28 May 2024, 11:41
By Paul Farley, reporting from Singapore Mar 10, 2013

The grand designs of International Furniture Fair Singapore (IFFS)

Singapore's key furniture event certainly covers a lot of ground. Each March, it's the locus of the International Furniture Fair Singapore (IFFS), the ASEAN Furniture Show (AFS), The Decor Show and The Hospitality Show - as well as the Hospitality Design Furniture Luxurious Project Asia Summit & Awards.

Those interested in the latter areas should refer to Furniture News' sister title, Hospitality Interiors - particularly for news regarding The Hotel Show Asia, a new joint venture taking place between IFFS Pte and DMG Events at the 2014 event. For now, my focus is on domestic furniture and furnishings, and the combination of IFFS and AFS never disappoints - even if some complain that the quality of the exhibitors has been watered down in recent years.

Some 466 companies are present across 60,000m2 of exhibition space this year: 40% from Asia/Oceania; 42% from ASEAN countries; 12% from Europe; 5% from America and Canada; and 1% from the Middle East. This edition sees the attendance of US giant Ashley Furniture, as well as a new pavilion of French companies - under the banner of the GEM trade mission that was present in Interiors UK in January - and new exhibitors from Myanmar and other ASEAN countries.

Unlike the majority of Far Eastern trade shows, IFFS is positively littered with design events. This is the second year of SingaPlural, a week-long celebration of home-grown design talent that features more than 350 installations and curated design spaces, symposiums, competitions and other activities, all reinforcing the event's position as the region's most design-savvy. "We wanted the vibrancy of the show to be translated into the city," says IFFS Pte chairman Ernie Koh.

The various initiatives present at the show itself include Singapore Mozaic, a Government-sponsored operation initiated by the Singapore Design Council that facilitates collaborations between local designers and manufacturers - the labours of six of which are present within a showcase area at the event.

Anyone who read my MIFF report that discussed the design community in Malaysia should know that Singapore is really going hell for leather in this regard - yet whereas the former might look to its unique traditions and history for inspiration, Singapore is a hugely diverse blend of Chinese, Indian, British - indeed, Malaysian - and many other cultures, so any notion of escaping Western influences goes out the window right away. Singapore's strength is that its designers can, in theory, pick the best from an array of influences and deploy them quickly and vocally - watch this space.

IFFS expects to attract visitors from over 100 countries - as I've mentioned, it's an eminently international affair, with the kind of global appeal that makes it accessible for every nationality. Case in question - two UK suppliers (London's design-led Andrew Martin is already well established here) decided to exhibit at IFFS this year for the first time, in an effort to broaden their market reach - Carlton Furniture and Core Products, the former wearing its UK identity proudly in its new logo, and the latter presenting flat-pack product under the name The Flat Pack Furniture People. Both reported highly promising first days, and both, interestingly, made sales to UK customers! It's a valid step for anyone feeling that their stockist pool is dwindling, yet a brave one - the principals of both agree that their reputation and reach have been heightened by the experience, and both felt that IFFS was the ideal place in the East from which to strike outwards.

IFFS' home base may be under new pressures this year, but these are being tackled head-on. Like many others, Singapore's companies face rising business costs and a tighter labour market in 2013, and its Government has introduced measures to help these operators restructure to meet these challenges, as well as find new opportunities in the region. In 2011, a S$17m Furniture Productivity Plan was launched, and so far aid to the tune of S$9.6m has been committed to support the productivity of 63 local companies. This entails various initiatives to encourage design innovation, optimise productivity, and enable the exploration of new markets - hence Singapore Furniture Industry Council (SFIC) members participating in the most recent editions of imm cologne and Shanghai's Furniture China.

Following a trend I'm expecting to afflict this month's global events in general, IFFS may be a little quieter this year - I'll wait for the official visitor numbers to qualify that - but the event is clearly set on a path to success. I recommend a visit to any buyer wishing to gauge the newest Eastern - nay, global - trends, and the higher end of the region's product. Long has IFFS enjoyed a reputation for quality and diversity, and it's a strength that is only likely to intensify.

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