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Beautiful is about looking at things differently. It’s about perception. It’s about beauty in imperfection, beauty in the ordinary, beauty in everything. Most of all, it’s about finding silver linings, living a happy life. We sat down with Roy Poh, Creative Director of award-winning design studio A Beautiful Design and chatted about education, society, design and various endeavours. interview by Tan Jiahui images courtesy of Roy Poh
Hello Roy. So we are here to talk about design and the society. I do not know about you personally, but at least to me there is still a distance between the people and the designers. What do you think about that? It is kind of good to educate people what is going on in the creative scene. Many people have tried and the results are still sometimes not very obvious yet. I am from The Design Society, and we have tried to educate people from all walks of life like uncles and aunties. However we found the best way to inject design to the society is to inject design with students. Not design students, instead we are talking about primary school students. We do it when they are still young and able to absorb as much as possible. If you target to the older generation, they are already running their own lives and they might be aware, but they might see this as a cool thing that the younger people are doing that they might not understand. At least they can have the knowledge but I do not think they will understand and appreciate good design honestly. Let us talk about physical things, it is hard for an uncle to buy a $2000 lamp instead of a $20 lamp?
Like you said, a mindset has to start young. Yes, definitely. 80% of Singaporeans are still living in HDB, and it does not mean only the older generation stays there. Recently there is also an exhibition held at some HDB flats. Can I get you a drink?
No it is fine. Are you thirsty? It is okay. Tea? Milk?
Yes milk tea is good thank you.
Roy walks away. Roy comes back.
For me when I was a kid I always cut out ads from magazines. My elder brother subscribes to Rolling Stones and Face Magazine long ago, and it was not a very popular magazine. You can not find it anywhere. There is this shop in Pacific Plaza that has closed down ten twenty years ago. Some music bookshop. When he has finished reading I would cut out stuff from the magazines. I have a liking from these graphic stuff. I have all the ads from like Nike, Reebok and other ads that is attractive to me as compared to some local ads in the papers that are pretty hardsell. Since then I have been collecting for a really long time aside from drawing. During secondary school we were given a career form. We were asked to fill it in during a career talk our three choices. First choice I wrote pilot, I was not wearing spectacles then. Second I put chef. Third I put designer. Then I do not know there is a designer career. I spoke to the consultant and asked him if there is a job that people do nice logos ads and graphics. Then I do not even know there was such a career path, did not know about photography, art direction and everything. He told me maybe it is a designer or a “marketing consultant”. I did not know what is a “marketing consultant” and so I put designer. That was when I started to realize there is such a job. After secondary school I got admitted into the Civil Engineering course in Singapore Polytechnic, which I attended for three days and found out that it is not my cup of tea. On the third day they told me we were going to make cement. I replied “no way I am going to make cement for the rest of my life.”So I went to the office and said sorry I wanted to quit and asked how much can I get back. They told me I could only get back 70%. I said okay I will do it and did not tell my parents. Secretly I went to NAFA and talked to the people there to find out more about things like that. The school was known more for fine arts and not so on design. There was no computers yet. So I took a part time course and after 6 months and told my parents the truth. I told them not to worry and will pay back whatever that you paid for the school and will pay whatever I need for my own course. Then I was schooling and working at a Jap restaurant. It started as something to help pay my expenses but I grew to love it so much that I worked for 4 years both full time and part time. I studied NAFA for awhile with the portfolio that I built there, I applied for Temasek Poly. That was when I chose Visual Communications. That was how it started.
Where were you before NTU? They called it Visual Communications back then? Army? Before that in JC. SAJC.
I wanted to go a Polytechnic with my friend after secondary school to pursue design but I also wanted to join a soccer team, so in the end I chose SAJC. Some pretty youthful decisions.
Yes yes. I must say that that period of time was when computers just got invented. It was not so fast. So there was a computer room with like less than 20 LC2 Mac computers. Students have to book a timeslot to use it. But when you do a lot of computer work, the hardware can not take it and every file takes 15 minutes to save and load. It was so frustrating that I like to use my hands to do more
Now, information is so accessible that people are starting to get lazy. For a project, always do your own research and ideation before going to see what people have done. If you are doing a project on tea, always go read up on tea first before going to Google “top tea packaging designs”.
craft and hand work. It turned out to be a good thing as computers got faster, I kind of experienced the new and old technology. I kind of understand the hardship involved in those areas as I was in the evolution era into the digital age.
There is a rumour outside that you still Freehand MX. Is it true? Yes that is true! Are you serious? There is a rumour like that? (Laughs)
Yes I heard from somewhere and it is pretty funny. Well (laughs), I am not the only one to be honest. The people in my generation like Jackson and the phunk people are using Freehand also. Some other friends like Candy and others.
It is an interesting note to hear as I am someone from the “Adobe” generation. (Laughs) Yes but we have to change. I know Hanson (H55) has moved onto InDesign. For me, most of the time I am working alone. When I need help then I hire freelancers, developer, photographers and most of the time I when I work alone, I work ten times faster than the times I work on Illustrator or Indesign. It is not I do not how to use it but it is a personal workflow thing. When my iMac stops working one day I might consider shifting entirely!
Now it is the Creative Cloud generation, where you buy the program and subscribe to it monthly with a fee. You can subscribe to it monthly and use it but it is charged every month I think? I am still on CS6 though.. Are you serious? Right now I buy a computer I can not load in the software anymore? Ok..it is like playing a game!
sometimes I can feel there is some frustration. When it was my time there were like 3-5 schools, and now you have maybe more than 10. Every year there are thousands of graduates coming out to compete for spaces. There might be competition to be the best but I feel that one should always work for others first when you come out. Working for yourself seems fun, but it is actually really not easy. There is not only the design work, there is always the inter-personal relationships and responsibility. People are buying you a big sum of money to work on something. It is not charity money. You have to have some experience to make sure that the money they pay are well spent and make sure it works for the client and not only for yourself. Most importantly, depending on the client, sometimes the most creative stuff might not sell. I feel that when one becomes mature enough you will realized that there is a balance. I know of people who always want to do super creative stuff. The first round might work but people might not come back to you because the work you did does not sell my products or services. It is important to understand the psyche of the client to see if there is a potential to push them to another level. Or it might be no way for them to accept it. I feel that life is much easier if you know your client really well. Some people get really upset if they get rejected, you know what I mean. That is why I say that younger people should go work and gain experience first. But nowadays, you can always work for people and at home you can always have your own label. This is what design is about. If you create for people and people reject it, you create for yourself.
Is there any project you have always wanted to do, but never had a chance yet? Wow there is a lot. Too many in the pipeline that I wanted to do. I always keep a note (takes out his phone and goes to his list). Let me read it out to you. There are a lot of things that I want to do. I want to do Fine Arts. Sculpture. Just reading from the list. Furniture. Short stories. I want to do my own Food Packaging. I find the ones in Singapore cannot make it. My own lighting. I collect toys. I haven’t started on anything, but I have collected some lamps from here and there. A simple shade of lamp, and I want to put all my action figures on it and spray the whole thing white. To make it an action figure lamp. Fashion. Too many for me to name..
They bought Freehand some time ago! Yes but they are not making it anymore! (laughs)
So up till now what is your favorite project? Browsing Copy?
A lot of people who made the switch have many things to say.I always thought I would like to try it some day myself..
It is not something I would call my favorite. It is just something I am doing right now.
I think you should not (laughs). You should move forward. So do you have a personal favorite? It seems like a many small independent studios are popping out nowadays..you mentioned that you work alone and you collaborate a lot. How would you differentiate your own practice?
Must it be design related?
How do I stand out from the rest? For me I am quite lucky. Before my own studio I worked at Kinetic for over 8 years. I already knew quite many people in the industry and I know clients. Clients move around and move to other places. It is a very relationship thing. I do have quite a few regular clients who always work with me and that is why I feel I am lucky. I do not have to always look for jobs outside. To me, I do not think that I feel that I need to stand out from the rest. I do not feel that it is a competition. I think that as a someone in TDS, I should embrace and believe in collaboration. I have actually passed quite a few jobs to my younger peers. I am not a competitive person in nature. If I feel another agency is more suitable, I will tell them that they are more suitable but it they are my regular client, of course I will work with them. It is not about standing out, to me it is about doing what you do best. I do not like to compete and I feel that we should work together.
Well I am not stopping BC. I have to collect books from bookshops and I write to overseas bookstores to see if they have any unwanted bookstores. There is a lot of logistics involved and it gets tough sometimes. They agree but the shipping is not so cheap. So sometimes when I visit a country like Japan, I would email them and ask if they have any unwanted books. The whole process sometimes get abit slow. In Singapore I have taken from Borders and Basheer. Kino has not answered me yet. I took from PageOne before they closed. Right now I am doing a Fine Arts project. A documentation project with illustration and photography. I am trying to cover as much as I can now! That is as much I can tell you now!
I think it is pretty reflexive. There are so many designers now, and competition is inevitable. I was told that almost 2000 design students graduate every year. Either you find a job or you work it out on your own. However the whole scene should work together in a way that if you wish to bring your country or society’s image upwards, the only way is to be united. Well I have been in this industry for almost 20 years. As I said I am quite blessed but for yourself and the younger generation and
Well it is up to you.
I realize that there is this culture now of internet bombardment. In the people go to the library, refer to books, curated selections and references. Now, we scroll through feeds for hours, just receiving visuals after visuals. There are people who begin a job by going to Google for everything that has been done before for inspiration before drafting out anything or even before their ideation process.
internal research with your understanding of the design needs before going forward with influences as such.
Haha wow there are so many parts.
Actually, it is a good and bad thing. It is good in a way that things are moving a lot faster. Which is actually bad (laughs). For me, such information that are so easily accessible can be sometimes not very good because everyone feels that they are designers. The clients also feel that they are the designer. If you can Google it, so can they. It becomes a very fixated situation. In the past where things are different, it is better for many people like school lecturers. I feel that they sometimes find it hard to teach as everything is already accessible. Last time when they go overseas, they get exposed to events, knowledge and images. When they come back, they can hao lian to students. The students get amazed and intrigued and there is a feeling of hunger and motivation to explore more. Now, information is so accessible that people are starting to get lazy. For a project, always do your own research and ideation before going to see what people have done. If you are doing a project on tea, always go read up on tea first before going to Google “top tea packaging designs”. It should not be this way. You should learn the history of tea, the client’s requirements and everything. I do not know whether it is good or bad, but I feel that people are getting lazier.
Okay so where are we now?
We are people who draw inspiration from everything around us. Do you feel that many designers are sitting in front of the computer too much? Yes of course. That is why I say it is very easy to be a designer now. That is why there are a lot of times it is about marketing yourself. Like some photographers, the things they shoot are almost they same as ten others or even better. It is also about marketing yourself and who you know. It is always something superficial. You can be a so-so designer but if your connections are good, you can go very far! (laughs)
It is the same for every industry.
Well, firstly I have to say that Singapore is only like almost 50 years old. We were a British Colony, which actually brought in quite a lot of British influence in terms of visuals. It also depends on which sector you are looking at. In Chinatown everything is from China and Malaysia. Little India is from India. We are such a rojak society in Singapore that there are different areas of graphic design but if you talk about something more international, I would say that we are more influenced by the British design due to our history. After the invention of internet, I would say that the only way that we can blend in with the international scene is to make it..not more Asian..I would not say Singapore has an Asian look like Hongkong..in Hongkong you will think of something more mandarin. Singapore is so rojak that we are something more international and British. As we are a society that has so many influences, we should not use just one look to define Singapore.
How about the future? It depends on where we are heading. I do not think there is a big shift in how graphic design will look simply because the companies that are investing in Singapore are mostly MNCs. They want to target to everyone the world. The consensus is an English visual language. The field will still be something international. We still will not have a distinctive look. We are a place for business, not so much a place for culture. As a place for business, we will always have a business look. Take what you are doing for example. If you wish to do something more cultural and grassroots, those are targeting at specific locations. It might represent Singapore to a certain extend but not the whole of Singapore. It represents people who might more nostalgic. I do not think there is a Singapore look.
Yup I agree.
What I feel Singapore is always criticized for having no identity. But maybe our identity is having a non-defined, constantly evolving identity. Or rather, a rojak identity.
So lastly, what do you think is our future, where do you think we are now in terms of international standing and where are we heading to?
Of course it is a mix. You can go to museums now and find a kueh lapis, dragon playgrounds and ba zhang. It is a rojak and we will always be a rojak. We have more people coming in constantly, so the only thing we are heading towards is a more diverse rojak! — AWOL
So what do you think should be done?
Well I have nothing against references, but I feel that everything should start with a blank slate. Doing as much
We speak to Jonathan Yuen, a mutli-disciplinary designer and Creative Director of design studio Roots. interview by Tan Jiahui How did you get started in this industry? I started in 2002 when I first graduated from KL, Malaysia. When I started work it was during the boom in the dot com period. I was in a digital advertising agency for about eight months before knowing that my career was not going anywhere. I got a chance to get interviewed here in Singapore at a studio called Formulate. Everything went well and I moved to Singapore. I worked for two and a half years and went to Kinetic for 7.5 years. After that I decided to go on my own.
So how do you balance between being a designer and a businessman? To be honest I do not have a definite formulated answer. I am still trying to figure out the best way and learning the ropes through ups and downs everyday. That is why the studio is still small. Things that do not work help me realize what works better. If you ask me 3 years later, I might have a very different answer.
Where do you think the design scene in Singapore is now? We have definitely come a long way. With the rise of independent studios in Singapore, what is the differentiating factor of your studio? It is really exciting to see the rise of so many studios in Singapore. You can easily set up your studio, with the easiest set up being working from home. It is quite exciting. For Roots, I try to focus on idea-based designs instead of just having attractive aesthetics. We always try to have an interesting angle to ideation so if you check our works, you will see we try to approach every communication message in a different way. I guess that is what sets us apart.
Do you have any advise to the current generation of designers who are going to enter the industry? The industry is getting tougher everyday. We have thousands of new graduates everywhere but there is only a certain number of jobs available. It is either you go on your own or you fight for the few spots. Working hard is definitely one of the most important point. When you start out, how you approach your environment is key. I receive a lot of resumes all the time and to me, the presentation of work is very important. Many people do not show their best work and even when they do show their best work, they tend to also include the not so good stuff. You have to show your true self worth. People have to be more personal and proactive. People forward resumes like “to whom it may concern” and “dear madam/sir”. Things like these make a difference. I am really looking forward to see people who really want to work with us. My designer Xin Yi – she has the simplest cover letter and resume but her work really shows. It shows her sensitivity and approach to ideas. I offered her an internship and now she is working with us full time.
What would you share with designers who are looking to go independent? I think that you have to be prepared that you might not have work. You have to be mentally prepared that if all else fails, you have to seek employment again. Before you start, you need to have enough reserves both financially and emotionally. Try to start small. It is always okay to start small and build from there instead of thinking too big. The more important thing is to understand if you are a good businessperson. If not you have to find someone who is good in dealing with business to take charge of that aspect for you.
This actually brings us to the next question. Do you think it is important for designers to learn the business side of things?
It is really exciting. There are a lot of people doing really interesting work. I consider myself fortunate to see all these great works. I am just very happy to be in this era. At this time we also have a sense of community. There are a lot of collaborations and self-initiatives. It is a very nice feeling.
How about the future? Flying cars.
The design scene! I don’t know. I guess as we are expanding globally, the design standard will mature and improve constantly. You can see our works award internationally and being recognized in publications. There are many good works coming out and things are looking good. Hopefully we can be seen in a creative hub?
What projects you have always wanted to do but have never got a chance? Olympics. It would be great. It is a highlight. You are doing something for the world. You are set on the global stage.
How about your favorite piece so far? Definitely the fruit posters. I was approached to do some posters on local fruits by my close friend. I think it is something really interesting. This exhibition comes across as something very honest and also something from my home country, Malaysia. I wanted to do something very simple but does not prove anything. So I decided think about the colors and textures. And I really enjoyed the product. How are you looking to progress Roots?
I am definitely happy with what we have now. Moving forward is where I guess we can grow to a size where we have sufficient number of people so that I do not have to be a one man show where it can be rather tiring. I always feel new. I still have not have done many things to the level I should be doing. I look back at every project and learn what I could have done better. That motivates me everyday. Also like I said, I hope we grow to a size where I don’t have to handle the business anymore and can just focus on the creative side of things.
How do you recharge your creativity and learning process? Definitely. If I run my studio, if I don’t think like a businessman, I won’t think I am still here. If I am doing design and running a studio, I have to understand ways to monetize it and think of ways of selling it as a service and pitch it as a business. Clients will understand that.
I am never tired of the learning process. Instead the more I learn the more I feel I do not know many things. In terms of creativity, I try not to burn out in a sense that I try see every new project is a recharge. As every project is different, I get excited by the prospects of approaching a new brief everytime.
ROOTS COLOR PHOTO
How do you protect your intellectual property? For pitches, we always have a clause that whatever is presented is still owned by the studio unless the client has signed on the work with us. We also reserve the rights to show in our portfolio. If people really want to take your work, there is only so much you can do.
What qualities do you look for in your employee? Firstly, diligence. If you are not diligent, it does not matter how talented you are. Secondly it is your ability and talent. The third thing is the respect for one another.
What are the probable differences between being a designer in your generation and those who are fresh out of school? Definitely more hunger. They have more access to everything. They see a lot more things than when I was their age. There is no where I can access such stuff at my age and they are very exposed to many things. The worrying thing is that there is a spike in “style-wars”. It is like a deja-vu as in my time it was David Carson. People are breaking type apart now. Things are starting to look the same. Is individualism still apparent? That is why to me, ideas are always more important.
You mentioned about seeing similarities. I feel that there is a dangerous trend going on where designers just go onto the web and search for a certain keyword and approach the project with the visuals that are already in place. They get fixated on the things already done and things begin to look all the same. If this goes on, every client can do what we do and we will become just tools instead of thinkers or even go extinct. Whether it is me or Xin Yi, I will tell her to think of the idea first. You can just draw a circle and explain to me what the concepts are. Design is the arrangement of elements. How you place things is informed, controlled and governed by why you do things and that. The whole subconscious and unseen process is an idea. That is the most important thing. If not you are just putting things without reason. It can be visually stimulating but will it withstand time?
I have seen this quote before – “there are no bad clients, only bad communication”. Do you agree with it? There are definitely bad clients. It is inherently human to have different character traits and some people are nastier than others. I have been very fortunate as all my clients have been nothing but kind to me. My approach is always to see them as collaborators. They tell me what their business is all about and I will share with them what I can do from a design point of view. Often they say that from a business point of view, what I said does not make sense and slowly we learn to find common ground. I am happy because we learn something in the process.
You brought up collaboration and community. Do you think we can bring this to a more international level instead of just being amongst ourselves? It depends on who are the people who wants to do something. It takes time and a lot of effort and energy for the people who are involved. We are still very infant but there are a lot of people with plans. The future is bright.
I have read about you and there are people saying that your work is very you. Also, you come across to me as a very contented person – appreciating your life, your wife, your wife’s cooking, your cat. Simple contentment. Thank you. Firstly, I do not come from a wealthy family. I come from a lower-middle income background. The best things my parents taught me are to be honest and hardworking. They work very hard and they are very happy people and happy with what they have. That is the most important thing. I always tell myself what I have is more that what I need. I have a house to go back to. I love my wife. I love my wife’s cooking. When I have time I play with my cat. I get to open my own studio. I have my friends. What more do I want? — AWOL
A visual communicator by training, Ryan Len is an artist, designer, and investigator based in Singapore.
interview by Tan Jiahui
Tell us more about yourself and what you do. My name is Ryan, and I am a design artist based in Singapore. I am currently a one man team specializing in branding, design, content creation and curation. Being multidisciplinary has enabled me to take on a diverse range of projects. As a curator, I am always interested in creating content that sparks a dialogue, and bringing Singapore design out to the world. During my free time, I like to take on personal projects as they are as critical to commercial work, and it allows me to explore, innovate, and grow as an individual.
Describe a typical day, if any. Wake up — Coffee — Facebook — Twitter — Instagram — Emails — Design — Lunch — Procrastination — Facebook — Twitter — Instagram — Design — Meetings — Emails — Dinner — Design — Facebook — Twitter — Instagram — Dramas — Movies — Bed — Repeat
I see that you are quite an explorer yourself. What do you think of the importance of visual archival? (photographs of places, moments things etc) Visual archival plays a very important part of my life. It serves as a memory portal for me to look back at important moments and documents places that will soon cease to exist in the near future.
balance can be struck by revisiting urbanism and giving the spaces second life instead of levelling it and making a new space out of it.
You describe yourself as a Design Artist. What are your perceptions towards these two entities and how do you draw or blur the line between them? I like to constantly reinvent myself. Straddling between different disciplinary allows me to explore and find new ways and perspective of doing things. For me, Design serves a purpose and function while Art does not need to — that’s how I draw my line between them.
What is a personal favourite piece of work that you have done? There isn’t a personal favourite piece of work. I like all my works and I feel that everyone should feel the same too. A mentor once told me: “The last thing you want is to look back at your portfolio and feel it was a bad piece of work that you are not proud of. Why would you want to produce a piece of work you are not proud of and waste your time doing it?” This piece of advice stuck with me whenever I approach a new work.
Share the thought process behind your creative ideation and execution as you approach every brief. Which leads me to my next question. I have seen people being so caught up in the moment to capture the moment for future throwback moments but have forgotten to really experience the surroundings and moment. What do you think of it? I feel that technology has made us cold. Any amount of visual archiving to me is hypocritical if we have not truly experience the moment. It’s always about finding the balance between experiential and visual archival. If it’s a moment that you truly like, I urge you to put away your camera and just stay in the moment.
