77th Street is the local streetwear multi-label boutique that has been around for as long as I remember since I was in my early tween years. When I was around 13-15, I didn't know what fashion was and I had taken to an early grungy style of dressing and layering characterised by 2 layered tank tops, baggy cargo pants and sneakers. My two go-to places for shopping was Far East Plaza, where 77th Street originally started out from, and also Samuel & Keith (that has now faded into obscurity). 77th Street was the one store that had always stocked the edgiest and trendiest styles in streetwear, as you can see from the timeline above.
But as I grew up and began to find out more about fashion and individual sense of polished style, I stopped patronizing 77th Street but instead turned to vintage and flea market shopping, as well as lusting after the clothes I see from Topshop and Zara.
And as I grew up and changed, 77th Street evolved throughout the years as well. It now stocks a new label, Gothic Princess, that is a combination of bling, lolita and edginess, which is less underground street, but moves up a level to a more refined and slightly high-end feel with its edgy elegant accessories and bags. Not only that, Elim Chew has brought her company towards a different direction by going in distribution across Asian markets and also through setting up an underground 77th Street Plaza in Beijing's famous shopping district, Xidan. During their 23rd anniversary, I caught up with Elim Chew to ask her a few questions:
Q: Hi Elim! Can you tell me more about what you think of the local Singaporean fashion scene in general in terms of fashion designers and creative people that you know?
I have met the most creative people in this industry; I think Singapore has great potential to become the Asian fashion capital. This is why we have tried to bring our Singaporean designers' labels abroad to be introduced in other Asian markets, and at the same time bringing other Asian labels into Singapore through our Asia Fashion City platform. This will create bigger markets for our own brands.
I have also forayed into the F&B industry and am overlooking a few cafes, so I think it would be good if everyone were to come together to make Singapore a more vibrant place to pose as a source of inspiration to other people. Some of the things I've done is to bring in the Harajuku concept into Tangs and have long term collaborations with designers to bring brands into Japan, Beijing and Indonesia. We're also wholesaling our Gothic Princess range to India, Indonesia and Malaysia at the same time.
I feel that it would be best to leave designers to focus on designing solely instead of focusing on setting up their individual shops. They can come together and share the costs of hiring 2-3 professional sales staff that can market and distribute their designs. I think this would be more efficient in getting their labels out, at the same time ensuring that they can do what they love instead of worrying about the business aspect of their labels. This is what 77th Street aim to achieve by acting as a point of distribution for these designers.
|Elim talking about 77th Street|
Q: Over the years has your target audience for 77th Street changed from teenage youths to a slightly older and mature demographic such as hip working adults?
Yes, we now cater more to the working adults that used to shop with us in their teenage years. Even though they have aged, but their liking for unique, cutting edge accessories has not changed, so most of them are still our loyal customers.
Q: What is the 77th Street Plaza concept about in Beijing and how has the response been so far?
77th Street Plaza is a recognized underground shopping street for the youths in Beijing and it acts as an incubator for young people to grow their brands through this platform provided for them to network and gain distribution contacts. It is sort of like Far East Plaza where small brands first start out before going big and getting store space in bigger and more established malls.
|Gothic Princess ranges from jewelry to bags|
|Formal men's suits instead of the past baggy streetwear|
|Elim's relatives - Grandma Mary dressed in red still has a strong liking for costume jewelry|
Yes, definitely. Rental these days has been going up and the high costs of business operations and manpower has led me to cut down the number of stores I have from 14 to 10. We are now more focused on e-commerce, where our local customers can easily shop, and our overseas customers can discover new brands unavailable in their countries.
The Asia Fashion City concept is also an online platform for us to reach out to a wider demographic.