It is 20 years since Singapore Fashion Week was founded to promote local and regional fashion design, yet for all the pomp and ceremony shown since Friday the annual event continues to show signs of strain and generate larger concerns about its own identity.

Although Fashion Week has comprised talent searches and runway presentations of local designer collections and over a dozen brands from Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, China, Japan and Korea, organizers have been grappling with the idea of transforming the affair into a “working” event akin to a trade show, with preferential treatment given to buyers. And that has a showroom above the principal venue at Theatre Works in the Quays district was erected specifically with selected buyers from Australia and the US in mind has left many questioning the relevance of catwalk presentations for which non-Singaporean designers are shelling out up to S$ 13,000 (local designers pay S$ 8,000 but receive government assistance).

Joanna Fong, deputy director of Singapore’s Textile & Fashion Federation (TaFf), chief organizer behind Fashion Week, admitted on Tuesday that her organization faced a number of challenges ranging from drawing international buyers to the timing of the event to funding for the event set-up.

Her goal now is to continue branding Fashion Week as a portal for designers to do business abroad in First World markets.

But more than a handful of designers on-site expressed interest in not returning next year or at least ceasing ties with Fashion Week once they were able to open international accounts.

To date, TaFf’s formation of liaison businesses with Australia and the US under the Access initiative has yielded new accounts for such brands as Malaysia’s Khoon Hooi and Singapore’s Allure, Celia Lo and Tian.

Nic Wong, a rising star among Singapore’s youngest generation of designers, however, admitted that several of his contemporaries including Woods & Woods’s Jonathan Seow had already decided several years ago to pursue the international markets on their own and with success.

Accordingly, the strongest trends of the week including polka dot prints, shirt-dresses and variations on shirt silhouettes, shifts, metallic linens, color-blocking, yellows, greens, shorts for women and men, and mensy silhouettes had a strong Western feel. Glimpses of immaculate finishing, innovative ruffling techniques and unusual pleating on shoulders, trousers and skirts, however, suggest that Singaporean design isn’t at a loss for direction.