Apart of visual archival, do you think physical archival is crucial? Singapore is starved of space and if we are preserving every architecture, it means we do not have much space for new ones in the future. How do you think a balance can be struck? While I feel growth is good, physical archival is crucial, especially those with significant memories and unique architecture. A
I like to approach my works in the most simple and and cost effective way, while maintaining relevance and maximum impact. I usually start with mindmapping as it helps me break down the brief. After looking through every possibilities and expansion of ideas, the process moves on to visual moodboards and sketches. The execution comes in only after most of the ideation is finalized.
I see a trend in this digital era where creatives simply Google or go to design blogs while seeking inspiration even before doing any sketches. Sometimes the results all look generic to me. What do you think of this? I do agree that sometimes the results all look generic. Technology has made it too easy to share ideas and seek inspiration. We should all take a step back and start the ideation process with simple mindmapping and sketches even before embarking on the digital world for inspirations. — AWOL
designed by accountancy student,
designed by accountancy student,
Teo Yu Siang
Teo Yu Siang
ARTS EDUCATION IN PUBLIC SCHOOLS: ALL EFFORT IS FUTILE?
by Jin Xiaoxi
Abstract This article explores the paradox between the Singapore government’s effort in grooming a creative labour market through the public education system (particularly arts education), and its failure to reform certification of public education (i.e. PSLE, O’ and A’ Levels) throughout decades. The author contends that in order for arts education to be effective, Singapore’s educational system requires unprecedented and radical reforms in its modes of assessment and certification. Current developments in curriculum alteration and increase of funding have been, and will continue to be ineffective in achieving the desired outcome. The article adopts the assumption that education in Singapore is purposefully functionalist. The alternative philosophy that education is for individual actualisation is not within the scope of this discussion.
As early as 1996, former Deputy Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong already highlighted the importance of a creative labour force in Singapore’s development in the face of 21st century globalisation.
“For 30 years we have prospered.... It was brought about by creative problem solving, by coming up with policies and ideas to overcome our difficulties and address out needs. … Creativity cannot be confined to a small elite group of Singaporeans… In today’s rapidly changing world, the whole workforce needs problem-solving skills, so that every worker can continuously add value through his efforts, and make a good living for himself and his family.”i
Indeed, today’s Singapore is at its educational and social crossroads. Our public education system, developed in the 1960’s, was tailored to suit a young nation’s economic survival. One researcher comments: “ the Singapore government has diligently engineered Singapore society to embrace a pragmatic and competitive national paradigm that is grounded in economic rationalism”. ii However, as the 21st century world economy gradually shifts into an information- and knowledge-based one, “human ingenuity and dexterity became central to generate economic wealth”. iii The public education system is the most effective tool to re-engineer a new generation of labour market for Singapore’s changing economic needs on a large scale. Education professionals point our that education in the arts, in particular, can make “fundamental contributions” in the development of creative and intellectual thinking. iv The government, too, recognises the importance of arts education, and has consciously and increasingly been injecting it into the public education curriculum.v At the National Arts Education (NAE) Award 2011/2012
Ceremony in 2002, a new award scheme was introduced. Under this new scheme, ten NAE schools “will be given a grant of up to $20,000 each, to implement arts development projects in their schools for 2 years. A total of $200,000 will be disbursed through these grants this year, a ten-fold increase from the cash prizes given out in previous years.” vi Clearly, the Singapore government supports arts education both in rhetoric and action, albeit with the functionalist goal that it will produce a generation of labour force that possesses creative thinking skills to be economically productive in the new global economy. However, the results of these investments have been discouraging. Even more worryingly, professionals of education and pedagogy predict that the ineffectiveness will persist, because the government has “overlooked a subtle and yet critical pedagogical paradox”:
“Research into relevant literature on art learning, specifically in the areas of curriculum, aesthetics and art pedagogy, and human development, suggests that art learning is exploratory, learner-centered, intuitive, and experience-based. Additionally, the process of art making is dialogic and non-linear. Literature and research into competition, specifically in the areas of character and identity formation, classroom, dynamics, and pedagogical and learning theory, suggest that competitive education is rule-bound, result-oriented, and clinical. In addition, competition encourages deductive thinking, in turn fostering a linear and dualistic mindset.” vii Since it is undisputable that public education in Singapore is extremely competitive, embarking on programme reforms and increasing funding on arts education without revising the mode of educational assessment will be a self-defeating policy.
In a newspaper report published in the Straits Times on 6 June 2012, various arts educators commented that arts education primarily “depends on the school principal, whether he or she is enthusiastic about the arts”. Often, when a passionate principal or head of department leaves the school, it is common for a school’s arts education programmes to stagnate or be abandoned. viii In addition, many schools see arts education as merely a “supplement to the main curriculum”. Drama educator Koh Hui Ling shared that she was “always asked to inculcate interest in language-learning through drama, rather than the ideal scenario of exploring the use of drama to develop critical, analytical and lateral thinking skills in our students”. ix The report resonates with my personal experience. Although an average secondary school student studies seven to eight academic subjects—‘Art’ may or may not be one of them—they are not seen as equally important in reality. Each school enjoys the autonomy to organise its own timetable. Often, different subjects are assigned different lengths of designated curriculum hours, depending on the academic focus of the school. In my own secondary education, we had five to six hours of mathematics lessons in a week, but only one and a half hours of history. Such was the case for students like myself who chose to do ‘pure history’. Those who took history as a combined humanities subject with Social Studies had less than an hour of history lesson per week. This was because my alma mater was a ‘niche’ school in mathematics and science, so the school management gave more priority to mathematics and science lessons. Why is this the case? The first reason could be some educators are themselves products of an older education system, in which science and technology were the uncontested subjects of priority. It is difficult to detect, let alone change the mindsets of these educators, who are direct implementers of state educational directives. If they do not personally see the importance of the arts and creative thinking, it is almost impossible to enforce arts education in their schools. Second and perhaps more importantly, Singapore’s adoption of the British assessment system entrenches the competitive nature of public education in Singapore. At the end of their secondary
education, students take the GCE O’ Levels examinations, and use the resultant aggregate scores to apply for higher education. These grades are given such that they fall into a normal distribution curve, more commonly known as the “bell curve”. In a bell curve, only the top few percent of students will be given A1, the bottom few F9, and the rest—a majority of the candidates—get a grade somewhere in between, with most getting a B or a C. x In this way, distinctions are given to students who did relatively better than the rest of their cohort, instead of those who did objectively well based on meeting a list of criteria. In 2006, a former art educator in Singapore did a doctorate research to examine if arts education is pedagogically compatible with Singapore’s competitive public school system. His results conclude: “when students were placed under pressure to compete, they tended to gravitate toward tried and tested modes of learning and were less willing to make mistakes and take risks”. xi Evidently, a competitive education system impedes attempts at developing students’ creativity. It is especially important to realise that competitiveness stems not from the learning process itself, but the mode of assessment. Therefore, without radically reforming our assessment system, both students and teachers in the public education system will continue to be embedded in the mentality of competition. Arts education will therefore continue to subject itself to the sheer luck of art enthusiasts entering the school management. A newspaper article dated two years ago reported that the Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts announced that it would “spend up to $40 million on arts education over the next five years, to upgrade cultural facilities in schools and enhance teaching methods”. xiii It is indeed commendable that the Singapore government is reforming its education policies to groom the individual’s potential, given the development that a functionalist educational philosophy becomes increasingly compatible with an individual-actualising humanist one. However, the government needs to urgently understand that education is a combination of learning and assessment. Without reforming its half-a-century old mode of assessment, it is most likely that huge amounts of financial and human investments in arts education will reap little returns.
Speech given by DPM Lee Hsien Loong at the Gifted Education Programme’s Creative Arts Seminar, National University of Singapore, 28 May 1996. Excerpted from Winston Ang Wee Kern, Negotiating Art Education within a Competitive Paradigm: Examining Singapore’s Public School’s Policy and Practices through the Lens of Art Education (Ann Arbor: ProQuest Information and Learning Company, 2006), pp.324-326 Ang, Negotiating Art Education, p.1 Ibid, p.2 Wong Fong Ling Winifield, Forum Threare: Issues Raised by Singapore Arts Education (Singapore: unpublished dissertation, 1999) pp.39-40 Ang, Negotiating Art Education, p.2 National Arts Council, news release. Excerpted from https://www.nac.gov.sg/media-centre/news-releases/news-detail?id=de57d7bc-1446-4507-b582-1813f32c73aa Ang, Negotiating Art Education, pp.2-3 Comments by Ricky Sim, dance educator and former Singapore Dance Theatre dancer. He is the associate director of Moving Arts, a dance education company which teaches dance at about 10 schools, including CHIJ St Joseph’s Convent and Deyi Secondary. Report by Clarissa Oon, “Schooled in the arts”, Straits Times, 6 June 2012. Source: http://www.moe.gov.sg/media/news/2012/06/schooled-in-the-arts-clarissa-.php Clarissa Oon, “Schooled in the arts”, Straits Times, 6 June 2012 Anonymous, “What Makes You to be Special as the Top 10% of the Students?”, AdvoBlog, 13 April 2011. Source: http://www.myadvocators.com/journal/the-a-mindset/whatmakes-you-to-be-special-as-the-top-10-of-the-students-941 Ang, Negotiating Art Education, p.291 Clarissa Oon, “Schooled in the arts”, Straits Times, 6 June 2012
THE FUTURE OF LOCAL SPORTS by Chua Siang Yee
B&W ILLUSTRATION In my short stint as a sports journalist I have had the pleasure of speaking with some world-class athletes, such as former footballers Robbie Fowler, L ouis Saha, L ee Shar pe, Des Walker, and Pierre van Hooijdonk, 18 -time grand slam winner and women’s tennis hall of famer Chris Evert, reigning Women’s Tennis Association newcomer of the year Eugnenie Bouchard, 2006 France Rugby Player of the Year Rupeni Caucaunibuca, world No. 7 and China’s top female golfer Feng Shanshan, and 2011 NBA draft f irst overall pick Kyrie Ir ving of the Cleveland Cavaliers.
intently now, my naivety hoping for the mother of miracles. It was like Feng felt my vibes. She won again 11-9, tied the game at 2-2, and it was game on. Singapore were about to win the f irst game in what was supposed to be a lop-sided f inal. That was never on the cards.
W hile it was awe-inspiring to get up close and personal with these sporting luminaries, the most poignant memor y of my career would always be that evening on May 30, 2010.
Feng did not let us down. It went down to the wire, and she prevailed 11-9. She had beaten Ding Ning 3 -2, and set the tone for the f inal. The rest, as they say, is histor y.
Then, I was an intern at The New Paper. It was a slow Sunday, especially since the English Premier L eague season had ended. The only reporters on duty were a senior reporter and myself. I was supposed to call a prominent local swimmer, who was leaving for the United States to study, but she snubbed me and gave an exclusive to The Straits Times. A football nut, I was content to spend the remaining workday researching on the upcoming Fifa World Cup, and brainstorming for stor y angles.
Wang Yuegu was up next. She was up against world No. 1 Liu Shiwen. Not that it mattered. The defiant Wang won 3-1. Sun Beibei’s valiant 3-1 defeat to Guo Yan proved a brief respite for the mighty Chinese, because Feng was up again, and the aggressive player was not going to take any prisoners. She ousted Liu 3-2 in a see-saw match, and Singapore won 3-1 overall.
All of a sudden, my duty editor walked over to my desk. He said there was a table tennis competition going on now – Singapore were up against China in the 2010 World Team Table Tennis Championships. He told me to keep a lookout, and see if anything interesting happened. Unlikely, both of us k new. China were – and still are – the global powerhouse in table tennis. Yes, our team consisted of imported players from China, but there was no way our players could beat the China born and bred players. Singapore paddler Feng Tianwei, then world No. 2, was up against then world No. 4 Ding Ning, an opponent she had lost to in all four previous meetings, in the f irst game. The f irst two sets were routine, Ding edging both games 11-8, 11-3. I went back to reading about the World Cup, thinking it was done and dusted. Then, against all odds, Feng stole the next set 11-8. Perhaps Ding was just resting, I thought. But I was watching the T V
In a nail-biting f inal set, I could feel my heart pounding. It was like I was there in Moscow, with the team, egging them on, shouting “Singapore” and cheering ever y rally with Singapore Table Tennis Association president L ee Bee Wah.
Back in Singapore, I was staring at the television screen, jaw hanging and mind buzzing. By then, a crowd of about 10 had gathered at the sports desk’s television, witnessing the team’s historic effort. I don’t think any sporting moment will top that moment in 2010, as I stood there, eyes f ixated on the television, hairs on the back of my neck standing, clenched f ists pumping the cold air in the newsroom, all 8412 kilometres away. It didn’t matter that the team was made up of naturalized Chinese. It didn’t matter that Feng, Wang, and Sun were ironically up against their countr y of birth. All that mattered was the f lag emblazoned across their chests, the three letters – SI N – on the back of their jerseys. A nd that was what convinced me that sport has the power to unite people like no other. The magic of sport is that it transcends familiarity. You don’t have to be a subject matter expert to enjoy watching. With all due respect to the arts, the humanities, the sciences,
and of course, literature, there is really nothing which exemplif ies the human spirit so visually like sports that renders it appealing to the masses. The pain etched on the players’ faces which masks thousands of hours of practice, the sheer ecstasy when they score, as Dennis Bergkamp said of his wonder goal against A rgentina in the 1998 World Cup “it’s like your life has been leading right up to that moment”, and the unstoppable torrent of tears – see Rafael Nadal post Australian Open – that comes with the wretched disappointment of missing out. I n par ticular, not hing galvanizes people like t he u nderdog spir it. L et’s face it: ot her t han bowling, Singapore w ill be, for t he foreseeable f uture, u nderdogs in whichever spor t we take par t in on t he global stage. But t hat is also what makes our position u nique. G reat spor ting cou nt r ies like Aust ralia and t he United States are so used to seeing t heir at hletes on t he inter national arena. But for our tiny nation, instances like t hat mag ical nig ht in 2010, or Feng w in ning t he bron ze medal at t he 2012 Oly mpics; t hese are moments which have t he power to band people toget her, inv igorate t hem, make t hem believe, and cr ucially, inspire a f uture generation of spor ting g reat ness. A nd that is why the next two years represent a glorious opportunity for Singapore to step up as a sporting nation. First, there is the opening of the long-awaited Sports Hub this year.
undoubtedly of a higher level, the SEA Games will always have a special place in Singapore’s histor y. We are far from favourites in the SEA Games – our best-ever f inish in the medals table was fourth in 1993 when we last hosted it – but for many of our athletes it represents the best chance for them to win something at an international meet. The likes of Tao Li and Joseph Schooling have also used the SEA Games as a stepping stone for far greater achievements. There is simply no downplaying the signif icance of the biennial games. These are exciting times, but amongst it are opportunities not to be missed. The presence of world class athletes and a delectable line-up of sporting events need to be complemented with opportunities to involve local talent, whether it is competitively, or even a chance for aspiring athletes to interact with their idols on a personal level at clinics, workshops, or coaching sessions. More importantly, on a social level, it represents a chance for the government to really use sports to rally the nation together. There is nothing like cheering Isabelle Li as she clinches yet another gold medal in table tennis. There is nothing like shouting your lungs out with ever y stroke that Joseph Schooling executes in the pool, and as the LionsX II have shown in the Malaysian Super L eague, it is possible to f ill stadiums with sheer grit, perseverance, and a relentless and unwavering spirit.
Finally, we will have a sporting arena right up there amongst the world’s best. The Singapore Sports Council has pulled out all stops to ensure the state of the art facilities are not wasted, and have lined up a series of tantalising world class sports meets. International superstars from rugby, swimming, and football are expected to grace the Sports Hub in the form of the Rugby 10s World Cup, the Singapore Swim Stars, and friendly matches with Italian side Juventus and current World and European champions Spain.
Smaller nations than us have achieved remarkable success in the international arena. Uruguay, with a population of 3.25 million, has proliferated football leagues across Europe to much success, led by the likes of Luis Suarez, Edinson Cavani, and Fernando Muslera. Slovakia, slightly larger at 5.4 million, reached the World Cup f inals in 2010. South Korea has def ied decades of A merican supremacy in golf, and, led by current world No. 1 Park Inbee, have eight players in the top 20, compared to 6 from the United States. There is no predicting where the force of sports can leave us.
There is also the 2015 SEA Games, which Singapore will host next June after a 22-year wait, and in conjunction with the nation’s 50th birthday. W hile the Olympics, Asian Games, Commonwealth Games, and World Championships are
Singapore is on the cusp of change. Sports, has the ability to affect changes, not just within the sporting fraternity, but socially, economically, and politically. As a Singaporean, one cannot help but feel excited about what the future holds.
Ruben Pang’s paintings are projections of his psyche, reflecting on notions of prospect, arrival, and transformation. His works have traveled around the world and received acclaim both locally and internationally. We spoke to Ruben about the experience of a young artist growing up in Singapore. interview by Tan Jiahui images courtesy of Ruben Pang
Tell us more about yourself and what you do I value independence and freedom—things that are never obtained easily. Sometimes they overlap, and occasionally they are very clearly distinct, as though we can only have one or the other. I think it is in my nature to be caged; to be prisoner to my own mind, and I want to work against this predisposition. I believe we choose what kind of artists we want to be very early in our development. For now, the framework of painting is an alternative world (still a cage in its own way). Its boundaries are temporary adjustable structures like crutches. They aid me along to find my footing and are stripped away as I progress. Painting is an exercise that paces the journey to nowhere.
Coffee or tea? Coffee.
Describe a typical day for you.
Do you feel that it supports creativity? Why and how? It boils down to the individual. There’s still a limit to how far good intentions or circumstances can benefit a person. Good education doesn’t equate to good art.
Describe your art education. Was it tough? It was a comfort bubble. This says a lot more about me than the education.
In your opinion, how much have we evolved creatively as a nation and where do you think we are headed? We are starting to see the adaptability of Singaporean artists. We are beginning to grow out of the habit of complaining. I think it is a good sign when you see small pockets of artists who run with what they have, moving beyond the idea of competing for a slice of pie from the National Arts Council. Gradually, artists are beginning to celebrate each others’ success instead of acquiring tall-poppy syndrome. This is a sign of maturing.
Mostly inertia, its between lethargy and restlessness. But I’m not complaining, there is a lot to be thankful for. Where do we stand internationally? Did you grow up in an environment that encouraged your endeavours? Or did you work to pursue what you knew you loved? My father always had a mind of an artist. He made it clear that I had to breathe art till it ran in my veins. He told me that the hardship would be more emotional than physical and taught me to maintain composure no matter what the circumstance. Milenko Pravcki also shaped my attitude when approaching the framework of school, he told me during my admission interview into Lasalle, “You come here, you have to be naughty. Sometimes listen - most of the time, don’t listen.” There were obstacles, but I don’t think about them now — its behind me. Everyone - not just artists – make sacrifices and sometimes we deal with more than our fair share. But there’s nothing special about artistic sacrifices.
What are your perceptions towards the education in Singapore? Its hard to say because I’ve never experienced any other education system sufficiently to compare it against. I felt like my time in Lasalle opened my mind to many things, but I can see how so much information can also corrupt. It is important in the practice of art, to keep the need for validation in check.
That’s not for us to determine.
Now, onto your paintings. What are some thought processes that are in your head as you go about working on them? As I paint more frequently now, the process of thought recalibrates itself. The speed of language cannot keep up with the mental aspect of painting. The better I get at immersing myself within painting, the further away my attempts at articulating these ideas fall farther and farther from my intention. This makes talking about painting very difficult. I think references towards texts on aesthetics or mentioning other artists that one relates to is acceptable to a degree, but could also be mislaeading. The pleasure of discovering aesthetic dialogues—between works of art — should also be inferred and experienced by the viewer. Sometimes one simply needs to look with uninformed (empty) eyes; find a connection before any thought arises. Once you’ve experienced this, as a viewer, not just as an artist, you don’t want to settle for less, everything else is superfluous. I think the painting process is like aligning the mirrors. Its like you’ve got shards of reflective material inside you, and the mirror doesn’t generate anything new, its always a complete image. The painted surface is always facing you and it projects something at you. The results depend on how you align yourself to the scenario. Its a symbiotic relationship.
All we can do is watch 77 x 99 cm oil, alkyd, acrylic and retouching varnish on aluminum composite panel 2014
Mary’s mercy was a tongue 77 x 99 cm acrylic and retouching varnish on aluminum composite panel 2014
In the perfect world, this interaction is very immediate, but it is not in the nature of the medium (paint) to yield, it is volatile and reflexive. Thinking of the possibilities of the painting is often more pleasurable than the actual process, where impulses could open doors or ambush. Its especially hard to play this kind of game when I’m accustomed to the availability of ‘copy-paste’, ‘save as’ and other immediate rendering in software, but it is organic and I enjoy it. It feels like shaping a drying scab.
What / who would you say are your biggest influences and inspiration? The people who come to my mind immediately are Ian Woo and Jeremy Sharma. They were the artists that sharpened my eyes while I was in Lasalle. I have tremendous respect for them and am grateful for everything they’ve taught me. I love the work of David Reed, Max Ernst, Ernst Fuchs, Francis Bacon, Gerhard Richter, Michael Borremans, Neo Rauch. I think the strongest influence goes unnoticed. I think if you’ve been actively emulating say Salvador Dali, then he’s probably not really influenced you, as much as say an artist whose approach you disagree with.
I showed some people your works and they say that they look so perfect that they look like digital paintings. Have you been told of similar things before and how do you feel about such words?
I’ve got my eyes on you 60 x 75 cm oil and alkyd on aluminum panel 2013
I certainly take it as a compliment. Personally I don’t think they are that refined.
Your works have been recognised both locally and internationally. For someone of your age to have achieved that, I would say it is quite a feat. How did you manage that?
