Sunday 17 April 2011

Prada of the proles: How This Fashion took on 'upmarket' Orchard Road

Have you heard the good news? I was so relieved. It was like Borders all over again.

Two weeks ago, Singapore was faced with the grim prospect of the possible loss of another beloved retailer that has been part of our cultural landscape for so long.

Then yesterday came news that it won't be going out of business after all. Hallelujah!

I am, of course, talking about This Fashion.

The Marc Jacobs of the masses. The Helmut Lang of the hoi polloi. The Prada of the proletariat.

Every time I walk by a This Fashion outlet, I’m tempted to go in and look around even though I know This Fashion doesn’t sell men’s clothes.

The prices of the clothes are so low that I wish I were a woman or a cross-dresser just so I could buy something.

Earlier this month, when The Straits Times reported that a China-based apparel manufacturer wanted to wind up This Fashion after the latter couldn’t settle a $170,000 debt, my heart broke.

But now that they have reached a settlement, my heart is whole again.

Started in the late 80s, This Fashion reportedly had 65 outlets all over the island at its 2008 peak. According to its website, there are now only 24.

The company website also tells the inspiring tale of the chain’s against-the-odds expansion into “upmarket” Orchard Road in the mid-90s:
“Although by then, This Fashion was already a popular store among many young ladies, we were still rejected by landlords of upmarket shopping centres in the Orchard Road area.

“These landlords were worried that we would not be able to survive with such low prices and that our low prices would affect the other tenants' business.

“Lastly, they feared that with such low retail prices, we would affect the upmarket image of their shopping centres.”
Then came the 1997 Asian financial crisis. The website continues:
“In 1997, when Orchard Road rents plunged and many retailers in the area moved out, we seized the opportunity to expand into the Orchard Road area. ...

"Fortunately, your generous support over these years has proved those landlords wrong. Not only did we survive with the low prices, we have built an identity of our own.”
I get all choked up just cutting and pasting that from

Someone should make a movie out of this. It would literally be a rags-to-riches story, similar to The Social Network but with spaghetti straps and hot pants.

A few years ago, I wrote a scene for Phua Chu Kang Pte Ltd where a character commented on Rosie’s ugly blouse and Rosie was supposed to say, “What ugly? I bought this from This Fashion!”

But Irene Ang, the actress playing Rosie, was uncomfortable with the line and wanted to change it.

So what did we change it to?

“I bought this from Orchard Road!”

If only we had known then.

- Published in The New Paper, 17 April 2011