Before AFF came about, there was the Singapore Fashion Festival (SFF), which ran from 2001 to 2008, and was meant to complement the Singapore Fashion Week, which was organised for more than 20 years to develop local designers. But instead of generating buzz, the two events caused confusion as the public could not tell the difference between the two. Both events ended in 2008.
AFF was started in 2009 by Ms Lee. Mercury Marketing and Communications had organised SFF in 2008. Getting it off the ground after taking over was hard work, with Ms Lee having to go door-to-door to pitch it to sponsors. But she managed to win over sponsers including Audi, Samsung and MasterCard. In 2010, STB started funding the event. Government funding was timely, but the apron strings had to be cut eventually.
Says Ms Ranita Sundramoorthy, STB's director of attractions, dining and retail: "As with all events, our funding is not perpetual and we encourage event organisers to find ways to make their events sustainable in the longer term.
"We are happy that AFF is now fully independent and continues to receive strong support from their sponsors."
There are more than 30 sponsors this year, about 15 per cent more than last year.
LOCAL DESIGNERS TAKE THE SPOTLIGHT
Another first this year is that four local labels - Exhibit, hansel, Ong Shunmugam and Saturday - will have stand-alone shows. This is the largest number in the festival's six-year history.
At last year's festival, the only home-grown brands with solo shows were Raoul and Zardoze. The year before, only Raoul and Alldressedup had shows.
The rest of the local labels were grouped together or partnered with better-known designers in bigger shows. For example, Ong Shunmugam was showcased together with Japanese designer Jun Okamoto last year.
Ms Lee says there are more solo shows for home-grown talent this year because she was able to match more of them with interested sponsors.
It costs about $1 million to stage about 15 shows, which works out to about $65,000 per show, an expense that local designers might not be able to afford.
Mr Wang says: "Even a non-prime time slot is expensive. Having your own show also means having to produce a huge collection of 40 to 48 outfits, which again is a huge financial expense."
This is even with a discount that Ms Lee says she always extends to local designers. This is why she tries to find sponsors for individual designers.
The matching process depends on how well an aesthetic resonates with a company.
For example, this year, Sony Xperia took a liking to the quirky aesthetic of hansel and Haagen-Dazs was drawn to the social media influence of Exhibit's designer, Yoyo Cao, who has more than 50,000 followers on Instagram.
There will be four international names this year: industry veteran Oscar de la Renta, Nepalese-American Prabal Gurung, London-based Singaporean designer Ashley Isham and Canadian Thomas Tait, a relative newcomer. Last year, there were five.
She says that the team strives to have at least three international designers every year.
THE POWER OF SOCIAL MEDIA
While this year's event will see a smaller group of showgoers, it does not mean the festival will have a smaller reach.
This year, Ms Lee is revving up social media efforts by inviting popular Instagrammers, or "social media influencers" as she calls them, who can "broadcast" shows at the click of a button.
Previously, popular fashion bloggers, such as BryanBoy, Susie Bubble and Liberty London Girl, were invited but the reach is explosive with Instagram.
"If one of my 650 visitors has 100,000 followers, I can reach so many more people," says Ms Lee, who herself has 10,000 Instagram followers.