The Nurse’s Holiday 77 x 99 cm acrylic and retouching varnish on aluminum composite panel 2014
To me, recognition is a jellyfish — its pretty but better observed behind glass — and don’t even think about cuddling it. These kinds of things are always a mystery. I mean, let’s say if things go really south one day, the question “how did I manage to fuck things up so bad?” would still be very difficult to answer even with the clarity of hindsight. That said, I am thankful for the partnership with the galleries I’ve worked with, and the press/publication coverage that I’ve been very
To me, recognition is a jellyfish — it is pretty but better observed behind glass — and don’t even think about cuddling it. Partners 90 x 115 cm acrylic and retouching varnish on aluminum composite panel 2014
Remember to quieten down the mind. Sometimes, let your hands and heartbeat guide you. Be very attentive to the medium which you work with, it wants you to treat it in a certain way that is unique to you. fortunate to have received. It is impossible to repay the people who have opened up doors for me. Furthermore, one never really knows extent of one’s popularity and the extent of which people go to support you. The dynamics between people who support and work against me are very much beyond my control.
As a layman, I have always been curious about artists management by art galleries. How do they work and how has your experience been like? Generally, it feels quite unregulated, everyone has different practices and each artist’s experience with their gallerist is different, even within the same gallery. My experience has been fairly mild, no terribly exciting stories or scandals—yet.
What advice would you give to an aspiring artist in Singapore? The gift of being able create something which makes you more complete without external validation is the first thing to be thankful for. Very few things come close to the importance of this. Remember to quieten down the mind. Sometimes, let your hands and heartbeat guide you. Be very attentive to the medium which you work with, it wants you to treat it in a certain way that is unique to you. Money is always an issue when you are starting out. Be prepared to take losses. Know that practicing art full-time is a choice you need to make with conviction. Only you will know how much time you need to devote to your practice. You need to find ways to acquire what you need while questioning if you really need them. You can take baby steps, perhaps juggling part-time work will relief psychological stress, as long as you can multi-task. If you’re prepared to dive into full-time art, remember that setbacks and failures are not indicators of your worth as an artist or a person. They are merely circumstances that can be worked around. It is important to keep up your practice regardless of its scale, use it or you lose it. Don’t second guess yourself in the middle of execution. Do whatever you’re doing with conviction. Finish the painting, then finish a series. Try not to be distracted while you’re building up a series. Sometimes we need to amass a body of work to get a better perspective of where we are headed. Having a consolidated body of work is important. Curators, clients and gallerists want to have a better idea of your entire practice. Keep your chin up, surround yourself in good company, take care of your peers and just enjoy yourself. — AWOL
Tamares Goh is an artist and also a curator at the Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay, where she co-leads the visual arts programme and is the fundamental team member for events such as the Mosaic Music Festival and Tapestry of Sacred Music. Goh is also involved in tribute.sg, a repository for the arts in Singapore. interview by Tan Jiahui
Tell me more about this space. So this place is not uh in actual fact, the whole of esplanade will disperse around design and propose as a performing arts centre. So there was not any designated visual arts space. It wasn’t designed as a designated visual arts space with revenue. So this space happen only after all the premise have built. And we decide that because visual arts is also integral an experience and halls are let out. Concert halls are not 24/7. You can’t have programs here 24/7 for the public at the theatre. So a real programme to public is actually the visual arts programme. We have programmes almost every day of the year. Not necessarily in the gallery but also in the art spaces. Each year we have about 8 shows in this gallery. In every 4 to 6 weeks there’s a changeover. It is all according to the theme of that season. For example, this is in conjunction with malay festival of arts. Sometimes at the end of the year we have a more contemplative sort of exhibition. Or during Chinese festival of arts, we have something that is more Chinese. In conjunction with Chinese festival but music music festival more in conjunction with music. These really artists gather relating to such themes to create. So everything is what in tangent. So it’s not so disparate you see, it’s not like all. How come I come Malay festival of arts but when I come here it’s like Chinese, Chinese painting. The other words are all in public spaces.
Where did you have your education? I went to Glasgow after Singapore in Lasalle. Then, I was taking a diploma. Lasalle offered a scholarship. I studied my degree based on that scholarship. A few people got together on the scholarship front and after that I stayed in Lasalle to teach for a few years. I was also practicing as an artist. Soon I got a scholarship to Glasgow to do my Masters.
Comparatively, are there like any differences in experiences overseas for like the appreciation of arts. I think we have discussed abit during our classes but are there any major or very visible differences? Of course, of course. When I was there as a student, it was almost like I was loved by everyone from the streets. There will be some old people sitting on the bus chatting with me. They will ask me where I was from and I would say Singapore. They asked what I was doing there and I said I was studying in the Glaslow School of Arts. “Ohhh you’re very special.” I mean of course I was a full time artist already but as a student when I was there, I was already well-loved by the local community. Let alone if Im practicing as an artist and I have an exhibition. It’s like people almost accept me anyway. Even if I were to do whatever medium. If I were to do drawing, photography, I felt that I was already welcomed and even when I was at the very first week when I was there I was told to participate in some group exhibition. And even though I was not
British, they put me under the category “British Young Artists”. Here we are almost very conscious of the nationality. If you are from China and you come here and you make your art, your voice is still from China. There is this kind of distinct barrier. It was less obvious over there. I didn’t even feel that I needed to make work that was representative immediately on my culture. I just went there and I just made work as I am. Over here, I feel that it is the reverse. I needed to talk more about my identity and things like that. And I realize it still at that point where a lot of discussion is about finding identity and things you know.
Why are Singaporeans a bit more hesitant and cautious about art and everything? I can think of two things immediately. One is about getting used to. I think a lot of things are being sheltered. They are not being exposed to the public. For example if you have art everywhere and over a long period of time, I think people can accept things because anything that is kind of new or behind glass doors intimidates the public. And also in Europe, you have a longer history of people already accepting the arts. You know art is on the streets, buskers are everywhere, people chalk draw on the streets everywhere. It is almost like a part of lifestyle. It is integrated to life. The second reason I think that is happening in this climate is that while there are a lot of art activities happening at the moment, and people take some time getting used to everything. I think at the end of the day. the art community is not very big. The common folk do not really treat it as a kind of lifestyle and are not readily come forward to attend these events. Then again this is subjective and of course gradually improving. So anyway the thing is in Singapore, a lot of works are still very based on identity or at least to me, need to have something to do with heritage and culture. However the truth is, expression through art is about self-expression and individualism. Somehow the scene or the culture in Singapore has this need to create this identity. But what is it?
Why do you think that art has involve a cultural heritage in Singapore? I think it is not the artists really because artists can make everything but artists like the more popular ones. For example, if I am a collector, I need to know what is so special about the work I am looking at. It cannot be that universal because it will not be that different. Prices of Singaporean art pieces are not the cheapest in Southeast Asia. I need to know what I am I buying into. So if I am buying into this cultural artist who talks about this cultural identity, at least I am buying into something. So that creates an art market..
In Singapore, a lot of works are still very based on identity or at least to me, need to have something to do with heritage and culture.
However, the truth is, expression through art is about selfexpression and individualism.
Are you saying sometimes we are feeding commercialisation? Somehow, but not all artists react to it. I think a lot of art are still very pure in Singapore. While some might be talking about identity and everything, it is not necessarily a bad thing because that is what they are interested in. A lot of them are talking about very personal works as well. Many others are talking about very universal works. For example, I am a very pure artist then it might turn out kind of sad because in order to get the commission or high cheques kind of stuff, I sort of deviate from what my concept is.
As an artist, do you think there is a difference between art and design? I like to say that in design you are using the most succinct kind of language to communicate. Less is always more in design for me. It needs to be really acute. I think in terms of making art, it does not have to be that way. I think that is the primary difference between the both. I mean, a lot of it is also about definition. I’m not that interested in definition. I am more interested in blurring definitions rather than defining them.
I have visited to a few museums in the west. This is a personal observation but I would say children over there visit museums more than our kids over here. Do you think it has to do with family or societal education? When you are a kid, it is ironic because we were taught to be free, expressive and everything but as we grow up, we sort of stereotype the expression, There is a kind of conformity. Definition is a huge problem. I think you know the fact that we are categorized to do things from age 2-4, 4-6, 6-10 and so on. I think this is sort of definition and categorization. I think that for the kids, their senses are very different. They explore things in a very different way. The idea is to get them to explore. And when they explore, they teach us how to explore. We should learn from kids. Like you know, a lot of writers always say, Picasso would say you learn from children. I think we should just break down barriers rather than create barriers. There seems to be a lot of definitions and too many groupings and it seems to be getting worse. Almost as if it is getting too protective of kids learning things.
And letting them learn what they want to.. Yes but a lot is also based on sensory because we are not like this. Because of the way the city is not constructed. We are not free to roam about like back then when it was just an old kampong where everyone was at ground level. You get more attuned to things and you mix with kids who are from every backgroun. Now it is very definitive. It is a form of social construct as well.
Do you think that art in Singapore is very exclusive? I think at the moment, it is.
I put it on artists to give reflections – whether it is universal or personal. There is a theme you want to talk about.
So why is there such a notion for or responsibility for us? Hmm.. that is a pretty tough question. I never really thought about it. It comes from within, it does not really a thought that you guys go about thinking whether, the themes come from within yourselves, addressing a social issue la. There’s not, you, like there’s not really a thought whether we should address this or that. It’s kind of an expression.
How do you think our society’s communal spirit is devleoping? It is like, I really want to say hi to my neighbors but nobody wants to say hi to me. The Toa Payohs, and all, where they used to have lots of towns on the outside because when they move a kampong over, they still have that kind of mentality. You know that people talk on the corridor, or they barter a bit, your chilli.. give you my lime and things like that. But not the newer estates, they tend to shut their doors and you don’t even know the neighbors but that is also the construct I don’t know whether you’ve read the book Invisible Cities by um, Calbino. Actually it talks about Venice. About how cities are built. It also dictates the way you process your thoughts. So one of the comparison between an older estate and a younger one is quite interesting.
Do you think it is ever possible to bring well-curated art to the heartlands? Yes. To arouse curiosity, you have to bring let people k now of its existence.
Did the way of you growing up or your environment impact or influence the way you deal with art and creativity? I was brought up as an only child so I think I was left a lot on my own. I was listening to music that no one was listening to. I was already buying records at a very young age and I didn’t expect. I was just my own. I used to really write a lot. So I think that gave me a sense of being an individual. I was not breathed down by my parents which was very good. I paid through my own school fees all the way by working part-time everywhere. I was working in Kristy’s. I was working in all sorts of waitressing jobs. Once I stayed in a caravan for three months and I just travelled around on my own.
Last question. What do you see as the future of Singapore’s art scene? What do you see or hope for? I hope to see more individual people arising, people talking about different topics.
You mentioned about societal construct. Such as? I think that is because of the social construct and the cultural construct as well. I do not know how that can be reversed but I think we are gradually getting influences from many places. Take japan for instance, in my recollection, I doubt there is any scenario on the streets where you have, for example you have a bar that is for adults things like that and you are told what to do and what not to. You know whether you want to go in or not. Here we seem to be almost protected, you can’t watch this, you can’t see this...the protection level is really high.
Do you think there is a prevalent notion that creative people have to do something for the society? Do you think we have that extra weight on our shoulders?
We are always revolving around the same topics. Um, topics that I wouldn’t know of ? I think the artists are there. I think there is quite a variety of artists albeit some less prominent than others. We see proposals on a very frequent basis, very interesting artworks, people who has not gone through art education, but very interesting as well. But it is also the administratives who are deciding these artworks. In Singapore there are very little curators like myself so I tend to form a good rapport with artists because I know we don’t need to start from square one. We understand each other. — AWOL
A HUSTLER’S MIND
Nevertheless, I encourage and support my friend from the bottom of my heart. If it is so important to you that it makes you feel alive, then go out there and blaze your path. “Don’t die with any words left unsung,” that was what I told my friend. Of course, don’t “chase after your passion” with such an obsession that you end up bankrupt or homeless.
interview with Chow Haoting, founder of Conqueror Publishing
Tell us more about yourself and the story behind Conqueror Publishing. I am currently a veterinary student studying the University of Melbourne. I am expected to graduate December 2015. This is my fifth year at the university. I finished my undergraduate degree and managed to enter the ‘fast-track program’ and ‘skip a year’ in the four year masters program, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine. In 2007, I graduated from Anglo-Chinese Junior College with disappointing results. That was a sobering moment for me and I decided to finally take my future seriously. It was one of those times when you yearn for something only after it slipped away. “I really want to be a vet!” And thus began my conquest to be a veterinarian. It was very much in vain. Then one day, my mother gave me a ticket to Tony Robbins’ four day seminar. She was supposed to attend but had some last minute commitments. Tony Robbins is supposed to be some “self help guru”. So, I violently rejected the idea of attending the seminar. It was such a ridiculous and absurd idea to me. “Who needs self help?! Not me!” A few days later, to kill some time in the army, I borrowed a book from a friend. The title of the book was “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho. Little did I know that the book would eventually mark the turning point in my life. The book deeply inspired me and reignited my spirit to chase after my dream of being a veterinarian. I was willing to do whatever it takes... I just didn’t know how. And since I did not have a better idea, I decided to attend Tony Robbins’ Unleash the Power Within seminar. What’s the worst that can happen, right? My mum already paid for it anyway. In an explosive four days, Tony Robbins unloaded a whole lot of information and introduced me to the world of personal development. Now that I understood human motivation and performance more, I realised that all of us are actually capable of so much more.
stake deep into the ground so that it is firm and immovable. They will then take a heavy chain and secure the baby elephant’s leg to the stake. The baby elephant will pull, and pull, and tug with all its might, trying to break free but to no avail. Over time the baby elephant will develop a mentality that it is impossible to escape. As the elephant gets older and stronger, because of the mentality it has developed, the trainer can replace the strong chain with a simple string, and yet the elephant won’t pull against it or break free to freedom. It seems crazy, this huge elephant being held captive by a tiny string but the elephant isn’t being held back by the string, it’s being held back by its mentality. And like the elephant held back by its mentality, after years of social conditioning, we eventually start restricting our own potential. We start settling for mediocrity. And yet, like the huge and majestic elephant, we are actually capable of so much more. When I first shared what I have learnt with my family and friends, I was ridiculed and shrugged off. My father initially thought that I was initiated into some cult. No one was taking me seriously. But it was not their fault. No one appreciates having their paradigm of the world challenged out of the blue. And yet, I knew that the information that I had learnt could benefit people who were looking to live a better life. I just needed a way to reach and help them. Do you like “lifehacks”? Who doesn’t like simple tips to help make life easier and get things done? And that is exactly what personal development is about — making life easier! And thus, Conqueror Publishing was born. I started publishing books about my years of research and investigation about human performance and motivation. I wrote books about how we could be more and live life to our fullest potential. And now that I am getting positive feedback and praise from my readers, my parents and friends are starting to take my ideas more seriously.
Share with us a typical day for you, if there is even one. But why are we settling for so little? As my journey of personal discovery began, I started devouring books and courses that I could get my hands on. I was investigating the life stories of wildly successful people, trying to spot patterns and figuring out how could I expand my personal limits. How did they take care of their health? How did they spend their time? What was their train of thought when they were making an important decision? And before I knew it, I hopped onto a plane, travelled across the ocean and ended up in the University of Melbourne. Among my animal science subjects, I was also taking a few subjects on sociology and anthropology. I was starting to understand how societies were formed and how people determined the ‘norm’. It was interesting to discover the mechanics behind a culture and how individuals in it all follow certain rules even when they are not always rationally correct. I realised that in any society, things were not always what they seemed. Most importantly, I discovered why so many of us settle in life, never exploring our potentials, even when we are capable of so much more. It is due to social conditioning. (From Wikipedia: Social conditioning refers to the sociological process of training individuals in a society to respond in a manner generally approved by the society in general and peer groups within society.) As we were growing up when we were kids, we were taught the social norm. We were taught the rules that we needed to follow. And one of the rules of our society is that… we are not special. “You are special, and so is everyone else.” Do you know how elephant trainers tame elephants? When a baby elephant is born into captivity, the trainers drive a solid wood
My “typical day” changes depending on the time of the year. During the semester, I spend the bulk of my time focusing on veterinary school. During the school holidays, I juggle between veterinary placements at veterinary clinics and my work in Conqueror Publishing. “Entrepreneurship is living a few years of your life like most people won’t, so that you can spend the rest of your life like most people can’t.” — Sté Kerwer I think it would be easier to describe my philosophy that guides my day-to-day life: “At the end of time I want my art to stand up and my soul to bow down.” — Rob Ryser Let me elaborate with a story about a dear friend of mine who is an aspiring singer/composer. He sings on his youtube channel… like the other millions of aspiring singers. The music industry is a brutal and ruthless one. My friend has talent and skills but if you spend enough time looking around, you will discover that there are plenty of talented people around too. And with so many people singing and trying to get attention at the same time, it’s difficult to not get drowned underneath all that noise. (If you are looking for some pretty cool music, check out my friend’s youtube channel: http://www.youtube.com/user/chunwee. Remember to subscribe and thanks for showing that hardworking lad some support!)
“Follow your heart but take your brain with you.” — Alfred Adler If what you are chasing is so important to you, then I am pretty sure it is important enough for you to put some serious planning to it to maximise your chances of victory and success. Don’t just rush in blindly with the hot-blooded passion of youths. If you have found your art, then don’t ever let go. There was once I watched a TED talk on Youtube by Kim Young-ha, a famous Korean artist. He said that being an artist is an inherent human trait and that everyone has an artist hidden within them. Anything can be your art craft. It can be more traditional activities like singing, writing, dancing. But it can also be things like coding, skating, parkour or maybe even entrepreneurship. Anything can be your art. It is a form of expressing yourself. It is an activity that resonates with the core of your soul and is a big part of your identity. Your art is part of you. So find your art and pursue it. Become the person that you want to be. If you really love drawing comics, then go pursue excellence in your art. Go become so good that at the end of your time, you leave this world with great satisfaction knowing that you have already left your best art behind. You die with no stories left untold, no feelings left unexpressed. So back to my singing friend: he’s not famous yet and definitely not making a single cent from his singing “career”. But he is working on it every single day and has a few gigs here and there. It would definitely be great if he starts profiting from his singing career so that it doesn’t continue to burn too deep a hole in his bank account. But he doesn’t explicitly need to become rich from singing, because the nature of our art is such that we will continue to do it even if we don’t get paid. Art is not about the money, art is priceless. What about those of us who do not have an ‘art’ that we enjoy? Well, discovering our art is part of the fun, part of the journey. And you can enjoy more than one form of art. You can be a computer gamer and love basketball at the same time. Our society celebrates specialisation but truly we humans all have multiple sides to ourselves. Just because your favourite food is chilli crab doesn’t mean you cannot like bah kut teh (roughly translates to herbal pork soup). There is so much good food in this world, why must we have just one favourite? You can like as many different types of food as you want! Similarly, you can have as many art forms that you enjoy as you like! “The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.” — Eleanor Roosevelt So experience as many forms of art as you can! Discover your potential and limits. Like peeling off the deep layers of an onion, discover the many sides of yourself. Discover the best person you can be. Randy Pausch, famous for “The Last Lecture”, described his lifestyle in his book. He explained that he was never the social star who went to parties on Friday nights. He was the guy hustling and working hard in the laboratory, pushing the frontier of science. And Randy Pausch is an amazing human being. His book and lecture have inspired millions of people, including me. And I continue to use his story, especially every Friday night, to inspire and remind myself to focus on mastering my craft and my art. So, that was a very long-winded way of saying that I tend to be a workaholic sometimes and work too much. Because there’s nothing interesting and exciting to say about me studying, working and replying emails all day. Hard work can be boring sometimes, but it is essential in crafting our art. Housework is actually a big part of my everyday life because I live in Melbourne away from my family and the toilet doesn’t clean itself. I also help a local rescue centre foster stray or injured cats
and help them find permanent homes. These cats mess up my home quite a bit so I have to clean my house often. I also make a commitment to exercise twice a week, which can get a little challenging when exams are around the corner and I have business deadlines reaching soon. But I acknowledge that we can only move as far as our body takes us so I pay particular attention to my health. Especially after I lost 5 kg in 2012… 2012 was a stressful year for me. I was going to drop out of veterinary school prematurely because I did not have enough money to pay for my tuition fees. A friend thought that I lost weight due to stomach worms (I was worried too so I ate dewormers shortly after). Another joked that I looked like a cancer patient (which still isn’t funny even in hindsight). Moreover, I realised that having some physical strength makes my life as a veterinarian easier as it is easier to handle heavy animals like a fat labrador retriever or a cow.
Before we move onto publishing, share with us the life of becoming a vet. Being a veterinary student is extremely cool. Even though we tend to get overwhelmed by all the information about the different type of animals, things are always very interesting. We learn about dogs, cats, cows, sheep, chicken, horses, pigs, fishes, lizards, rabbits, hamsters and guinea pigs. You get the idea. If pokemon exist, we would be the personnel in the pokemon centers tending to injured pokemon. Being a veterinary student is a lot of work and not easy, but I think it is worth it. I also have volunteered in a wildlife reserve in Indonesia and an elephant reserve in Thailand. Both experiences were extremely memorable and fascinating. Who doesn’t like working with elephants? I cannot wait to graduate and do more volunteer work as a veterinarian. But just like life, it is not always a bed of roses. People expect veterinarians to be wealthy which is kind of bizarre because we are not, some of us are even plagued with six-figure student debts. Almost every veterinarian I have met told me that I am in the wrong career if I want to make any money. I think the profession is misunderstood because veterinary fees can be quite expensive. And this is mostly because unlike human medicine, veterinary services are not subsidised by the government. And all the equipment and supplies to run a veterinary practice is very expensive. Unlike a human doctor, we don’t have the luxury of listening to our patient talk about his/her discomfort or illness. We need equipment like x-ray machines, blood tests, ultrasound to help us collect clues and figure out the problem.
