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Incubating the next big #fashtech brands with a conscience

May 7, 2019

What is it like starting up Southeast Asia’s first fashion and #fashtech incubation programme? DesignSingapore scholar Jon Max Goh, programme manager at The Bridge Fashion Incubator, shares candidly about his hopes for the programme and the grunt work that needs to be done to make things happen. 
 
In 2011, Jon Max Goh won a DesignSingapore scholarship to study Fashion Design at Parsons School of Design in New York. He graduated in 2015, as the school’s Menswear Designer of the Year, and worked abroad for 7 years before returning to Singapore. Today, he’s a programme manager at The Bridge Fashion Incubator the first fashion and fashion-tech incubation programme in Southeast Asia that focuses on fashion, tech and sustainability. The 30-week programme is an initiative by the Singapore Textile and Fashion Federation(TaFF) and supported by Enterprise Singapore.

  

 
 

 

First, tell us what you did after graduating from Parsons, New York?

 

Shortly after graduation, I was hired as a menswear designer for Joe Fresh, a Canadian mass market brand where I cut my teeth as a fashion designer.

The experience helped me to appreciate the power of cross-functional teams, the immense scale of operations that large corporate brands require to produce a collection, and the number of hands and eyes involved before anything lands on a shop floor or enters a consumer's wardrobe.

But it was also there that I grew frustrated with the way our industry creates: the speed that we were expected to churn out product was unsustainable – not just at an environmental level, but at a human level.


What do you do now at the incubator?

 

I initiate and implement partnerships between the incubator’s network (of mentors, partners and advisors) and the incubator’s participants. I also play a big part in shaping the structure of the incubator programme and I keep an eye on industry insights in the areas of sustainability and technology.

 

My interest lies in implementing fashion practices that consider social impact and design responsibility, and that incorporate circular design strategies into business models.

 

What are your hopes for the incubator?

 

I've always believed deep down that fashion and clothing play a powerful role in driving conversation and change in mindsets – from the way we see the world to how we express and consume what is "the norm".

 

I hope the incubator will draw the brilliant minds we have in Singapore and the region into one place and cast a spotlight on what is lacking in the industry, but also what can be overcome by a drive to bring positive change, coupled by a strong entrepreneurial spirit.

 

Through this incubator, I hope people will begin to see that the fashion business is an immense industry driven by great innovation, technological pursuit and ingenuity – with a heart. Not just a frivolous whim of luxury, decadence and consumption. 

 

How has the experience been so far?

 

Constantly scary and constantly rewarding. Every hour is met with new challenges; every conversation feels like we are breaking new territory. But it has been affirming at the same time because it means something different is needed, and we are here to champion it.

 

Did you ever imagine doing this?

I've definitely dreamt of doing something like this. So, the fact that I was given the opportunity, and am actually making it happen, still creeps up on me some days and I find myself in awe of the task at hand.

 

  

Jon Max Goh (left) and Jo Soh, Programme Director of
The Bridge Fashion Incubator.

 

How has it been like working with the rest of your team?

 

Working alongside Jo (Jo Soh, Programme Director), Semun (Semun Ho, CEO, TaFF) and Debra Langley (Resident mentor) has been a blessing.

 

Each of these amazing women brings a wealth of experience from differing yet complementary industries and I have nothing but respect for each of them.

 

With Jo in particular, it's been great working with another designer who has seen more years in the industry than me, but with the same vision that there can and has to be a better way of running the fashion business – and that's what we're championing here at The Bridge Fashion Incubator.

 

Has it been tough?

 

It's a startup, all right! It's times like these you're thankful they prepare you well in design school to be able to do everything under the sun, even when the sun has gone down. We're talking about responding to emails at midnight on a Sunday, because that's the only time you have to write an email, haha!

 

What drives you despite these challenges?

 

I get to be part of a pioneering team working on a frontier project to harness a new generation of fashion businesses that will hopefully spur a wave of growth and innovation for our industry in the years to come, right here on home ground Singapore.

 

It’s been surreal: a fashion designer like me shaking hands with venture capitalists, conversing with the top executives of internationally renowned companies, and sparring with founders and entrepreneurs who have run billion-dollar companies.

 

I am learning and growing every day with this job, and I really am excited about the brands that are going to be incubated with us.

 

Any unexpected challenges so far?

 

I'll be candid to say – sponsors and funding. Unlike in Europe and North America, where fashion conglomerates are banding together to put money towards driving innovation and change for the industry, it has been a bit harder to garner that support in Singapore.

 

We're still actively looking for our version of LVMH, Kering, C&A Foundation or H&M Foundation to step forward in response to this call for better fashion businesses – but I am hopeful we will get there in due time.

 

What are your hopes for the incubator programme?

 

"Dare to dream about a world that has not existed, and design for that world." It's a personal quote of mine and I still stand by it.

 

I hope this incubator programme will really spotlight and catapult fashion entrepreneurs and related startups into Singapore's and the region's spotlight. In return, I hope they will encourage others to challenge what they understand and do better through new ideas and radical concepts.

 

One day we can all look back and laugh and say, "Wow! Isn't it crazy to think we even thought that those ideas were crazy to begin with?"

 

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