fly in to fund three local designers to help them kick start their career: “In a great picture, I think the objective is to globalize Singapore labels”.
Tjin has shaped the identity of our tiny island’s fashion week to what it is now, and wants it to represent our country to the best of her abilities: ”Much like everything else in this city, it’s very cosmopolitan”.
Compared to other countries in the region, Singapore is a small market, featuring international designers. While Tjin would love to just base it on purely domestic talent, the demand for a show with iconic designers from all corners of the world is just too prevalent. The creative genius that she is, Tjin has used this to her advantage: “I use that as a platform to elevate the Asian and Singaporean designers”.
It hasn’t always come naturally to her, however. When she started out, she only had two people working for her and no one guiding her though the process:
“I had no experience and I’d never run a fashion week in my life, what qualified me to run one? Absolutely nothing!”
As she went along, even though it was terrifying, she had to learn from scratch.
“I think in 2004 when I saw my very first tents being built in Orchard Road, I was probably more gripped by fear than anything else. It was more like watching this monster go up, and they built the steel skeleton up and you think ‘OMG, what have I done!’ “
It was all worth it though, and her chance encounter with fashion led her to many great things and experiences.
“One of the highlights I think was in 2010 when Roberto Cavalli took his final bow on the catwalk and he just finished his 40th anniversary collection, and I mean Cavalli is one of the designers that designs the most glamorous evening gowns in the world, and then at that finale, he got a standing ovation from a crowd 900 strong”.
Working on ten different start ups at a time, this hard-working lady is without a doubt living up to her full potential. As an expecting mother of a two-year-old son, she also has a passion for helping working mothers. Her women’s empowerment enterprise already has a hundred members, and now she’s working on a family-friendly office for mothers. “It shows how many women are actually inspired by entrepreneurship and actually want to work and have some skin in the game, but they’re just not really sure where to begin,” said Tjin.
She describes the team she works with at Mercury Marketing & Communications as young and dynamic and feels the team should be proud of all of their achievements: “We’ve just sort of built the festival strength to strength over the many years. We’ve built a really credible, world-class event”. She sits in the middle of her office so she can hear snippets of conversations from her employees, and does most of the communicating on the go, with sixteen Whatsapp chats beeping constantly.
She is very dedicated to what she does, and the ideas for her business start ups spring organically from what she feels like there is a need for: “Instead of sitting around saying someone should create it, I just do it. I create it”.
“Unlike what people think, that it’s very glamorous, 99% of it is communicated via emails and phone calls.”
When we part, she tells me she is on her way to get her hair blow-dried for the Tommy Hilfiger collection launch. She still admits it’s just a job, and it’s not as glamorous as it sounds.
Tjin will be speaking at the Galboss Asia Symposium on 21 July 2016 alongside accomplished ladies who have excelled in their respective fields. Details here.
Singapore Fashion Week 2016 is slated to happen in October this year and will be held the National Gallery Singapore.