I am sure it is pretty inspiring. Having grown up and pursued your studies in Singapore for most of your life, what do you think of our education system? I think our Singapore education is actually pretty good. I look at my friends and myself and I think our education system did a pretty good job. We must always remember to give credit when it is due. Having said that, humanity as a race has advanced at such an amazing speed in the past decade. So our education system also needs to be improved to adapt to the new environment. The most important and only resource that Singapore has is her citizens. So Singapore is a big competitor in the global labour market. But globalisation has skewed the degree of competition. It is much easier now to outsource tasks and projects overseas. It is also easier to hire talent from anywhere in the world. If labour becomes a commodity, prices for labour will dive downwards. And there’s no way Singapore can stay competitive if we compete purely from a low price point. The nature of our nation’s strong currency makes it difficult for us to compete with other countries like India, China and the Philippines. Unfortunately, the number of degreeholders on the market is also very abundant. So much so that having a degree is no longer a competitive advantage. To remain competitive, Singaporeans need to excel in skills that cannot be replaced by computers or robots. We need people who can actually think and solve problems. Having knowledge is almost irrelevant now thanks to Professor Google. Memorising facts does not make sense anymore when anyone on the street can find out the same answer from their phone in less than 30 seconds. In this new era, knowledge is no longer power. Applied knowledge is.
Challenging times are ahead and it will be interesting to see how our education system reacts and adapts.
What do you feel is the relationship amongst innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship? Entrepreneurship is about providing a solution to a problem in the market and getting rewarded for the solution. I think there are entrepreneurs who are too focused on generating profit and are completely missing the point. And, ironically, in the end, they are penalised financially. The essence of entrepreneurship is to help other people in our society. And I think everyone would agree that our world would be a better place if everyone helped one another. Innovation and creativity are the stepping stones we use to solve problems and make our world a better home for all of us. Creativity is how we achieve innovation. Coincidentally, these are also the traits that more companies are looking for in their employees. This is because these companies understand that providing solutions to the market is good business, and the only way to stay relevant. Provide value first, then the money will follow. But there are also businesses which focus solely on crunching numbers and generating profit. In such companies, creativity is undervalued because of the delayed gratification of rewards. Creativity and innovation take longer time to generate profits compared to a marketing gimmick like a 24-hour online promotion. But people don’t recognise the fact that innovation is the key to a long-term sustainable business. Look at the rise of giants like Google, Apple and Samsung. What they all have in common is how they embrace creative ideas and pursue innovative technology.
Hustling is definitely one big aspect of your daily to-do-list. Are you brought up and instilled with such qualities? “Hustling” in the entrepreneurship world basically means “to work hard and make things happen.” I think I have changed a lot as I grew up. I used to be that happygo-lucky mischievous lad in secondary school. My favourite tagline then was “船到桥头自然直” (roughly translates to “everything will be alright in the end”). I was so obsessed with computer games that I participated in the World Cyber Games, an international gaming competition, in 2005. But this has really changed over the years. I am now much more organized and focus a lot of my attention into planning and execution. I truly believe that you only become stronger when you have no other option. I was really struggling to balance my workload between my veterinary studies and Conqueror Publishing. I was also having difficulty finding time to take a break and focus on my other aspects of life. I was the main bottleneck in my business and time is a limited resource. There was even a period of time when I was working graveyard shifts at a 24-hour bakery as a barista and was sleeping less than six hours a day. Not to mention the studying sessions that lasted till dawn. Thinking back, It was a little ironic given that I was publishing books about personal development. However, It was all in an effort to maximise my personal performance to gather sufficient funds to pay my sky high tuition fees and ace my studies at the same time. I was and still am doing whatever it takes to become a veterinarian. But as I go along, I get better at managing resources and getting work done despite having too much on my plate sometimes. I have attended courses and read books about project management, business and pretty much anything about professional or personal development. I have learnt how to leverage technology to automate and simplifying tasks in order to lighten my workload. I also outsource most, if not all, mundane tasks. As for activities that involve skills that I am not competent at, I delegate them to someone else with more experience and skills. While we are on the topic about “making things happen”, I would also like to add that none of this would have been possible without the endless love and support from my parents. My earnings from my part-time job as a barista and from Conqueror Publishing pale in comparison to the sheer amount of money required to pay for my tuition fees. Because when push comes to shove, when I need to choose between Conqueror
Publishing or my veterinary studies, I always prioritise my studies first, and this can happen quite often between exam periods, assignment deadlines and veterinary clinical placements (or “internships”). And unfortunately, the growth of the business gets compromised as a result. Don’t get me wrong, my hard work in my ventures still serve me well. A memorable moment for me in 2012 was when I was running low on cash for the rest of the month and I received a check of USD$250 from Google for advertisements I had been selling on my websites. The timing was so uncanny and I have never been so happy to receive snail mail in my life (it is a joke, mum. Your snail mails are the best!). If it was any later, I would be eating just plain congee for weeks. But to be honest, most of the tuition fees is still financed by my parents. Something happened at the beginning of 2013, when I just returned from my volunteer trip in Indonesia. A relative of mine who agreed to loan me money to pay for my tuition fees told me that he was now unfortunately unable to do so due to unforeseen circumstances. The deadline to pay my tuition fees was three days away and I was AUD$30,000 short. I was devastated. I had always planned well in advance but didn’t prepare for such a disaster. There wasn’t enough money in my parents’ bank accounts either. We were on our wits’ end. And that was when my mother took out her phonebook and started calling her family and friends to borrow money, right from the very first page. Eventually, an old ex-classmate of hers gracefully agreed to lend me the money, despite the extremely short notice. I am forever thankful for his help when I needed it the most.
My father has since helped me to pay off my debt. I wouldn’t have been where I am today without the generous and kind assistance of many, especially my family. I am forever in my parents’ debt, which is why I am only going to try even harder. Mum and dad, thank you for your selfless love. Not to mention all my friends who have supported me one way or another along my journey. I remember when I published my first book, my friends and business partners rallied to my side and created quite a social media ripple on the Internet. My book, “Beat Procrastination”, eventually ranked #8 on the “Time Management” kindle book category on Amazon. I could never have done it without the support from everyone else. Some people think that I am a wizard for all the things that I have done but actually the magic is the collective effort of everyone in my life.
What is your opinion on the publishing landscape as a whole? Is print dead to you? I still read print. In fact, call me old school but I am a big fan of print. I spend a lot on physical books. I do read a lot of digital books too, mainly because they are cheaper than their physical counterparts. But when I read something and really like it, I buy the physical copy so that I can continue to enjoy the book in its full physical glory. Reading digital books on my phone also is really handy because my phone is with me most of the time and while I’m on a one hour bus ride and holding on to the railing for my dear life, I can’t exactly flip the pages of a book. But I scroll through a digital copy on my phone just fine. So to me, both physical and digital have their places in my life.
As a designer myself, I am a huge sucker for the feel of paper and good print. How do you think the balance of the digital and printed realm can be sought, if we also include the environmental aspect? The technology behind ebook readers nowadays is amazing. The e-ink is so comfortable on the eyes, it’s almost like reading from ink on paper. And now there are ebook readers with built-in lighting that still remains comfortable on the eyes for even long reading periods. They can come with the animation of flipping a page and can even read to you. So I think digital is getting more attractive, less the fact that you can’t physically flip a page. I think that the popularity of ebook readers will continue to grow. Right now, the e-ink is limited to only black and white but wait
till they figure out a way to get it to display colour… because right now the portable devices like the ipad and tablets can be used to read material in colour but they tend to strain the eyes after long hours so they are not really conducive for long hours of reading. As technology advances in the next fifty years, I think the market share of digital books will only increase. There will still be people looking for printed books but the market will shrink smaller and maybe only thrive in a few niches like collectibles or design etc. It is also hard to deny the benefits of digital books. Each ebook reader is only limited by the books they are loaded with. Imagine one day having access to the world’s library collection from your own ebook reader.
Make a prediction. How will publishing evolve in the next 50 years? There are now commercial services which provide unlimited streaming of music or video content for a monthly fee. I think the same will happen for books in the future. Then eventually, the public national libraries will catch on and we would be able to borrow digital books from libraries into our ebook readers for free over the Internet. My university library actually already allow us to borrow digital copies of certain books. It is usually on a fourteen day loan so after fourteen days, I would need to go back to my university library’s website and borrow again. I expect the service to be available for more books in the future. Of course, the latest books would take quite a while to end up in libraries so people who want to read the new books urgently would have to purchase a copy themselves. I also predict that publishing will also play a big role in alleviating world poverty. Education is one of the most important tools to alleviate poverty. Imagine donating a large number of ebook readers to children who can’t afford education. I don’t think this
idea is far-fetched because there have been projects donating laptops and tablets to children in developing countries. We just need to overcome the first (and maybe most difficult) obstacle of teaching them to read and things will start to get exciting from there! In the palm of each of their hands, they will have the knowledge of the world, even if they don’t have access to the internet. And from the great library of knowledge, they can literally learn anything they want. Of course, we need to make sure that we load the ebook readers with the appropriate books first. But because the books are in digital format, the logistic cost for each book is negligible. The most expensive equipment would be the ebook reader itself. Publishing is the art of making material available to the masses. And one day, all individuals on Earth will have access to almost infinite knowledge and resources. And when that happens, the limits of our potential are really only defined by ourselves. In other words, if you dare to dream big, the sky is the limit. “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine as children do. It’s not just in some of us; it is in everyone. And as we let our own lights shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” — Coach Carter (2005) Dream big. Then go out there and make it happen. — AWOL www.conquerorpublishing.com
HOLYCRAP interview by Tan Jiahui | images courtesy of Holycrap
How was Holycrap formed? P: Holycrap was formed one night when I suddenly realised that I was sharing ideas and knowledge with people that I hardly knew. Then it dawned upon that I should be doing this with my kids. After discussing with Claire, the next morning we sat down with Renn & Aira to tell them about our plan and they were really excited too.
What is a typical day for Holycrap? Or is there even one? P/C: No ‘typical day’ to pinpoint. Weekdays are obviously days for Pann to be at work and the kids have their school. So its more of the weekends that we make use of to do our brainstorming and art related works and projects. And of cus for the kids to spend more time with their dad!
Share with us your favorite cartoon shows and books and why so. R: I love to watch many cartoons like Mix Masters, Adventure Time and all Studio Ghibli movies. I like to read Pokemon, The Visual companion book and Neil Gaiman’s - Fortunately, the Milk. And all old DC and Marvel comics. A: My favourite cartoon now is Ever After High and StampyLonghead’s Minecraft on youtube. Studio Ghibli of cus! I love to read my Ever After High books, Monster High and Goddess Girls too.
What are your hobbies apart from the daily school work? RA: Watching TV and ipad of cus!!! We like to skate scoot and are learning how to swim.
How do you feel towards studying in Singapore? Do you enjoy school?
Renn For many years, I have always thought of being an archaeologist. I love the idea of digging the ground and looking for very old things like tools and human bones. If I’m lucky I can even find dinosaur bones too! I can travel to many different countries searching for such treasures and having adventures just like Indiana Jones!
R: Yes I do enjoy school and playing with my friends. But school work is difficult. A: I love school also because I have many friends and I love recess!!
Do you feel any different from your peers in school? R: A little bit maybe because I’m shy sometimes and I am not as loud as some of the boys. A: Sometimes I feel different because I feel “old school”. Everyone listens to pop music while I’m singing songs from The Killers and The Beatles, Adele and Forever Young by Alphaville. This might be slightly early – what do you see yourself pursuing as a career?
A: I have always wanted to be a Vet since I was 3 years old. I love animals very much. Hopefully I can be one. R: I thought of being an archaeologist or a comic book artist.
Do you think Singapore is creative as a society? Why? P: Actually I am not sure how I am going to answer this question as I don’t know enough. But I can say everyone is creative in their own way. To me being creative is not about being in the creative field. Creative thinking is a way of life, how we talk to people, how we treat our love ones, how you work in the office etc etc. Actually I think I am going off point here. Sorry. That is how I feel a society should be creative, it should be present in all aspects of our lives.
If you can be anything, what do you want to be? R: I want to be a traffic cone!! Haha kidding only. I would like to be a bird so that I could fly freely. A: I want to be a watermelon so that I can be eaten and see the insides of a body!! Hehehehe ok Mommy ask me to be more serious. I would like to be a butterfly because butterflies are beautiful and I can fly.
With your parents being such acclaimed characters in the industry and your Dad awarded at the President’s Designer of the Year for Designer of the Year, do you feel the pressure as you grow up to be as or more successful? R: Yes, a little bit. But my daddy never expects me to be the same as him. He tells me that everyone is different and unique. A: Well, I do not feel the pressure but I feel very proud of my dad.
Recently you guys started the RUBBISH FAMzine. Tell us more. C: Rubbish Famzine was started because we saw the need to put our thoughts and passion into something tangible. Then we thought of publishing different books as Pann always wanted to do this and that. So in the end, we felt it would be nice to have a small print run like Fanzines that Pann grew up with. But ours was different, it’s more than a fanzine, it’s a Famzine, our Family zine. R: I feel awesome because it’s so cool to be able to create a magazine together with my family. A: I am very happy doing this famzine together, it is very fun. And because of this famzine, my bff came down to support me and my brother. There is a quote that appears rather frequently in the publication – “I am nothing without my family”. What is family to you? Why and how do you feel this way? C: Pann came up with this quote and I really love it. He kinda took the words out of my mouth! :) Family is indeed everything. R: Without my family I will be very lonely and miserable.
A:Family is something special to me and it means “I LOVE YOU!” P: That is how I feel because it keeps me real, grounded, clear and appreciative on all the good things that have happened to me.
You guys also seem to be interested in poetry and are pretty good at it. It seems like you also like to express through words and writing. R: I dun write as much as Aira but I still enjoy writing stuff and silly stories. I like to day dream a lot and I get my ideas from that. A: I love to write poetry and stories because it is interesting and fun and it improves my hand writing skills. I get the stories from my brain and my heart. C: Words are always a good way to express your thoughts and feelings. Especially for me since I do not draw as much. And when it comes to getting the idea/theme of any project we are working on, Pann and I will always discuss our views together. After which I will pen it all down and go through it with everyone.
I always noticed a poem by Robert M. Maciver at your exhibitions. You guys must be pretty in love with your mom. How does that quote resound with you guys? P: I actually found that quote and I shared with the family as if I have found gold! I never hide my feelings when it comes to this. A lot of parents focus on their kids and they forgot the reason they have children is because they are in love. But I do think quite the opposite, I am still madly in love with my wife and my kids are an extra blessing of my commitment. R: I feel sometimes that women are more important than men because they give birth to children. And I love my mom because she loves me so much. A: I love my mom so much because she is so awesome and so funny and she takes care of all of us. C: This is indeed a wonderful quote and a great tribute to all mothers. Tho I do believe in this modern world, dads play an equally important role in any family unit. I often tease Renn and Aira when they say they love me so much. I tell them that they don’t really have a choice cus I’m the only mom they’ve got. But Aira said something that blew my mind. She told me....”No, mommy, you’re wrong, we do have a choice, we can choose not to love you but we didn’t. We choose to love you!” Life seriously can’t get better than this.
some life skills and lessons along the way but actually it has been the other way round too. Pann and I have been doing a lot of the learning and understanding as well!! The kids have taught us so much more than we could imagine. We will definitely continue for as long as the kids want to. We have told them that passion and love can’t be forced and if one day should they decide to stop doing art and embark on other interests, it is ok by us. And should that day come, Pann and I can still continue with Holycrap.
I can say everyone is creative in their own way. To me being creative is not about being in the creative field. Creative thinking is a way of life, how we talk to people, how we treat our love ones, how you work in the office etc etc. — Pann Lim Are you able to share with us a teaser for the upcoming issue of the RUBBISH FAMzine?
How has Holycrap’s projects brought your family closer together and how do you see this going forward as your family grow older together?
Aira The Beatles is one of my most favourite band in the world. I love their songs very much and I love to listen to all the lyrics and words. I like to write a lot and I do hope to be a writer or a poet. That is why I listen to The Beatles very often, because of all the beautiful stories they write.
R: As we do our projects together, we spend more time together. And when we have difficult projects to work on, we discuss and brainstorm and this makes us know each other more. A: Through these 3 years, I feel what brings us closer together is when we work together, laugh together and have fun with each other. P: Not everything is rosy all the time, on the outside, Holycrap seems to be all fun but the truth is, it can get pretty tough on all of us, especially the kids because everyone wants to do a good job and that pressure can be a little stressful sometimes. In the end, all the ups and downs makes us closer, makes us understand each other very well. C: This whole thing has been quite surreal and without Pann, Holycrap would never have begun in the first place. Getting 4 individuals to work on projects together has been nothing short of exhilarating and amazing. We thought we could teach the kids
P: The 2nd issue is pretty close to home. It’s a tribute to Claire’s parents who raised her so well. The title is called ‘Till death do us part’, we are currently working on it and we hope we can launch it in late April or early May. If you can share or say something to people on the notion of pursuing creativity and passion, what would it be? R: I would tell people that doing art is being creative and a good way of expressing your feelings. A: I would tell everyone that creativity is fun and interesting. It makes you feel free and relaxed. P/C: Like I have mentioned earlier, creativity is present everywhere and in every aspect of our lives and it is not just about doing art. Pursuing creativity in your lives means we should do everything we love with fervor and determination. Always put your heart and soul into all that you do, be it in your studies or at work, cooking a dish or planting a flower. Learning is a life long journey and we will enjoy it better if we love what we do. — AWOL
DESIGN WITHOUT BORDERS COLIN SEAH interview by Tan Jiahui | images courtesy of Ministry of Design
Macalister Mansion, Penang
Vanke Triple V Gallery, Tianjin China
Describe yourself and what you do. I am an architect by training. I work in different mediums and expressions – not limited to any one thing. Things range from vertical experience design, interior design, branding, spatial design. I prefer not to do things in isolation. I am also very into lifestyle as this gives host to a different experience. Our experience and direction of thinking, despite us being what we are by training, allows us to cross borders and disciplines.
You pursued your education overseas and also was a faculty in NUS before MOD happened. How would you compare design education locally and where you went to? Comparisons are always hard to make. Singapore is still very young in our design education whilst in the States it is so much bigger and they have been there for a much longer time. In Singapore, many things are fixed from the beginning. It can be said to primarily prepare us for the pragmatic future. We can’t really find a school that is purely theoretical in nature. However, things are changing gradually. Schools like SUTD and some others are coming up and it should be changing slowly but good.
You are definitely one of the pioneers of individualistic expression in space design locally - hotels, interiors and all. Would you say individualism is important and why so? Most certainly – it is always in the ability to craft the vision that is unique. It is about having a unique perception of the world and how you want to view it. What is important is for us not to second guess ourselves about what we want or what others want. Sometimes it is extremely important to rely on your own intuitive and deductive process, and sometimes they can be right. At the end of the day, you cannot please everyone but hopefully you have done what is right for what is required. Up till now, we have been lucky with what we had worked on and are very happy with the results.
We are a society that is constantly evolving and the search for identity is pretty perpetual. How important does design play a role in that? Building an identity and searching for it is like the left and right foot of a body. What you create tends to get absorbed into what you experience. What you do and create is to inform and have a framework to have a starting point. It is a continuum. Design is just one of many expressions that we can bring up our culture and identity. We must not forget that there are by nature many different manifestations of how a culture and identity can be. Design is one of the more physically prominent manifestations. It plays a very important role visually. It represents things that are very important – maybe more significant because they are always there for a long time for everyone to see.
How do you see our identity or culture evolving to? I like to use the term Adaptive Reuse. It is not something about invention. It is commonly known as giving spaces a second life – emphasizing on adaptation and sustainability. There is a sympathetic reference to the past, but not to a point of being entirely dictated by the past. You can find maybe traces and references of history, but we tend to be more interested in what is relevant or appropriate. It is process dependent – it can generate multiple solutions. Sometimes, with more than one process, we will be able to yield different iterations. Unlike pure conservation, Adaptive Reuse is more reflexive and can be something of a more relevant and impt asset to employ. Of course, most things can and should be preserved. At the end of the day depends on how we do what we can to generate the best for them. Goa Resort, Goa India
When he is not flying a plane, Shawn Ingkiriwang heads the Taman Jurong CACC – where he works with a committee to plan community programs and art events for residents and people from all walks of life. interview and photography by Tan Jiahui
Care to share what CACC and also the committee do? In Taman Jurong CACC we strive to promote the Arts and Cultural and Heritage activities in the community. To create a conducive environment for the Arts to develop in the community level, strengthen our culture and better understand our Heritage.
What was the motivating factor that helped you decide to volunteer for CACC? I always wanted to volunteer but never had the opportunity till late. I was overseas for an extended period of time from 2002 to 2010. Nearly 8 years. So when I finally settled down back in Singapore after years overseas pursing my degree and flying training, I decided to volunteer in Taman Jurong. If you ask why Taman Jurong, Taman Jurong has a unique demographic and there are many families in transition in TJ who could need a hand or two. Volunteering in Taman Jurong has been a learning journey, to better understandand empathise with families who face different challenges in life. We do our best.
How do you perceive creativity in Singapore? I think Singapore is a very creative society. I think we are more creative than we give ourselves credit for. We are a unique country with unique set of challenges and we have been able to met those challenges with unique and creative solutions till today. And above all, we have the gumption to execute these solutions to progress as a nation. However, we must create more space for development and growth for the Arts, Culture, and Innovation in our society. Only with these creative and innovative ideas can be truly define who we are and how unique we are as Singaporeans.
