Fashion startups getting a fillip here

Seoul Fashion Week Fall/Winter 2015
Kim Jong Hyun | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images
Seoul Fashion Week Fall/Winter 2015

New fashion labels from Asia are rapidly emerging on the global stage as governments in the region bet on creative industries as new growth drivers.

"Asia is rising with a lot of young fashion talents and compared to overseas designers, they have a lot more support from the government," Singaporean designer Sabrina Goh told CNBC. "It's a good advantage compared to other regions like the U.S."

Goh's 'Elohim' brand was first launched in 2009 with $12,000 of her own savings. After receiving a $50,000 grant from government enterprise agency SPRING Singapore, she finally opened her own store two years later and got to participate in one of New York's largest trade shows last year.

Entrepreneurs like Goh are increasingly benefitting as countries like Singapore, South Korea and Japan wake up to the multi-billion dollar potential of the 'creative economy,' a term encompassing sectors like culture, design and media. Creative industries are estimated to represent anywhere from 3 to 12 percent of global gross domestic product currently, according to the World Economic Forum (WEF).

"Many politicians and business leaders look to the creative industries as a means of creating fast growth with a relatively low initial investment in soft infrastructure. They see these industries as a way of achieving stylistic and technological innovations, as well as advances in knowledge and economic development," WEF said in its 2014-2016 outlook report.

A look at government initiatives

In 2013, SPRING Singapore launched a grant to help small and medium sized (SME) firms enter foreign markets, while this year marked the debut of a new program at the government-backed Singapore Fashion Week (SFW) aimed at popularizing local designers in the international marketplace.

"Singapore is very supportive of new startups because we're quite focused on trying to create a Singaporean brand," noted local fashion mogul Velda Tan, who debuted her new clothing line at SFW this year. "International cities like New York and Paris get a lot more hype because they are well established. SFW is still quite young, but it hopes to become a major runway show," she added.

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In Seoul, K-Fashion Project one such project promoting Korean designers abroad. Sponsored by the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy, it's now in its third year of operation and launched its first show in China last year after several stints in the U.S. Moreover, the South Korean government aims to increase spending for culture and media to $7.6 billion by 2017, or 2 percent of the budget, from 1.4 percent presently, according to a CLSA report last year.

"In Asia, we want to groom our talents and find local designers," hence the government interest, Goh explained. Overseas markets already have well established names in the industry, so they don't require as much support, she said.

While Tokyo has long been a staple on the list of global fashion capitals, a $500 million government campaign called 'Cool Japan' has reinvigorated the industry. The two-year old program is co-led by various agencies like the Ministry of Economy, Trade & Industry (METI) and supports overseas expansion plans for SMEs focused on media, food, fashion and lifestyle.

"A major concern of the 'Cool Japan' campaign has been to develop and support talent. For example, there may be celebrated Japanese fashion designers, but expertise is surprisingly low in the sector and METI considers it necessary to instill an international mind-set," a European Union report said last year.