How has it evolved over the years since your childhood till now — both as a society and also the level of appreciation from the people? I think creativity and being innovative is closely linked to how we are being brought up at home and educated in school. There must be enough space for everyone to develop and to celebrate innovation and creativity. The successful entrepreurers in the world are usually those who do not conform in school or in society. They are very comfortable with themselves, very confident and they do not seek refugee by conforming or become part of the “cool” group in school. They define themselves and pursue their beliefs and never let anyone else define what they should do in life and how they should behave. However, I must caveat that it must not be done in extremity as a level of conformity is required to ensure law and order, basic respect for one another for a peaceful and harmonious society.
How does one define creative education? It is an interesting concept but to formalise and institutionalize creativity is ironic to start. I believe that creating a conducive environment to promote creativity and innovative will ensure our success and this culture requires time to develop. It requires an initial momentum, structures and processes to start the cycle to better improve our current environment for creativity. To develop a generation
Have you heard of the term “soft power?” Do you think our nation is working towards that? Soft or Hard Power. These are only tools in a bag. When we develop freindships, relationships, formal or informal ones, we are constantly using different tools to engage different situations and people, to enhance collaboration and develop a common shared vision. I have a few good friends who I cherish and care for. Sometimes we have to encourage and motivate one another to pursue our dreams and aspirations. Other sometimes, we have to be blunt and harsh with our comments, to be pragmatic to make sure that your friend stays out of trouble. Most importantly, we must continue to care for one another and share a common vision. For everyone to have an equal opportunity to live life to the fullest.
In my opinion, the government has been nothing but helpful in giving out funds and grants to support creative ideas and proposals. How important do you think it is for our growth as a society? Government support is essential in developing a creative and innovative society. It emphasizes the continued importance in developing our culture and history. Many important art pieces today were at a point in time commissioned by the government. From symphonies, paintings and sculptures. This provided the emphasis and encouraged many others to pursue their own passion for the Arts and Music. Today, we will need individuals, organisations and the government to continue efforts in developing and sustaining this creative and innovative environment.
The recent celebration of Our Museum @ Taman Jurong 1st Anniversary drew a huge crowd. How successful was the event and have you spoken to any residents who attended the event about it? The recent celebration was successful because of the participation by the residents. Many art workshops and booths were by the residents for the residents. This is what we envision community art to be. We want to enhance the interaction and engagement within the community, to develop closer relationships and understanding. With that, a truly cohesive and harmonious society can be forged.
If given unlimited budget and resources, what would you do? Do you feel that it is important for creative education and also the appreciation for the arts? And why?
More Art, Music, Cultural programs and initiatives for more individuals in the community to pursue their passion. — AWOL
Soft or Hard Power. These are only tools in a bag. When we develop friendships, relationships, formal or informal ones, we are constantly using different tools to engage different situations and people, to enhance collaboration and develop a common shared vision.
Jesvin interview and photography by Tan Jiahui
You took a different route as compared to your peers in pursuing your design education. Tell us more about it. I was brought up in a typical Singaporean family and was expected to go through the normal route. Primary school, secondary school, JC, things like that. So when I was in JC, I was doing economics and accounting. It was normal because my whole family was in this line anyway. When I was in my year 2, I began to ask myself what was I doing there. It was not difficult but it was not something that I liked. I was quite good in drawing since young and thought that I should check out some design schools. My friends wanted to take a look too and we went down to NAFA to take a look. We did not know much about graphic design, as fashion and interior design was more prominent in our lives. I was not too sure what to do – I did not know any famous fashion designer apart from Thomas Wee. Making a career out of what you have chosen to do is something very different from liking it. We saw people carrying cool portfolios and began to talk to them and after which, I realized that it might be something that I can do. Anyway, during that time, it was not so multimedia like today. I quit my JC and went into NAFA; my JC teacher freaked out and called my parents; my parents could not believe it and became so angry; my mom cut off my allowance with the thought that once I had no money, I had to go back to school. I went to be a waitress in Carlton Hotel and others to support myself through the first two years out of three. It was pretty hectic. In the third and last year, my mom saw that I really meant it and started giving me my allowance back.
Did you enter an advertising agency after graduation because it was a more orthodox route to go or did you specially choose it over design studios? I always wanted to teach. It was my childhood dream. I changed a lot when I was in NAFA. I learnt to be fun and not so serious. I cared more about what I think was correct. The school changed my mindset and behavior. To me, working experience was very important. So I gave myself a decade to enter the industry and gain some real life experience before pursuing my childhood dreams. I chose advertising because I interned in an advertising agency and I liked the whole culture of separating job scopes. In design houses, it is known that sometimes you have to do everything. I like to work on concepts a lot – hence advertising was, at that time, the first thing that came to my mind.
You are now a professor who teaches Visual Communications for a Bachelor of Fine Art’s program. This is something that might be very conceptual and also something that requires a long process from start to finish. How do you bring your experience from the advertising industry over? I would say that where I teach, we still focus a lot on concepts. So, in a way, it is where my expertise comes in. I would say I am more unconventional because I am someone who likes to explore as many ways of expression. That is something that I hope to be able to impart to my students.
With a slightly more conceptual curriculum, do you think students might face some issues with transition to the working world? Is it true that many people leave the industry? It is very common for a cohort to be left with ten percent of the graduates staying in the industry. Especially in graphic design and visual communications. It has been like this for a few decades. People think that design is easy to learn. People think that design is all about drawing. It is not true. A lot of times, we use our brains as much as our hands. This boils down to passion. Not many people can work long hours for many years. When I was in advertising, my longest record was four days three nights without sleep. I had a few showers in between though. Public holidays and weekends
sometimes might not be applicable. When people are looking to settle down, have a child, things are not so easy. There is nothing wrong. That is why it is not easy. Also, you don’t make that much money unless you move up. So, things are very challenging. You are someone who works a lot on the local culture and heritage. Is this something that is intrinsic of you when growing up or something made you take special interest in these topics? When I was in my twenties, I was always complaining about Singapore not having anything. My mindset changed when I went over to London to work and study. I realized that we were not taking a closer look at the beautiful things around us and we tend to run away from it. It is different in other places – they look at their culture and heritage with pride.
Is it something to do with our upbringing or education? We are a money driven society in a very multi-national setting. We are very influenced by foreign thinking and this is how we are brought up. I don’t see culture when I walk down Orchard Road, only brands.
A lot of creative people take on responsibility to do something for their society. I might be biased here, but why do you think there is this inherent thinking amongst us? All I can say is that people in the creative industry have more opportunities to express such thinking. There are many legs for us to do it. As compared to my sister, who is an accountant who counts numbers and money and taxes everyday, the most prominent way is to donate money. Designers are much more privileged as we are able to produce stuff. Stuff that can represent anything we want them to be. As compared to people in some other industries, things might not be so direct for them.
We have always been in a state of transition and perpetual evolution. What do you think about our culture and identity, now that we have been accelerating our growth for the past five decades? It is not easy to form a one-directional identity with so many people. You cannot and should not lock down a society based on one race or culture. Places like London are different because they are inherently British for a long time. The immigrants adapt to their culture and society according, whereas here everyone starts off almost at the same plane. It is the same as New York – you have people from everywhere, but ultimately they are still American. In 2007, I was really interested to find out what our identity is and can be. I spent a few years speaking to a lot of people and researching. I have now accepted that we are who we are, and will be what we perceive ourselves to be. As a nation, we are also very young. We should let things mold themselves with time naturally. Things will fall into place with time.
To create or rather work towards an identity, it takes effort and a lot of time. In the past few years, we have seen many different creative approaches towards trying to form an identity. There are works that really scream local heritage and others who take on a more international stance. Do things really have to scream local heritage to be funded? Sadly, most of the time, yes.
We are considered a first world nation. It might be a very sweeping statement but do you think most of us are of first world mindsets? No. Not yet. Within less than thirty years, we moved from a third world country to a first world nation. Human behavior aside, have you seen our roads? Our pathways are too narrow. And this might ref lect how we are as a nation. To make things worse, that the road I just went past recently – the narrow road has a pole in the middle of the path. Society building and engineering comes up bottom up and also top down. This in turns ref lects in the people in every walk of life.
Back to the creative realm of things, what is your opinion on winning awards? I have changed a lot in this aspect. I was under someone who believed that only real work should be submitted and awarded at award shows – not those pro bono projects. However, how advanced are we in this aspect as an industry? How fortunate are we to get forward thinking clients all the time? I would say not that fortunate. I had a colleague who did not think this way. He felt that every project, pro bono or not, should be award winning. The work should speak for itself. Now, he is a prominent Creative Director who has won a lot of industry awards. His mindset changed me. I respect him for his approach. Winning awards is not long about getting forward thinking clients, it is also about being forward thinking ourselves. You might not know, but many clients who are not in the industry do keep a lookout for prominent creative who are award winning. You are only letting yourself down if you restrict yourself to different forms of boundaries that are set up by yourself. Doors are there to be opened. So yes, it is a must. It is an affirmation of your ability.
What is the future forward for us as a society? How can we consistently bring creativity and design to people like your mom and my mom, and allow the whole society to grow together in the appreciation towards creative thinking? We have to learn aesthetics since young. We have to go back to basics – education. Some places like Japan, Switzerland and Berlin, they have design education from a very young age. You do not necessarily have to grow up to be a designer, but you develop an eye for aesthetics which is applicable to your culture and upbringing in a very different direction. Such things not only inculcates appreciation, it also inculcates graciousness and positive behavior. Bringing kids to museums and shows is a good thing. But we must not only be talking about history. Don’t get me wrong. History is extremely important. But we need to educate them on aesthetics too. Form, lines, shapes, colors, space. They are subconscious elements but very important in character building. If we teach people since young, they will eventually grow up and become clients too. And then we will have forward thinking clients who have a keen eye for good aesthetics. No matter how a country is ran, ultimately things go back to the policy makers. If they have such aesthetic sense, then we will gear towards such a direction. If they bring all the aesthetics in consistently, we will grow gradually.
People are too caught up with price, but have forgotten the importance of value. Value to me is how to make people see and feel it. I have worked with people practicing different crafts. A lot of times, people do not appreciate the value of process. People are too caught up with the end product, and the price tag on it. Sometimes the process, if one knows how to appreciate, is worth much more than the price tag. Sometimes the process is more worthwhile. — AWOL
Indifference towards people and the reality in which they live is actually the one and only cardinal sin in design.
The trouble with the rat race is that even if you win, youâ€™re still a rat.
HOME MADE GOODNESS with Linus & Clay interview Tan Jiahui photographs courtesy of Linus and Clay
Share with us what you do daily and how did you two meet. L: By day, I’m an Art Director in Leo Burnett Singapore and my role is to create ideas for some of the world’s biggest brands. Clay and I used to work together but we actually spent more time finding places to gorge together.
I want to be part of it instead of slaving away in the kitchen. But if it’s cooking for 2, I’ll go a little crazy and spend the whole day experimenting. My partner complains about 5 hour waits all.the. time.
C: Hey! I’m currently an Art Director at Kinetic Design and Advertising (where i met Linus). Besides doing art director’s stuff the entire day in the office, I try to make simple meals with my portable stove at the backyard during lunch hours. When I get home, I whip up 15mins dinners and pair it with my favourite movies in front of my Mac.
L: The process for me is a very natural one. I always cook to make sure that whoever eats the food will be happy. That’s why I always start out with who I’m cooking for and what do they like to eat. Do they have any allergies or dislikes? What is their favourite food? I then start to list down the ingredients and see what interesting pairings would work together. Colour and texture are also important to me. I try and make sure that there’re 2-3 different colours and contrasting textures in each dish.
Describe a typical lazy Sunday. (I am assuming it’s an off day) C: Sundays are normally busy for me. It’s my clean up day. I do a lot of chores, the week’s laundry, some gardening. Then I get busy in the kitchen making breakfast/lunch/dinner/snacks/condiments with whatever groceries that’s left for the week. L: Sunday is usually a sleep-in day for me. I usually go food hunting to try out what other people are cooking and serving. Menu analysing I would say. I would then remember interesting food pairings and try to replicate it my own cooking. At night, I come home to have my weekly meal of home-cooked food prepared by my dad who is an amazing cook.
I am assuming you guys love your daily job. That aside, have cooking been always a passion deep down? C: Growing up in Macau with a Cantonese mom, a Shanghainese dad and extended family from all over China. We ate more then just dim sums and roast goose for meals. As kids (my brother and I), we never had happy meals or food from the kids menu. Instead, we had eels, pigeons, camel’s hump, dogs (I know, don’t hate me), raccoons and stuff that you’ll never ever imagine eating. We also had 4 seasons so we ate according to what was available. In short, meals were never dull or repetitive. When we moved to Singapore, we lived in a neighbourhood thats up a hill and away from civilisation. My folks were constantly busy or away. Meals no longer came in porcelain plates, they came wrapped in brown paper and rubber bands. I remember we had chicken rice for the longest time. I got sick of this brown paper routine and took control of my meals (no offence to hawker food, I love Bak Chor Mee to death). The first dish I made was Spaghetti Bolognese with hotdogs, canned mushrooms and RAGU Chunky Pasta Sauce from the minimart. It was shit. But it was this pile of nonsense that made me realized that I no longer have to eat chicken rice again. L: Some of my earliest memories growing up were watching my dad prepare dinner every day. I remember tip-toeing by the stove just so I could see what he was stirring in the wok. He would sometimes give me a ‘sneak preview’ by feeding me a piping hot piece of meat straight from the wok. I guess that’s how I grew up being so greedy and being a natural foodie.
In a fast paced society where dining at home is gradually becoming less of a habit, why have two of you seem to go in the other direction?
Cooking seems to go beyond enjoying the sweat and effort of the preparation. It is also about bonding during dining. How significant is that in a society where people are gradually distancing from one another due to stress, technology and other factors? C: You can send a smily face, a paragraph of text, a photograph, a recording. But you can never send a feeling across. Without these feelings, we’re nothing but robots. And there’s really no better time to have proper human interaction then meal times. L: Food naturally brings everyone together. It has this special ability to make people of different races and languages to sit down together and share a meal even despite the communication barriers.
Being foodies yourselves, are you hawker junkies or more towards the health-conscious circle? L: If I had to choose one meat to eat for the rest of my life and give up everything else, it will be bacon. I love lard, deep fried food, anything that’s not good for the heart. I love hawker and local food. I grew up on that and it will always be something very close to my heart. Nothing better than waking up on a weekday and eating my economical noodles with luncheon meat, chicken wing and a sunny side up! C: Moderation and common sense is the key. You don’t have to give up on chicken wings, just don’t eat a whole bucket in one sitting.
Our mothers have always preached to us that eating at home is always healthier. How true is that really? L: Cooking at home is definitely healthier. We have exact control over the type of ingredients we use to the way we cook it. Whenever I can, I cook and eat at home. C: Well, it’s really up to yourself. Eating at home doesn’t equate to eating healthy. You can easily whip up a high fat high calorie high carb meal at home that makes Char Kwey Tiao look like diet food. It’s what you choose to put in your mouth that matters.
What are some of your personal favourite recipes? L: It’s always convenient to eat out and I still do sometimes but a few years ago, I started asking myself, “What exactly am I putting in my body?”. I had no idea where the ingredients came from, whether it was washed properly, the quality of the cooking oil that was being used, etc. A lot of questions started forming in my head and it was then that I decided to make myself responsible for what I was putting into my own body. Besides, cooking is really therapeutic. In our fast paced society, we are already moving at such a crazy speed at work that it’s healthy to slow down at home. C: I hate the feeling of getting ripped off. Call me a cheapskate but no way am I paying 20 bucks for a sandwich that I can make at home for 5. When I eat out, I usually order specials or stuff that I can’t recreate at home.
The process begins as early as thinking and planning what to cook all the way to the sharing process of dining with friends and love ones. How is this process like to you? C: I don’t really have a process. I cook what’s good from the market and what my mind craves. If I’m cooking for a party, it has to be simple and friendly for all palettes. After all it’s a party, and
C: Scott Conant’s Pomodoro. It’s the easiest, simplest and one of the most delicious take on Pomodoro ever. Michael Ruhlman’s home cured bacon which changed my bacon game. And my “wastenothing” soup. I have a habit of freezing bones, meat scrapes and vegetable odds and ends. When I have a bag big enough, I’ll make soup. L: Kimchi and Sriracha has been appearing in almost all the recipes I have been cooking recently. Adding them to any dish immediately wakes up your palette and whets your appetite for more. If there’s one recipe that is my ultimate favourite, it would have to be my dad’s soy braised pork belly.
I’ve heard whispers about you guys are planning something together. Care to share more? L: Plans are in the pipeline to do a pop-up catering that’s none of the metal buffet trays and all of the home-ly, casual and cosy dining. I would leave it for Clay to say more! C: It’s still early for discussion. But wait for it guys. It will come.
Belief is believing interview by Winfred| photography by Tan Jiahui
Leon Foo Papa Pahleta
Hi Leon, thank you for taking some time to speak to us today. Now, let’s start. You were a Nanyang Business School graduate with a major in accountancy, and then went on to equities research at RBS. You were in the finance world till 2008-2009. Then you left your job, and took a brand new look at life. At that point in time, it was very real that the crisis was here in Singapore. You would see people on your left and right being let go. It was a very cold world, and you were just a number. This was at the brokerage where I worked. I would see a colleague in the morning, and after lunch she was gone. This was pretty common. However, I don’t think it was the main reason why I left my job and to run my own business. One reason also stems from the fact that I’ve always felt I was meant to do something on my own, and that I wanted to do something that could impact society in a different way. I was doing equity research and you start thinking about the essence of the business not just about making money and it allowed me to evaluate different business throughout different industries. I think it armed with some ammunition on how I would start Papa. Just a few days after I quite, Papa was opened. I felt coffee gave the ability to connect the common man from the street down to the farmers of our beans. I think it’s extremely interactive and the more I did it, the more sucked in I got. I didn’t want to just create a café or an F&B outlet but a business where it would be sustainable and allow me to grow old with it. A café is only as good as it’s lease. As we got more focused, it became a business more than a project. We focused more on sourcing coffee, supplying machines, supplying beans to others. So I think leaving was justified because I do more than serve good coffee. I felt that we could really make a difference with speciality coffee in Singapore. With that notion, we went ahead. I felt Singapore needed one true coffee bar to represent coffee in a different way. Some say we grew too quickly, some say otherwise. I think it’s relative. Every year, we envision a new project. We basically took the leap with CSHH so that’s how it happened.
Back to your business, you’re obviously a huge fan of the community and you have a sense of heritage towards Singapore. How do you, as a forward thinking person, see our identity evolving into in the future? Take a guess perhaps? I think, the more you travel within Asia, you start realizing that Singapore is not real. Just unreal. The real world, which can be easily experienced in our neighbouring countries. They aren’t as advanced as Singapore. The first problem Singaporeans face when they step out, thanks to the rampant growth of internet, the decrease of cost in air travelling, they realize how fortunate they have been and sheltered they are in Singapore. The problem is that we are always trying to find an identity, but you then realize it’s best if it comes on it’s own. I am rather happy if we just remain the safe society that we are, the same one we experienced whilst growing up. I think many take it for granted that we are so safe. It’s safe to say I like the status quo. I don’t think we can bring the bar any higher. The fundamental problem is that the younger generation don’t see how good it already is, and therein lies the problem. I think we should subtly remind them about hardship, war and I think that would be a good remedy. As long as we do it tastefully of course. Soft power is being pushed up, and being measured by something called the livable city, an initiative started by the government. This is a good gauge of how Singapore could be in the future. Whilst I don’t have a fixed answer as to what we will become, but safely I can say we are trying. If you are interested to find out, just go out there and read. Studies are being conducted extensively, the government is listening and changes are being gradually put in place. The fear is that if you get someone very emotional taking over, then the system could be broken and the impact could be significant.
Do you see yourself as the Godfather of Coffee in Singapore, and did you see or understand the cultural impact that CSHH has brought to Singapore through your actions? Definitely there was a lot of hustling because when you started there wasn’t a café hopping trend. I’m going to explain in an economic sense, but not on purpose. Whenever you do something you always begin with your gut feelings, then sentiments of people around you, 80% may say don’t do it and 20% may say yes. When you’re doing a business, you can’t just dive head in because there’s money involved, and your livelihood is on the line. You need to be smarter because you may wanna get married sometime, have a child. I didn’t want to set up something where I would just be a number. I want to build the business based on that thought, and make sure I know what I’m doing so I don’t make the mistake of firing my staff. I pull my network to get all the data on coffee I could get, like prices of the commodity, international or regional, trends from Euromonitor, so on and so forth. Case studies also were an integral part of the study, like of Spinelli’s and of Starbucks. I found that out of 10 people, only 2 drink gourmet. But now, maybe 3 drink. Kopitiam coffee is still the majority being drunk today in Singapore. This is statistically proven. We wanted to run Papa based on how the team wanted to. We didn’t want to look overseas but create our own paths instead. We wanted to push the boundaries on how coffee can be served. We undertook certain projects which are even more forward thinking than countries which are more developed than us (coffee industry wise). We also try to adapt the drink to the palette of the local. We try to re-define and to educate. We didn’t look a lot at trends.
No, I definitely do not think so, nor dare to think so. I don’t think anyone else would too! That day I was reminiscing with my fiancé and some friends about how we started. Some definitely believe that what we did helped catalyse other business out there. But would you say we started it, or that it was already a trend that was happening? So then, you think oh no la, it definitely wasn’t us. But it got me thinking also, what if we didn’t open chye seng huat? Would it be really lesser? In 2010, we did projects that were 2 years ahead of it’s time – such as running on only black coffee, showcasing beans from all around the world and using expensive machines just to brew black coffee, which many branded as crazy. Things such as cupping sessions and education was an important foundation that we built ourselves on. We didn’t fully understand the impact we had on the community until we realised the people who came for those sessions actually opened their own shops and so on. They had taken inspiration from what we were doing to start their own project. However, I don’t think if I didn’t do it, no one else would do it. If it’s a trend, someone else would have started it if I didn’t. But I stand by the fact that we did our best and I think we did a decent job to make it impactful. So I don’t think I’m the godfather, but we were the first mover of the idea and kicked it off and the way we stuck true to our beliefs while trying to achieve our goals.
So, is this still very much a founding principle and a pillar of the business today? From my observation, if you are a client, you would be a very forward thinking one who values good design. As an entrepreneur yourself, what does design mean to you? So if I could look forward, you see everyone in charge has placed design in the first place and design has set a tone in how the company moves forward. How identities are created are mostly design centred. I believe every business needs a different design and I think it’s important in many aspects of creating a brand and even to the extent of creating a demand. With regards to CSHH, it did not mean everything here is what I want, but after a while you learn to appreciate the right kind of design that suits your market. I learn to answer two questions annually, what I like, and what my customers like and what’s forward. What would make them enjoy coffee, in what environment. So instead of saying we’re looking a trend, more so we are looking for something that is honest and reflects what we believe in. We keep looking and making sure it was in line with our beliefs and ensure it is best for our customers as well. What may be cool, does not mean it is necessarily workable for us.
So I realised that at the end of the day, we were very much a coffee company rather than an F&B outlet. What’s really different is how we source our coffee, how we roast them and how we brew them. It may sound cliché, but there’s a philosophy, school of thought and design put into each process. If you ask someone how they source their coffee, they need to know that hey, we base it on quality, traceability and transparency. We also try to instil our staff the philosophy of roasting and brewing as well. You could say we’re crazy about our products. Every batch that we single roast has a unique ID number, which is governed by systems that puts into place what we have learnt, new findings in coffee and the development of roasting. It’s definitely forward thinking and that’s who we are. Although we are crazy about what we do, we sometimes fail in communication. So say our team sources the best beans worldwide, the roaster nails the roast profile perfectly but the barista downstairs fail to communicate the beans to the customer, you basically fall on your face because all your effort is gone to waste. I realised we were so crazy about coffee but we forgot how to brand it. We also tried hard to present coffee more effectively and that’s why we renovated the coffee bar downstairs (CSHH) to showcase how coffee is made. As a coffee geek, we believe strongly about education. That’s my number 1 goal alongside innovation. This is paramount to be forefront. Education gives you the ability to do that.
In a world where Starbucks is rampant, having opened their 100th store in Singapore just 2 months ago, do you see them as a competitor? So there are 3 waves of coffee, the first wave is the Italian coffeeshops that we all know. The second wave about be Starbucks, Spinelli’s generically speaking the worldwide wave. Speciality coffee makes the third wave. It talks about transparency, traceability, quality, expensive equipment, knowing your source and the list goes on, owner run cafes, artisan, non-chain like etc. But then we can’t reach the third wave without the second wave. What really paved the way for third wave was the second, without them the third wave won’t even exist. Yes they are a competitor but then you really want a fair share of the market. So they’re definitely not the “evil” one, in fact they did quite a bit of good work. Lots of the farmers they helped, with programmes such as their minimum wage plans definitely helped farmers a lot, but yet teens boycott it as a trend but I think beverage level wise it did have a dip in quality. So they then moved back into auto machines.
Where do you see Papa going in the next 5 years? So basically what we did was since we closed Bukit Timah, Papa Pahleta no longer maintains a physical presence but more an omniscient one with CSHH and Loysel’s, where we could be anywhere because we didn’t want to be subjected to a café or to a property, unless I owned it. Tyrwhitt is not owned. So being tied by your lease is a bad idea and I’m usually forward thinking and I would think about what happens when we’re out. So papa has evolved to become a brand and has evolved into an online store as well (we’re bullish online). Beans, deliveries and we even have a subscription for coffee that we would deliver on bicycles (a green project). Malaysia also. Physical location we’re bullish but not all the time, because brick and mortar operations are expensive, which is the business side of things. I swear it’s been tough with the foreign worker levy but we realised we are really passionate about coffee more than the F&B side. It’s tough la but our forte is not the food, but I guarantee you we try our damn best. Sometimes it’s hard, to have to change menus, chef (whole new game) Everything we are bullish about we try to think ahead, further. We’re agents of machines as well, because we sell them all online where we’re bullish, so beans and the equipment go together so it’s a perfect fit. We have a service team as well, we visit the brand principals overseas also. We have 4 departments, our wholesale client team, our f&b ops, retail and branding, and education. We have about 24 people overall throughout us.
So to close, to any budding entrepreneurs, any tips? I think I’m very bad at this because I don’t really inspire them in that way cos I always give the hard truth. For example, when you wanna open the café, really ask yourself what you want to achieve not just do it for the sake of doing it cos it’s trendy. Even older people would like to do that, eg. Vineyard, I bet that if you’re in farming you’ll be out in two months. So do you want to say you own a vineyard, or cos you’re really into farming or is this a retirement plan? How are you going to operate it? Really ask yourself real life questions before doing it cos eventually, you’re going to get married, have a kid and buy yourself a house. Sometimes you do something aiming to go global and it pans out, but more often than not you gotta take a step back and look ahead to see what is reasonable and feasible and realistic and whether this is what you really wanna do. There are a lot of people who do not work for money, e.g passion. It’s easy to say do first and think later, but that isn’t the way to go for sure. It has to be thought through first before moving. The last advice I would like to give is that I think there is more things to do in life and in business than just F&B because youngsters like to do something that they know (a trend) so you should really look beyond that. I’m bullish about renewable energy and an example would be Tesla, a great company who did a really good job looking at trends, looking forward it’s all concept, hybrid cars and electric cars. So don’t go and say, oh let’s start a car company cos I really like it, why not start an electric company that sells the electric car conversion kit that is required for every car owner when they charge a car? That way you stand to earn more (the itunes method) then you gotta think further, you gotta think more because this port could easily be made by them once they have the knowledge, so you have to make a converter, and even so you have to make it seamless (like how apple/Samsung) – that’s scalable and sustainable, because barriers of entry are high. Every one is looking at apps, so why? Why not create an iTunes, I would make from everyone! I’m saying you could do the same in every business you do.
Oozing with sincerity and heartfelt goodness, we speak to Jie Hui, founder of Goobycakes on the evolution of her business and the changing landscape of marketing. interview and photography by Tan Jiahui
Share with us the story of Goobycakes. To be very honest, I started Goobycakes on a whim. Baking was something I could do but it wasn’t my dream. My dream was to become a florist! After graduating from university, I knew I didn’t want to be in a corporate environment, at least not right away. I wanted to do something different, learn a new skill, so I went to work in a bakery. There I learnt how to bake but soon I got bored of just baking cupcakes. I wanted to do something more creative so I started researching on cake decorating. After a few trips to the library and lots of Internet research, I baked and decorated my first cupcake. Hello Kitty. The rest is history.
Describe a typical day for yourself. Wake up, go to work, bake cake, breath cake, eat cake, decorate cake, smell like cake, eat more cake. (Boss I don’t know how to describe so give funny version can? Or you seriously want the process. But I literally do the same thing everyday.)
What made you go into baking Baking satisfies me. It satisfies me when I eat what I bake, and much more when I see what my work does to the people around me. When customers open the cake box and smile/exclaim/say thank you, it makes me so happy. It’s a simple joy but it’s hard to describe. I feel like I’ve made someone’s day better and that gives me a sense of purpose, to bring joy to my customers through my bakes. I also view baking as an art, which is exactly what I like about it. When customers show me elaborate cupcake designs, my first reaction would usually be - I can’t do this. But over time, I realised that if I just try and put my heart into doing it, I actually can. Baking has pushed me to overcome my fears - of not living up to people’s expectations and to constantly outdo myself, to accept challenges and achieve them. It has made me a better person!
but I also contribute my personal opinions during the process. With existing examples, I try to add in my own details, instead of ‘copying’ exactly, unless the customer requires me to do so accordingly. But I am very thankful because most of them trust my judgement and let me do my own thing!
A lot of customers entrust you with your bakes – weddings, baby showers, events and more. How do you handle such responsibility? Trust is very important because it means that the customer recognises my forte. It gives me the freedom to create new designs and try new things. However, baking for important events (especially weddings) requires me to work within a certain theme. Sometimes, customer don’t know what they want, but they know what they don’t want. They just need some probing ;) Even if they tell me that they trust me, I still try to find out as much as possible what not to include e.g. certain colors they want to avoid, cupcake flavors that they don’t like, etc. I feel that it’s a basic responsibility of a baker to find out more about the customer’s requirements for an order, their likes and dislikes.
You began as a bakery that solely relied on the digital realm – more specifically social media – to spread the word and gain customer base before opening a physical store recently. In your opinion, how has the landscape of marketing evolved in this generation?
I think it’s the novelty factor. Other than baking delicious cupcakes, the novelty factor is what sets Goobycakes apart from other bakeries. Every set of cupcakes is personalised, specially for that certain customer; we incorporate a part of them into the cakes we bake and help them send a message to the recipient, in the form of edible art!
I really have to thank Instagram! Marketing is not the same anymore. I think social media is pretty damn amazing. It does the marketing for you! You just post up a picture, if people like it, they share and talk about it. And it’s so visual. People see your products instantly. The use of hashtags has also made it incredibly convenient for customers to view my work. When they click on #goobycakes, all the past designs show up and they can see everything in a glance. They can even see what other customers have to say about Goobycakes. Virtual word of mouth! Customers can see for themselves how good or popular a product is based on the likes/ follower counts. So businesses don’t have to go all out to convince potential customers how amazing their products are, they can see it for themselves. With social media it is also much easier for customers to know more about me, not only as a business but on a personal level. They know who is the person baking their cakes and they interact with me directly.
You do a lot of fondant art as well as custom designs. What is the creative process like for you?
Do you see your approach to your brand evolving or changing anytime soon?
Every time I create a new design, I do some research in advance. I try to understand what the customer wants and come up with something accordingly. Sometimes customers would send me pictures, sometimes their own sketches. I rely on them to provide me with their ideas,
Since Goobycakes only opened less than a year ago, so maybe not anytime soon. We are however trying new recipes to expand our current menu to include cookies, brownies, whole cakes, etc. — AWOL
What sets you guys apart?
Goobycakes is a 6 month old baker y located in Bukit Timah, owned by Instagram personality, Missgoob. Missgoob bakes and designs every cupcake, from frosting to the exquisite fondant art which she hand-crafts personally. Goobycakes are baked fresh in the kitchen daily; the cupcakes are moist and the frosting not too sweet for the Singaporean palate. Visit her Instagram page @missgoob or www.facebook.com/goobycakes to visually feast upon the tasty creations!
A Walking Toast piece is more than just an accessory; it is the embodiment of uniqueness and elegance. To Qiao Yi and Chui Shan, they are designing exquisite diminutive delights for a woman to express her individuality. interview by Tan Jiahui | images courtesy of TWT
Firstly, two of you have your day jobs. What do you girls do? CS: I am a project engineer by day. But you can’t say that engineering and jewellery craftwork don’t go together because they absolutely does. It is all about designing.
Why did you girls (with reference to previous question if it has any relationships) choose to work on jewellery craft?
QY: I do marketing, campaigns and adhoc events.
CS: It is our appreciation for well-made objects and our love for details, especially when unrelated items come together to form a brand new adornment, the satisfaction we get out of this is immense and inspiring altogether.
Why the name?
Is it a saturated market or there is more to it?
CS & QY: The Walking Toast came about almost just randomly. We are a big fan of toasts, they are the comfort food. We like the idea that toasts could represent most people’s daily grind, and our jewellery their almost daily routine. ‘Walking’ was there to provide the ‘recall’ factor, that we’ll need the customers to tell us. Well it’s quite funny to imagine toasts walking too.
QY: We have yet to explore much opportunities in this market, but I’m positive that there is so much more that we could do to fill the gap.
CS you draw quite a bit. And then you dabble with jewellery craft. Would you describe yourself as an artist trapped in a wrong body? What about QY?
QY: It is very encouraging, especially when most of the non-locals thought our education system to be very stifling. I mean not all of us grow up to be lawyers, doctors and accountant, so it’s def very inspiring to know that we can actually be good in the artistic area too! I’d love to meet or work with them in the future.
QY: I am no artist as compared to CS. I have a galaxy of ideas but have absolute zero talent in translating those into words nor artwork hahaha... would prefer to work with sewing machines instead of pens and paper. CS: I enjoy being in engineering, and I enjoy art the same. I believe that I may not make quite the artist that people perceived that I be if I were to be in art solely. My mind can be quite stubborn at times, doing a bit of art stretch that, I like it. I can have a lot of farfetched strange thoughts, and doing engineering could have tamed that too.
Share with us the story of how TWT was formed (has it been brewing for years and you girls finally got down to it or was it an epiphany in the shower?) CS & QY: It all started with us complaining as usual. Clothing and accessories very much not to our liking. We alter our clothes a lot to change them to designs we prefer, we add or remove whatever we don’t need on our accessories. We swoon over some of the items other countries offer and not here in Singapore. If we can change or make things that we like, why not? It can be quite frustrating to have some designs on our mind but we don’t see them anywhere here. And if we could do our own pieces, or bring them from abroad, why not?
What is your perception of the rise of local craftsmen in recent years and is it a good thing?
CS: To me, crafting is a very sincere job and I respect all who does this well. It requires a lot of effort, patience and time in arriving at new designs. We love to see more embarking on this, we shouldn’t just allow those few to dictate or control the market.
The way you package and brand TWT has a certain unique sense of aesthetics to it. Is there any thought processes and intentions behind it that you can share? CS: We look at making things simple, that is our only objective when it comes to designing the web or shooting our accessories. Besides, I think it is also the fact that both of us loved taking pictures, and we happened to be comfortable with each other’s way and style of presenting what we see to our audience.
How do you see craft businesses like TWT evolving with the market and times in the coming years? CS: We actually observed that people now value handmade goods more now compared to years back. To consumers, with more of craft businesses flourishing, it also means more choices for them. To businesses like TWT, new and better products will definitely be sprouting, it is a positive competition. And we definitely have bigger plans for TWT. — AWOL
Defining Bespoke interview by Winfred & Jiahui| images courtesy of Ed Et Al
Ed Et Al, Edwin Neo, 32 Managing Director
So, why go into the shoemaking line? It was a passion for shoes first and foremost. However, I started my career as a shoe cobbler or a shoe repairer. This helped me find out more about shoes and explore my interest in creating shoes and one things lead to another and here we are.
When you first started, did you envision yourself starting a brick and mortar shop like the one we are sitting in today? To be entirely honest the answer would be no. What we have in the shop today is our Ready-ToWear (RTW) didn’t even exist! When we first started, we only offered bespoke services, and we were an one man operation, running out of a small corner at Jalan Kilang. That was what I wanted to do. Only later did we realise that there was a market to be filled, that we went into RTW shoes. The niche was definitely non-existent and then set out to start a full RTW line and the shop came naturally later but to answer the question again, no, this definitely was not part of the original plan.
How difficult is it to convince your customers what you have is comparable to what respectable shoemakers produced? We have never once told them that we are comparable, as good as or better than respectable shoemakers but we definitely have some well-travelled customers who have many different pairs and then made the comparison themselves so online reviewers are the one saying these. Officially, we have never positioned ourselves that way but you can be sure we try our very very best.
Using a quick analogy, whilst talking to the founders of Azimuth, we realised the difficulty of how watches not European-centric (owned, made and designed there) struggle and get criticised. Does the shoe market face the same problems that are inherent to the watch or the automotive industry? It used to, yes. When I first started, people were doubtful. There was a stigma for sure. People doubted anything not made in Europe was not as good. We could only prove people wrong with our quality, and I think it turned out that our shoes were pretty good and that was when people realised and the stigma began to go away. It is certainly not as existent as it was. This could be due to the world being more connected now, and hence smaller. It certainly is not as bad as the watch stigma that Azimuth faces.
How important, in your opinion is polishing or shining a pair of shoes? Do you see yourself bringing Ed Et Al to other countries perhaps to SEA Countries? Yes, we are in negotiations now for sure. We actually have a small presence in Indonesia where we are being stocked in a store. Franchise options are also being planned, so that’s on the book as well. Online presence is also very useful for breaking in to international markets where we do not have presence at all yet. Physical store fronts are not necessary.
Touching on physical shop fronts, how important do you think it is for a smaller company like yours? I don’t think it is 100% needed but it truly depends on your brand and product. If you are an atelier, I think that it’s good to have a store of your own so that people can see that you’re making products. If all else falls through, there are many multi label stores that you can consign and sell your goods at so it definitely isn’t the end of the world.
So if you have customers who ask what differs your shoes from those coming from reputable shoemakers, what are some points you would use to educate them?
On some technical points for our readers, how long does it take for the entire production of a bespoke shoe, counting from the day the customers step into your store and picking up the final pair of shoes?
The simplest way we use to educate them is the quality of leather that we use firstly. Construction techniques are also a talking point when we are doing our explanation and education. I believe our attention to detail is also something we pride ourselves in, so I would say these three points are very important when explaining to customers what differs us from the rest. These three points are necessary to creating a good pair of shoes, as for design, since it is subjective, it would be difficult and pointless to debate.
For a pair of bespoke shoes, we could be looking at 50-60 man hours, 250 steps in from the design to the final delivery, but it could be punctuated with a lot of waiting time, because you have to wait for lasts to set, glue to dry. A full bespoke experience could take 3-6 months, because there are fitting involved and some clients may not have time to come in for fittings and they are done around their schedules. I have some customers who only visit Singapore twice a year and still have their shoes here after a year.
How important do you think shoes are to a men, as much as his watches or glasses mean to him?
What happens if you make a bespoke shoe for your client and it doesn’t fit him well, what happens then?
I think it’s extremely important. If I were to judge a man, I would look at his shoes for sure when I first meet him. If you don’t polish your shoes or not well-kept, it would reflect his personality. Old shoes if polished can taken care of will look very presentable still, same rule applies for lower-tiered shoes. It’s all about the effort he takes to keep them looking spiffy. That’s what I think of course.
In Singapore right now, the shoe market has been growing in big part thanks to you. Customers have become more versed in construction techniques as well as the various styles. Where do you see the market growing to in the next decade or so? Unfortunately the shoe market in Singapore is rather limited, and small. Of course you see people moving away from fast fashion brands and moving into classic brands like myself and many other international ones which have a presence in Singapore. So whilst there has been the trend of moving away from fast fashion shoes to higher end ones, it is still in it’s infancy for sure.
It’s really important, probably as important as using a shoe tree for the shoe when not in use. Firstly, if not polished regularly, the leather on the shoe will start to dry so when we polish it we give it more moisture. A bi-weekly or a monthly shine is definitely recommended, and it would not take up more than 15 minutes per pair, and this is a practice I highly recommend if you love your shoes.
It depends on what he doesn’t like. If it’s something we cannot control, we will still try to remake the shoe for him. But in many circumstances we cannot guarantee a 100% fit. Even for bespoke shoes, it is the same. No one in the world can guarantee that. What we can as bespoke shoemakers guarantee is a good fit.
If someone is looking into venture into more high-end shoes, making the jump from fast fashion brands, what tips would you give them? You definitely need a pair of brown oxfords and a pair of black oxfords. I wouldn’t say this is more than enough but it would be the bare minimum. You can still rotate these two pairs of shoes. As long as you take care of them, the shoes will take care of you. I hear that you can wear a pair of shoe for 24 hours and then allow it to rest for 48 hours before they can be re-worn again. Can you help us to verify or debunk this myth? Not really, whilst it is best for the shoe, there is no hard and fast rule with regards to this practice so I would say it is not true. I have customers who have 2-3 pairs of shoes and wear them straight for a week and then let it rest over the weekend. At the end of the day, I would say it is mostly down to how you maintain you shoes. Small things like, oh do you use a shoe tree when home and if you polish your shoes are the things that actually matter, because it gives a pair of shoes it’s longevity.
You talked about people getting more discerning and more well-versed with topics and products especially those pertaining to craftsmen such as yours, where do you think our society will evolve into, since we are still an infant state and we have pretty multi-national culture, where do you think we have evolved from (For appreciation of goods especially)? I think our citizens are essentially more well-travelled, being more well-travelled generally broadens your horizon, and you become more well-read, see more and experience more. This translate into them bringing back higher expectations for things in Singapore so that’s one point. Another would be attributed to the rampant growth of the internet, where you can get information on anything, allowing you to be some sort of an expert on a subject matter is something like an hour.
I was just a Grafunkt last week and there is a commonality on thoughts. Many Singaporeans like to look backwards (nostalgia wave), projects are funded because they are focused on heritage. You do something that is very internationally relatable (shoes) but yet extremely grounded to home since Ed Et Al is fully Singaporean owned, Singapore design and produced, what do you think towards the nostalgia trend? This is definitely a sore point on our side for the project funding just because they are looking back and riding on the nostalgia wave. Whilst we were fully owned, operated and produced but the government did not support us. When we were in our initial stages, we received no support. We certainly don’t blame them, because they don’t understand what we are doing. But it hurts to see people on your left and right getting funding. But that’s in the past but we have proven that we could do it even without government funding and grants. I have seen many companies who have taken full grants from the various agencies and now no longer exist.
Do you think, apart from funds and grants which they are handing out because they really want to showcase our unique identity, so to speak, do you think it is a trend? Because we seem to be looking backwards more than we are forward. Are we losing track of what’s important? It really depends on how you interpret nostalgia and how you interpret designs from the past. We have also taken inspirations from Peranakan tiles (which is heavily featured in the nostalgia wave) but we actually modernised it to make it seamlessly integrated and relevant in today’s ever-changing society. That’s the difference between us and them, because we do it not because of the funding, but if there’s funding, we’ll happily take it for sure! (Laughs)
Do you think it’s a good thing is that our designs not only reflect what we have here, but also others so that it can be displayed on an international platform and still be relatable to people from around the world? (Without shouting “I’m from Singapore”) I would say yes. Because our products are pretty much international, and we have been reviewed and featured by international media and yes, there is still that pleasant surprise when they find out we are from Singapore. It’s a good thing we are going forward when we are in an industry not dominated by us.
Where do you think, in terms of the discerning spirit, we are headed to? There is definitely a change in the appreciation of quality of product. This could be because of the changes in lifestyle that people undertake. When you want to get into a new lifestyle whereby you want to only drink gourmet coffee, eat gourmet sandwiches and wear pretty shoes, that’s a lifestyle that Singaporeans are moving into, and that’s how the by-products come in, such as leather products, hand-crafted good, tailored clothes and the list goes on. I think we are moving away from branding, but rather to the quality products. So it is safe to say they are pursuing quality as a lifestyle. They are willing to pay a bit more into a cup of well brewed coffee, a well made watch. So rather than discernment, it’s more of the lifestyle changes.
Captivated by the energy of nature in its epic depths and simplicity, we sat down with Ael Lim, founder of Imagine Tattoo in his studio which exudes organicism to learn about his perceptions towards ink and society. interview by Tan Jiahui | photography by Kuoloon Chong
Tell us about yourself as a person and also how you took up this profession I am trained in 3D Multimedia Design. I got into tattooing after serving my National Service. It has never dawned on me that I would take up tattooing in my life but it was a period of boredom. I went to ask me friends for contacts to get a tattoo apprenticeship. I was pretty lucky to be accepted and things went pretty smoothly until today. I have never quite looked back since.
I am not very familiar with the practice in the tattooing world though I have heard about the apprenticeship that you also brought up previously. How is an apprenticeship like? Usually some tattoo artists charge a fee for teaching and so it can amount up to a pretty hefty sum to be someone’s apprentice. Many apprentice simply stay by the side of their teacher hoping to learn some skills. This also requires a lot of self commitment and conviction to follow through, which usually requires years.
Who were you under? I was under this guy called Uncle Wang from a studio called Skin Design at Katong Plaza. The shop is no longer around as he is already too old and has found something else to do.
With quite a legion of followers and appreciators, how would you describe your style? Did pursuing a style bring you to where you are today? I guess it is my love for detail and realism that sets me apart. I have strong observation for expression in portraiture. That is where I tend to love more. I find myself enjoy it more and for something that you enjoy, you tend to do it better.
With your own studio, you are not only an artisan but also a businessman. How do you separate your business and creative minds? You have to choose only one side. You have to be very skillful in shifting the weightage of importance. As we grow older, different priorities weight differently. Focus on your art and your art will do well. Put your heart in where your art is and it gradually will transform your business into a structure. Things sometimes come in a full circle.
In terms of creativity as a society, where do you think Singapore is? It is slowly absorbing influences from other countries. We are opening up slowly. Maybe they are pressurized since we are a “First Class Nation”. That makes us have to evolve into a more open-minded place as we begin to question ourselves and develop ourselves.
Did you love art and drawing since you were young? Oh yes. Since I was pretty young. I started drawing in Primary School. Since a young age I knew I had to do something about art.
If you are not a tattoo artist, what do you think you will be? Probably a freelance designer or an in-house designer. Maybe I will be pursuing a Fine Arts course or even start my own T-Shirt label. It will still be related to creative work.
How about the level of tattooing in Singapore as compared internationally? We have some really good local artists that I believe is on par with the international standards. It is just that we do not get enough exposure as compared to other countries. They have many more conventions and workshops than us. Things are not going to happen so soon yet.
Is there anything in life that has really inspired you? What goes everyday to recharge your creativity? What are the things that you look out for that inspires you? Basically I feel it is about trying to look at everyday life and observe nature and your surroundings. When it comes down to your work, you just want to input special. It may sometimes be similar, but every execution will be different. Inspiration can come from everywhere. Sometimes a walk in the park, sometimes by observing people, sometimes looking at how people on the streets dress, or even by looking at how shapes come about. Anything can inspire me. It is a very introspective relationship.
As an artist, you need to have a level of sensitivity towards many aspects of life. This level of sensitivity is embedded to us that makes us develop differently from the rest. Be it childhood, teenage-hood or family background, we see and feel things differently. Maybe things made me a more observant person – towards little things like colors, forms, shapes and even human expressions. As I progressed as a kid, such things developed inherently within me even up till today.
As a tattoo artist, you have many tattoos on yourself. How do you select your own tattoos? How do you describe your personal workspace? I feel that my workspace is like a workshop that is like an animal. It is alive and organic. Things are moving around and things are always growing. Everything is shifting and changing. There is a very strong energy within this space. To me, a space should not be just too flat and well-displayed.
I do not really have a theme. I try to be as organic as possible.When I feel the need to document that event or phase of life with a symbol, picture or word, I do it. I guess it is about understanding that life is a journey and throughout this journey I get to collect pieces of artwork with me. Without any clue about the end result of this journey, this spontaneity represents how I perceive life – things change, plans deviate. Always expect the unexpected. Be flexible. — AWOL
Designing design interview by Jiahui| images courtesy of Grafunkt
Grafunkt Nathan Yong & Jefery Kurniadidjaja, Co-Owners
Tell us more about a typical day for you. J: Beyond the daily responsibilities, we really do have many things that we do that are not scheduled. Ad-hoc deliveries, attending to issues with customers, tending to merchandising of a new brand that we are attempting to bring in. I would say it is pretty random. We are pretty random and chaotic in that sense. N: Just like any human that work, it is pretty normal. It is not like we wake up with an inspiration, cycle to the forest or things like that. It is basically very menial chores and work like everybody else. I think we enjoy our work, so it is pretty normal.
Speaking about inspiration, I would say many would be interested where you guys draw your inspiration from. J: Anything and everything. Gaps that we see. They makes us understand where to fit things in as it all boils down to our focus on retail. So we might be missing some things like bookshelves. So we start to search through – should we design a book shelf or should we bring in a brand which has good book shelves. Sometimes we end up with both. N: Most asked question. Problems I would say. Very problem-driven. However all these info are registered in the mind. But when we always ask “what-ifs” questions. What if it was some other way, some other size, some other shape and so on. So a lot has to do with challenging and asking questions of what we see around to come up with new ideas and all.
So, form or function? N: For us, it is both. We always go back and forth to find the balance. You have to be functional but yet you have to look beautiful. Some designers are guided by ego-centricity – what they want, what they feel. For us, we look into our existing customers needs and wants. If my customer has a small or big house, how should this book shelf they need. So it is about balancing the design for what people need and what you want. J: I think we put ourselves beyond a designer. A designer might want something that looks super gorgeous but may not be commercially effective to market.
do that it feels very contrived. It feels like in a snap, the whole Singapore becomes a circus. I think all of these is for tourism. I am sure if you step into the area of MBS, more than 80% are tourists. I am not sure how many of us are looking at the blinking lights of MBS, Gardens by the Bay or slogging at home. All those are not organic growth from grassroots or the own people. They are injected for the sake of tourism. For me, it is really contrived and just not natural. If we give ourselves time, we might become that in the next 30-40 years but we are accelerating things so everything became what we are now in 5 years – with grants, supports from places. J: We are quite good at making shortcuts. We get things done very fast and things get up and running really quickly to show the world that we can do this and that. Singapore is very good at that. In terms of the depth of things, we can’t replace time. Some things require time to grow and have a position. But that is not the key thing of what we are going for now. N: In fact many tourists are more sophisticated and are not really attracted to your “blingbling”. They want to know the culture, society and see things natural. Not musuems that put up bad shows. I don’t understand the need to chase for all these blinking lights and be the first for everything. And be the heart of everything – design, technology, trends and all. And you are trying emulate the Western culture. They are a lot more advanced. But they do not care about that anymore. Who are we chasing? Why are we chasing? What are we chasing for?
Your works are very contemporary and have an international outlook. There are also a lot of products now in Singapore that reflect a lot on our culture and heritage. Are there certain ethos that you believe in that differentiate yourselves from something being very relatable to our past and culture? N: Functionality is universal. Whether you are Singaporean, Asian, European or whatever. Being universal helps our lives. Being very Singaporean-inspired, some of the dangers is that it might become thematic. It might be just motifs and shapes. It might be just a way of selling yourself because you put something inspired by Merlion – you only get that in Singapore. All these are market-driven strategies and very grant-oriented. I am not saying it is bad. It is just not our cup of tea yet unless I find a good Singapore language that we can convey. At the same time I think these kinds of things cannot be planned. They have to grow from inside out naturally. We always get asked “so what is so Singaporean about Grafunkt?” and I would say that simply that it is designed by us. We are Singaporean. When we design we draw things from inside. So whatever comes out from inside it is about how we grew up to who we are in Singapore. Even you say our growth resembles a Danish guy, so be it. Why should we be different for the sake of being different?
Two of you have been working together for sometime. How is the dynamics like? N: We are quite good because we bounce off each other’s ideas in terms of design. In terms of retail and managing, we also bounce off each based on my experience whilst Jef comes from a previous job that is more systemized and mine is more haphazard and organic. We always try to get the balance by looking at what we already have and what we might have and work around it. I think both of us are quite rooted to the ground and know what is going on. Both of us are also quite hands on when it comes to tackling issues. So in that sense it is quite dynamic and quite synergized. We are trying to build a culture that is a small family company. Even though we are not all related. We are also trying to grow but in that sense we do not want to grow into something that is a big corporate place where we don’t know each other’s names. We are trying to remain organic, get the right staff and grow together in that sense. We provide them the necessary growth amongst that and we intend to have that company culture for a long time. J: Between us it is quite informal but at the same time, we try to inject some structure and humanity into the whole team because an organization things still should be proper. As a business you still need to have specific functions that work in a specific way. While trying to multi-task we try to get our staff to do the same. Everyone in Grafunkt is kind of doing the same thing. If you do sales, you are involved in more than just closing that deal. You need to understand the backend, be roped in to do special things and different times – special projects, merchandizing, ordering, delivering. Most of our staff understand the whole flow of things.
On the subject of growth, we have evolved a lot over the years. Although we are still quite infant as a nation, we have seen quite a lot of aspects like design, architecture rising in recent times. Compared to the times when you were growing up, how much have we evolved in terms of visual identity? N: I think the new PM took over from the previous one, 8 years on, I feel that there is a steroid boost to the image of Singapore. It is like everything is pumped up. Bigger, brighter, shinier blinking lights. I don’t like it because things are not evolving organically and natural. When you
I have spoken to quite a few artists and designers and some find it challenging to thrive in Singapore because things that they come up with do not scream Singapore. But many of our organizations tend to incline towards having a visual or concept that very obviously reflects Singapore. What is your take on that? J: We do not want to limit ourselves into that kind of scope too. We see good design whether it is in-house or externally. We try to keep within the scope of value and good design. It does not have to come from a design brief that reflects something Singaporean. To be practical, our market is very small. To really see potential that reflects kind of Singapore, we have to question ourselves – is it for the local market? Does the local market even appreciate? Do we have that kind of rich appreciation within us to support our operations? If you look at the foreign markets, in fact most good designs do not necessarily have to reflect the country. As a whole if you look at Danish design, there is a relationship with how these good design is coming from the country. For Singapore, I do not see why we have to look so iconic. N: To add on that, when we say that some of the countries have products that really reflect their identity, we really have to recognize the fact that it is all business. It is all consumerism that propel the growth of goods. It is the consumption of these goods that become a scale. Like American culture, it is populated with their own culture. That is why it can do some things more than just Americans but the whole world will still take American culture. It is supported by the market. But if we do not have that kind of market, it is very difficult to sustain because everything eventually is moved by the market. It may sound bad but it is business. Even it is not a business, it is just the way it is. If one says that Japan has their own distinct identity, it is because 20 million people in Tokyo themselves are able to support this identity. And then it becomes a culture. J: They were very enclosed for some time, so it is a very natural process and progression. Things evolved. Nothing is decided. Things are organic.
N: Exactly. If we do not have it, then let us not have it. Why is every agency asking for a Singaporean identity? I don’t get it. J: On the contrary, when we design a product, we would love that the product has the potential to go international. That’s where the potential is. That’s where we can be proud that it is from Singapore. Rather than to limit things, we would love to have Grafunkt in different cities – and then people will know that Grafunkt is originally from Singapore. As a brand, Singapore has established ourselves in a certain way – being aff luent, efficient, sophisticated. But that does not mean that when we do a product design, we have to also ref lect certain ethos. There is a big difference between being from the place of origin and the whole thing made to represent the place of origin. N: For questions like these, I guess things are only answered probably 200 years later when things have evolved and changed. We are too young in the history textbooks.
How important are awards and recognition? N: I think it is good for consumers to see as people use that as a gauge. They need awards to see. They feel safe and know that “these guys know what they are doing”. For us it does not mean we are doing the right thing or we are good are good enough. I don’t really care because everything we do, we sincerely do the best that we can. We bring the nicest things in, press the lowest price, serve the customers as best as we can. Trying does not mean that we succeed, but we keep trying. Even if we win the awards, such processes go on. It does not mean that we are going to slow down or change anything. We still try. Winning awards or not, it might give our staff a good pat but for us it is like, “okay lor” but we are still doing it. But for our clients and the public, it is easier to recognize because it is like an endorsement. It serves as an ice-breaker sometimes, but not on a personal level. J: For us it is probably more rewarding to get recognized by really established players internationally. For them to have the
confidence in us to bring in their brands. We have spoken to some that are multi-folds larger than us. When huge players like Maison&Objet allow us to make a dialogue and showcase what our shops are, we are honored. It is a real assessment of what we are doing and have been doing. It gives us a good direction. We do not hard sell but educate. There is a lot of things that go into making this table. How wood is selected, the craftsmanship and more. A table that costs $3000 might seem expensive for a table that is coming from Singapore. But with customers who are more savvy, they know that there are many things that go into a specific products. Many things that you use already benchmark the price that you fix. The workmanship and costs and so on too. For us to see more discerning and loyal customers who return to us and refer other people to us, it is a bigger pat on the back for us than the awards that we have received.
good things. We encourage people to buy good things and buy the necessary. You don’t have to buy everything to make your house have the magazine look. If you only have the budget to buy a table, buy a table. Buy a super nice quality table.
Do you hope that one day, most Singaporean family will have their houses filled with your works?
J: They begin to rush into promotions and just buying the things for the sake of showing. But you are the one living in your house for a long time, not the visitors who come for just one housewarming! So the culture is still not where we hope it can be yet. They fear that their house might look incomplete.
J: I think it is aligned with what we do. We try to offer things at every price point. It can be a small accessory to the biggest piece of furniture. In that sense, I feel that it is what we want to achieve. Why we open a store at Millennia Walk is so that we can reach out to more people. Being in Park Mall is good but you only go to Park Mall when you buy serious stuff. Being here allows us to talk to more people and let more people know about us. We try to also source for smaller accessories to cater to a bigger spectrum of potential customers. N: I don’t think it is a matter of whether every home is filled with Grafunkt. It should be filled with stuff that are good quality and well designed. And of course things that they really like. We hope that every Singaporean has a selection of things that are really good. Be it they buy from us or not, it must be something that is worth the value. This table might take six months to raise the money to buy this table. We think it is completely fine because we don’t rush the process to complete your home. You in turn buy 80% of junk and 20% of
J: We try to break away from the tradition. The typical Singaporean family is to furnish your house as fast as you can, have a housewarming, get compliments from your friends, case closed. Then they get stressed over things like their table not being delivered because tomorrow is “housewarming”. They are not really enjoying the process. But this is your house, why are you so upset that your table is not arriving for just this occasion? N: Because they are all rushing to meet this occasion, they do not give themselves time to be educated and research on the things they buy.
N: But to change these, the societal paradigm has to change. Many things have to change. We are saying these out of our luxuries of taking no responsibilities of saying all these things. That is just what we hope. But we hope that people live the process, and understand the brand and quality. If you truly love it and surround yourself with it for a long time, you will really love your home. It becomes a very good story to share too. Slowly, we hope people understand value over price. That’s when true happiness comes.
Defining taste interview by Jiahui| images courtesy of Unlisted Collection
Unlisted Collection Loh Lik Peng, Hotelier and Founder
After being a hotelier for a decade, what is your favorite project? Well there is no real favorite. I guess each of them has their own emotional impacts. My most challenging was Town Hall. In some ways my most cherished is possibly 1929 because it is the first. One of my proudest would be New Majestic or Waterhouse because all of them have their own emotional feelings that they give to me so I wouldn’t say that there is a personal favourite as such.
You always bear a creative outlook towards your projects. Working with designers and architects. There was one thing that I heard is that you don’t like to work with the same designer so that you can get a different output. Would you like to expand more on that thought? Well we try to work with different designers because I feel that it gives the group a kind of a different flavor. Each time you work with a different designer or different architect or a different interior person or creative people you learn a different lesson and get a different feel in the project. You just go to different places each different time and to me it is an interesting way of working. It is a bit harder to do it that way but it is interesting.
Being a business guy yourself but also having so much of creative output at the same time, how would you balance these two or would you just leave everything up to the creative team that you have hired? It is a mixture you know. Especially when you are the owner and operator of the hotel. So you have to be very deeply involved in the process. But at the same time, since you’ve hired these guys as your designers because you trust them and you want them to do something interesting. So why would you micro-manage their works? I am a big believer of giving them as much autonomy as possible but at the same time, some things in the hotel has to be designed for the hotel to work with the hotel. But apart from that, I think we try to give as much as autonomy as possible.
You used the term “Adaptive Reuse” a couple of times. Can you expand more on that? I think for particularly for the types of projects that we do, we only ever work with listed buildings and conservative buildings. Often they were not designed to be hotels, and often you have to adapt these buildings in a sensitive way in order to create them into interesting and livable boutique hotels. Like Town Hall for example, it used to be a town hall. Waterhouse used to be a warehouse and office. You have to reimagined how these spaces can be like if you are going to turn them into a hotel.
Over the years, how do you think, even before you became a hotelier, how do you think our society has evolved in terms of the creative landscape? Looking at Singapore now as compared to ten years ago, we have definitely changed a lot. Design is a much bigger focus of the businesses and for the businessmen. It has changed because people now see the value of design. Not only from the architectural point
of view but also from the products they use, to the magazines they read – Singapore’s audience is now global. How do you find your voice in the context? You need to attract the right attention from the right intentions and right reasons. People look at the beautiful brochure and they are more likely to buy your product. Your product is nicely designed and with a global audience, they might pay more attention to it than just merely a product that is designed for your own usage.
Talking about the global playing field and also talking about Adaptive Reuse of local conservation buildings, how do you seek the relationship between these two – something international and something with a long heritage behind it? You really have to look at what your audience is. For our hotels our audience is global. You are not appealing necessarily to a narrow band of locals. People who come to you has to say “well this hotel suits me”. In that sense, the broad kind of things that you need to provide is pretty well known – comfortable bedding, nice lighting, great showers. But apart from that, you can get that in an ordinary five-star hotel. You walk into Hilton you have all those things. But what makes them come to our hotels is that we are also very local. We provide all the things that the global traveller wants, but with a local flavor – with local architecture, local design and a very special touch about the neighbourhood. You are living right in the middle of Chinatown, you are right in the middle of things. That is a good example of having to be local and international at the same time.
With that example that you just brought up, would that be the one and most important brand positioning strategies that you are going for? For us, yes for sure it is. Definitely as a brand that is catering to very discerning customers and travellers, you have recurring people who come to you as they know what they are looking for. Do you wish to stay this way or say one day, the auntie who has just done her grocery shopping would like to try you guys out, gives you guys a go? For us, we welcome everyone! To be honest, those people who seek us out do tend to be fairly designed-driven. We get aunties occasionally (laughs) and it is very nice to see their reactions to our designs sometimes. My mother is a prime example – she doesn’t always like the kind of work I do but you know, she realizes at the end that it is a different audience. You have to cater to the audience that you know, right your product instead of trying to find the lowest common denominator and try to find something that will fit as many people as possible. Which is what the typical five-star hotels do. We do occupy a niche. We do understand that not everyone is comfortable with glass bathrooms or climbing the stairs to get up to their room. But at the of the day, we are a very niche product. Our rooms are 30-plus hotel rooms for hotel. So for us, that kind of niche works quite well. We recognize not everyone will like our hotels and some of more oldfashioned ones are not going to feel comfortable. We are comfortable with that. We realize it is not a product that caters to every need. But we hope it is a big enough niche out there that our hotels will find our own audience.
Love & Passion interview by Winfred| images courtesy of Love, Bonito
How many people are running LB with you?
So the myth that everything that is made is China is lousy is probably untrue then?
I myself had this misconception before because I thought, oh it’s just cheap labour, and they just wanna rush the job but when we ourselves went down to see things there we definitely had a change of heart. I must say we’ve been very blessed to have found some solid suppliers who were trustworthy. Most high fashion brands actually have factories there as well contrary to popular beliefs!
Do you feel the constant pressure to keep the business running well because there is the pressure there to always feed and care for the 25 staffs under you? How tough is that for you? I didn’t really grow up with a job where I had a boss to look up to and I was pretty much thrown into this with very little prior knowledge, so what I always tell people being an entrepreneur is very different from being a leader or a supervisor. Being a leader, you teach them and groom them and mentor those under you. Whereas as an entrepreneur you just focus on your ideas and implementing them. So for me, I definitely feel the pressure of wanting to ensure that they reach their fullest potential rather than just making sure that they get their full salary at the end of the month. When we do business, we also look out for our pixies (that’s what we call our love, bonito staffs) in their personal lives as well and naturally their work lives too. If we do things right and continue doing business the way we always believe was best, I think we need not worry too much over the business itself.
How hard was it for you guys to convince the suppliers there to take your business and help you produce your pieces when you guys were still young and small? It was definitely hard for us, because in china only two things matter, relations (Guan Xi) or Money. Some would compare us to other retailers who would order a 1000 pieces as compared to our 100, and we’re basically peanuts! So we started small and we grew slowly and till today, we still have a good working relationship with those who placed their beliefs in us from the very first day.
Does everything that is designed here go through your approval? So as a business, did you guys ever face a point in time whereby you felt a need for outside funding or investment to keep going? Is it a capital intensive business? I think I would say Yes and No. For sure it would be great if there was an investor pumping a huge sum of money and we could do so much more. But I would say we are picky with our investors and we have to make sure that we have the same mindsets and we are not in a hurry for outside investors because government grants have also been very accessible to us so I think that helped tons but yes, we have had a few offers. But we will definitely not limit our choices if a good opportunity comes by.
Yes! I am supported by a design team and since I’m in charge of all design related matters, so we sit down and discuss what we like and don’t like and we throw ideas on the floor and we work from there.
What happens when there are differences in opinion with which piece should go through or should not? It does happen for sure but I am always sure to listen because we may have slightly differing tastes and I’m sure they know what is better for the younger crowd, so I think we trust one another to make the best choices. However we have never differed greatly in opinions to the point where a quarrel erupts because I think everyone has a good grasp on the “LB Style” so that makes things a lot simpler. At many times all it takes is a little convincing here at LB.
But what about a full takeover? I don’t think that is something we would entertain because I think the essence of LB is in it’s founders and we definitely wouldn’t want that to be taken over by someone else but a minority stake being purchased by a partner would be more plausible for us.
In terms of designing, everyone understands the pressure of creating looks and collections season after season, I always wonder how you guys do it, do you guys ever feel like, “Oh no! I have to design x number of dresses, I better get down to work!”?
Love Bonito Rachel Lim, Creative Director and Co-founder, 27
First thing I’ve always wanted to ask was why the name Love, Bonito? Before we were Love, Bonito, we were actually a blogshop on LiveJournal known was Bonito Chico about 7 years ago. We called ourselves Bonito Chico which means ‘pretty boy’ in Spanish, so why Bonito Chico and not Bonito Chica (which means pretty girl) was because it didn’t rhyme, so we went with Bonito Chico. Why we changed our name to Love, Bonito when we came together to start this venture was because BonitoChico.com was already taken and the owners wanted to charge us a very high price and hence we decided to re-brand ourselves.
Personally, as a fashionista, do you believe in trends? Do you see LB as a trend-setter or one that follows a trend? I think here at LB we tend to strike a very healthy balance, by being trend-setters but also at the same time giving customers what they like and what they want. We work very hard on studying customer behaviours, what they like, the colours, cuts and many other details as well. We also try to keep ourselves in the loop with the latest developments and try to subtly incorporate in our favourite elements into our designs. For example, if our customers like a certain dress but we feel that floral prints are in this season, we may just incorporate that design into the dress. We want our customers to feel trendy wearing our clothes as well as be comfortable.
What were you doing before you stepped full-time into Love, Bonito? I was actually pursuing my studies full time with the National Institute of Education (NIE) to become a teacher. But when Love, Bonito started, it made me realise that I wanted to create an impact in people’s lives through fashion and also share my love for all things fashionable.
Have you actually any proper fashion background before stepping into Love, Bonito be it studies, or internships at fashion houses? Not at all actually! After my O’s, I actually worked at City Plaza where most of the wholesales of clothes happened and I actually learned a lot about the trade, and it sparked something in me and I thought I could do well in this line because I was genuinely interested. So importing clothes and selling them to consumers here is actually how Love, Bonito really started.
I think here we believe in running an honest business, and in short we will not sell something that we ourselves will not wear, and provide service that we ourselves will not appreciate.
Where do you see LB moving into next seeing as you guys just wrapped up your collaboration with haute couturier Julien Fournie? I think for us at Love, Bonito the collaboration with Julien Fournie really propelled us to the international stage, and so our next step is to conquer the SEA market because we have a huge percentage of our customers coming from Indonesia and Malaysia, hence it is really a market we would like to penetrate.
How hard is it to do so?
In the topic of ideation – in a mass consumerism market which is saturated and full of people are stuck in the mold, you’ve taken an extremely unorthodox step yourself, so how important do you think creativity is in today’s world? I think creativity is one of the greatest gift from God. We live in a world where innovation is rampant, where things are being created daily, I think creativity adds spice into life and brings excitement to us and so yes, I think it’s extremely important in fact. It’s not about the money that you do it but when you expunge on your creativity, the money will just flow in naturally and the business will pan out.
You’re definitely a someone who appreciates good design, and as an entrepreneur, do you see design as a bridge to deliver your message and create an experience for your brand? Or is it something else for you? Here at Love, Bonito I would like to think that we always strive to do our best to bring the most updated and trendy designs to our customers and being in the fast fashion line, there’s so much to keep up. We sell about 70 designs every month and it keeps customers on their toes for sure (we hope) and keep them excited about what’s coming up next and I think this is what gives us the edge over other online store.
It’s really more difficult than many give us credit for! The key difference is that Malaysians are more conservative than Singaporeans and they are definitely not as Internet savvy as Singaporeans and hence the pace there is generally slower, and they like different kinds of designs as compared to people here, and hence we need to continue studying the Malaysian market, and create clothes that will appeal to them. In fact we have started ground work on it and it is our next immediate goal.
Do you guys re-visit designs, a la Martin Maison Margiela when they collaborated with H&M they actually brought our iconic pieces but styled differently in terms of colours, so would this be something you guys would like to do or have already done? Yes for sure! Why not? If a design sells well, we can just take it and tweak it a little based on feedback gathered and sell it again, because our customers just love that! We found that Singaporeans enjoy buying a piece of clothing they love in different colours or design so I think this concept is exceptionally applicable to Singaporeans which we serve. I think our affordability helps to. In fact, to celebrate our 4th birthday this year, we’re looking to launch a “best of” LB collection which will feature pieces from our collections that were best sellers.
Ok, I think that personally as a person, I feel that when we look back we learn from the mistakes we have made – and whatever we as a country have went through (even times we did not go through personally) and I think because of the past it has made me appreciative of what I have today as cliché as it sounds, because our forefathers had suffered for it and this all did not come easy. As a businessperson myself it is the same, similarly the mistakes we made from day 1 at LB, this company is made from blood, sweat and tears, literally. Every time I look back at when we started it makes me grateful what I have, and it reminds me that this did not come easy. I feel Singaporeans tend to not be able to let go of the past, perhaps because they wish they that they could have done something better but for me personally, I look at the past as a stepping stone and as a reminder to not make the same mistakes again.
As a fast fashion label, do you feel a need to go down for fashion shows? Are they at all relevant to what is being sold to the mass market consumer? Yes, definitely. We try to watch shows, and read about them as much as we can. We try to see what haute couturiers are up to and there are so many things we could learn from them such as attention to details and it’s an never ending process whereby we learn and plough back.
(Laughs) I don’t think so honestly at the moment! Haha, we would like to expand fully in the womenswear line before moving elsewhere! A maternity collection is something we have in works already and hopefully we will launch it by this year.
Do you guys design the shoes and accessories yourself here as well? Yes we design everything here ourselves and we try to provide as many of these complementary products as possible to go with our pieces. Whilst these are not our niche, we try our very best to make them good as possible but I think we have a lot to learn from other brands still. It’s definitely not a line on it’s own yet for now.
Many have the conception especially in Fashion whereby you can either have a good price, or good quality. So is this idea of having cheap and good fashion a myth? Are you guys actively on the look-out for collaborations with local artists or brands? Well it depends on how you define cheap. I think at LB we really try hard to strike a balance and as you have seen from our pieces, the price you pay is really reasonable, and this keeps us on top of our game. We also pay attention to the smaller details like stitching, zippers etc. and of course celebrities say that we actually give high fashion brands a run for their money and I think that really encourages us and show that we are doing things right here! We have lower overheads for us and hence this is reflected in our pricing. We definitely do not have to pass our cost on to our customers this way, without heavy marketing costs. This is definitely well-received by our customers who range from ages 18-35, and it allows them to get great pieces at prices that will not break their wallets.
Yes, actually Keith Png just approached us to see if we were interested to collaborate with him on a collection for bridesmaids’ range of dresses and that’s something in the pipeline. We would love for collaborations to be some sort of an annual event because it would be cool for our customers, and not just something we do once in a blue moon. Local brands don’t exactly collaborate much and so we would like to be different, and I think because we have the reach that is necessary for the collaboration to be successful. It very much is a two way street because both parties stand to benefit from this and hence I think it makes for a good partnership.
How did the collaboration with Julien Fournie come about? How hard is it to do QC on your products when they are designed here but actually manufactured overseas? Does it make life harder not being nearer to the production line?
We are an infant state at just 50 years old, we’re constantly evolving to mold ourselves for who we are and your business definitely has something to do with the now but yet people seem to be stuck in the past what with the nostalgia wave and all, so do you take your references from the past or do you look forward, as a Singaporean yourself?
I loved Alexander McQueen a lot because of some of their prints and we definitely take some inspiration from his work. I feel with him gone some of the flamboyant went along with it, but it’s definitely still good. Victoria Beckham also stands out as one of my top favourite, I really look up to her because there is just so much consistency in all of her pieces and yet is something true to her line.
Do you guys ever see yourself moving into menswear anytime soon? This coming from me as a very selfish question.
The next question I have, is there a principle that LB has stuck by since inception?
Do you see Love, Bonito as a job or as a career for yourself? I live and breathe Love, Bonito. When you love what you do, you don’t really work a single day in your life so I guess I’m very blessed to be able to something that I love, so to be honest it’s not really a job for me because it’s something I really enjoy and it’s something I’m truly passionate about.
I find myself constantly wowed by many of these famous designers and being a designer myself you become more aware of what you need to do daily. The little things inspire, even when you’re out walking, you see a small detail you like, you note it down and bring it back to incorporate it into a design. You become really conscious of every detail around you, be it colours or patterns and you find yourself thinking how to incorporate it into something I already have in mind. Of course, we still have loads of research to do on our part such as reading up on other designers work. Hence, it is true to say every piece here produced by LB has a story and an inspiration that led to it’s creation!
From a personal point of view, who is your personal fashion idol?
So I fly up to our factory every month to check on progress and so of course we are strict with what we accept and so our factory knows that we mean business, and of course it means an added hassle to them when we reject their goods, so they know to take the manufacturing seriously, so it saves them the trouble of doing it again.
As crazy as it sounds, it began with a simple thought. We were attending Julien’s show at FFW in 2012, where we casually thought out loud, how nice would it be to be able to collaborate with Julien. And Dr Frank Cintamani (Chairman, Fide Fashion Week) actually said, why not? And so he hooked us up with him basically and the rest as they say, is history. It was a relationship based a lot on trust, because Julien was not exactly fluent in English and neither were we in French and hence Fashion was the common language. I think it was a wonderful collaboration because of the attention we received and the plaudits we got, it was really nice to see your many months of hard work be displayed on a world stage at the FFW and it was really surreal to see them all come to life.
Give it a shot interview by Jiahui| works by FTHT
Tell me more about FTHT and how it began. I think FTHT began with the notion of somehow saving film photography. Because I think, I’m a film lover myself and my other partners as well. There are just not many people in Singapore selling film. The company began with a simple notion of bringing a decent range of films, at reasonable prices to film-loving folks. And the people we’re targeting the current generation who have not used film as their primary medium of photography.
In fact there are quite a few places in Singapore that also sells film, like there are other retailers film, like there are quite a few retailers. So as a brand positioning, how is FTHT is different from them? I think because we focus a lot more on our services. Instead of thinking ourselves of just as a retailer, we won’t think ourselves as a one-stop shop for all your film needs including film services, and also education as well as retail of film photography products. So it’s difference in the sense that I don’t think other people emphasize services or they do not provide services, as far as I know. And we’re confident that our knowledge added up together, we have about 20 years of experience combined. I believe we can really bring a new dimension in the photography market. Even though it is saturated but it isn’t saturated in what we do. So in fact we believe that we are market markets, trend setters in this industry where people consider it dead, we see it as giving it a new lease of life.
So you mentioned “education” and that you are bringing this into a generation where most of us are exposed to the digital set. So how do you bridge. I believe you are trying to cater to the more discerning crowd, how do you feel education should be approached in this sense? I think we want to approach this in a very soft kind of approach, we are avoiding more of the hard approach in the sense that we are not out to create a war. We are not starting a digital vs film war. More so we want to tell people, “hey you know film is another alternative as well, to digital”. We want people to try it in that sense. I don’t think people can be forced to try a medium. You have to want to try a medium and how I see it is that we hope to touch people in the sense by showing them, by letting our products and works speak for themselves rather than comparing the technical specifications. We can go into the details for the whole day but people many never be happy with what they see or what they hear.
I presume you started with digital. Yes I did in fact start out with digital.
So then you made a switch to film yourself. As a person who made the switch yourself, what do you have to say, what made you do it and what is the process like? I think making the switch at first was a pretty brave attempt for my side because I was in the photography club and everybody was chasing gear, what they call “GAS -- Gear Acquisition Syndrome”. So it was a very normal thing and it caught up to me. And I one day realized after about a year and a half into photography when I was fourteen, I felt that my photos were not improving. I felt that I was more concerned with the technical specifications of my lens, my camera, how many ftf my camera could go, how wide my camera or my lens could go. But I wasn’t focus on the main product itself which was taking the photo. And I felt that all these digital products were taking away the focus of photography from me. So I decided to speak to my grandpa who used to be a National Geographic photographer. And basically he suggested that why not I get a film camera and try it out. And so I sold my D200 which at that point of time cost me $2.5k. I went to buy a Void lander
R3A which cost me 600 bucks. And I bought a leica lens. So ever since then I never stopped, I never looked back. I love digital cameras and I would still get a digital camera today. But I would like to say that I think film has made me slow down because I don’t have unlimited photos to take a day. I am only limited by the number of rolls I have and I try to make the best of every shot I take.
What would you say if you meet someone on the streets and he is trying to take that leap of faith? I would say, “give it a try, give it a shot”. Because as photographers, you should learn to appreciate all the different types of mediums and understand the greats of our time like Henri Cartier-Bresson, Ansel Adams, Andy Warhol, how they shot, and how they created these works of art are not from a digital censor. All these are film and then mixed with silver bromide and that’s how the image forms. So give it a try, give it a shot. I think people will be amazed, people will be fascinated and actually fall in love like how I did. I never thought 5 years ago that I would be shooting 100% on film but today I am and I am more in love and more fascinated with it than I was when I began. So I think it is a learning journey. It is like how a DJ can use a digital console on his mac and spin vinyl at the same time and still can spin fantastic tracks out and wonderful songs and mixed out. So I don’t think there should be discrimination. Film is not better than digital, digital is not better than film. Each has its own pros and cons. But instead of looking at the cons, why not look at the pros and look at the beauty each has to offer. And i think the beauty is finding the balance. If you can find the balance between digital and film, I think you will really bring your photography journey to a new level.
How do you see our society has evolved character wise and will evolve to? I think our society today has regressed rather than evolve because we have lost many values that our seniors/older generations would have held close to their hearts. Simple things like taking some time out to spend time with family and friends, helping someone in need have now become a rarity. The small things in life counts, which is something I feel people today no longer bother. It’s always too minute for their attention. There’s always bigger fish to fry. Sometimes, it’s nice to slow down a little bit and not get too caught up with the world around you. I think it’s nice to hold the door for people, ask someone for the time, because all these give you real personal interaction with a fellow human being, rather than our gadgets and computers which we already have to face daily regardless. My hope for my generation is that we find ourselves deep down eventually because I believe inherently we are all capable of being great people. This will be an extremely important point if we are to be taken seriously as a first world nation. I always like to think chivalry is not dead.
How do you see our people has evolved to design wise and will evolve to? I have to say design wise we have really really evolved leaps and bounds and thankfully for the better! People are getting more discerning and opinionated and hence you start seeing that the status quo is being challenged. That’s when competition is at it’s best because parties are constantly pushed to the limit to produce the best product. We are also more appreciative of good design. One important factor in maintaining a good design community is support. Many years ago, anything locally made or produced would have been shunned. But today the scene has changed a 180 degrees, whereby locally designed and crafted becomes the ones that are sought after. As ironic as it is, Singaporeans do not provide enough support for their fellow countrymen. So I think designwise we are moving towards the right direction so I say keep it up. To the local designers, keep doing what you do best and kick ass!
Timelessness interview by Winfred & Jiahui| images courtesy of Azimuth
How hard do you guys feel it is for the watches to be designed here, in Singapore where you HQ is based but to have them designed in Switzerland? What are the main difficulties faced? C: I always maintained that if it was so busy, everyone would have done it already! Haha, but seriously speaking, I think that for local watch design and manufacturer, we (Azimuth) remains the one and only one to be doing it here. It’s easy to say, oh, let’s take a movement and have a dial printed with my name on it, that’s easy. Or should I say, easier. But to reconstruct it and come up with a brand new identity, that’s tough. Even in Switzerland, brands with these design DNA (A) does not pop up everyday for sure. OEM watches is much easier to set up. It was really tough to start because 10 years ago, when the watch manufacturer concept in Singapore was not even existent, not a single person understood what we were trying to do. Banks were tough to navigate – let alone with a business that was not even existent here. Alvin and I came up with whatever little money we had, in the process I even sold most of my personal watch collection to fund Azimuth – this dream we believed could work. By that time, Alvin had been in the watch industry for almost 8 years now through his second hand timepiece shop, Monster Time, and hence he had knowledge and some insight on what customers preferred, such as price-points, design and quality. This helped us tremendously in setting goals for Azimuth, and we sat down and thought, perhaps we could do something better at a better price-point with a better design. We challenged ourselves to do better. A: So swiss companies would come out with “new” watches every year, a new watch meaning essentially the base was unchanged, but the dial colour would be changed, or the strap, or the face of the watch may have had some slight alterations but essentially – inside was exactly the same. So Chris and I were thinking, we could do better! So we thought, why should we pay $6000 for this watch with this function, when I can pay $3000 realistically and still bring home profits? That is also one of the founding principles of Azimuth. We wanted to show Singaporeans that Azimuth could do it. We are unique in the sense that we are the first here in the market. With regards to IT, Apps writers, F&B, we’re essentially pretty established. But no one is exposed to watches in the same way as they are to F&B. So you are bashing into this huge jungle where you do not know where your exit is, or how far away it is from you. Once you step in, you’re not even given the tools to pluck out the trees for example. So you learn along the way, whereby you slowly find, oh this tree needs to be uprooted with your legs and not your hands. In other words, we learnt it the hard way. Because no one’s going to teach you! I will always say that the Singaporean tenacity and kiasu-ness built in each one of us drives us to want to succeed because failure is not an option for us. Ever since then we have used the same principles to run Azimuth be it good days or bad, the brand must live on and the company must survive.
Logistically, how tough is it for you guys to have to fly down to the factory to keep an eye on things there? Considering the great barrier which is the distance from HQ to Factory? Is it a must or can you guys run the show from here?
People don’t understand how hard it is to create a watch brand from scratch but even harder to create an in-house movement, therefore, where do you see Azimuth moving to in the next decade or so?
C: We basically design all our watches here on the drawing board first, only after which we have them sent over to Switzerland for our engineers to run the design simulation to see if it’s workable. They check if it’s able to be produced. In terms of communications – the Internet has enabled us to do so without needing to fly down so often. It was very much the same when we started in 2004, to us it is an invaluable tool. We do actually need to manage the people – a few guys in Switzerland. If you’ve ever heard, terrible stories. It’s almost impossible for Asians to manage a group of Europeans, because we clash on so many levels. Culturally, mentality wise it’s difficult. If anyone has heard about the whole Gerald Genta – Hour Glass saga, would know what we mean.
A: A very pertinent question which is relative to what we’re doing now. You guys actually came to interview us whilst we are at a crossroad, because Azimuth is about to undergo a brand revamp. So we are going to be re-launching the brand in about a year’s time, and it will be exciting time. In fact, we’ll be showing you some sneak peeks so you have an idea of the new concepts and directions of the brand. We do this because we want to remain relevant. One must continually improve. After celebrating our 10th year in the business, we know the pitfalls of the industry. We have already accessed our future and the market’s direction. We need to constantly adapt to market forces and customers’ demands. With that, we are embarking on something big. It’s safe to say after the revamp of the brand next year, you will be seeing a lot of changes in the brand, even on the design side. You won’t be seeing much of the older designs much. C: When we first started Azimuth, our first model was the Bombardier 1. It was an oversized Pilot watch without a brand. Big watches were “in” that time and we were fortunate to catch the wave where everyone was more adventurous and dared to try buying some watches that deviated from the norm. The diver’s watch was in trend too at that point of time. IWC was the only few brands in the world which capitalised on selling a whole range of Pilot’s watches. So we thought why not take a design we like (Bombardier) and hence we started making them. Many did not know that actually the watch was made for the Luftwaffe by various watch brands and IWC was just one of the many producer of the watch and that the design was generic and did not belong to any single brand. When we first launched the watch, many said we “copied”. Hence, education is top on our list because sometimes facts need to be straightened out. IWC was just smart and the only company from WWII left. So we made our first watch brandless (no conspicuous logo unless you look at the back of the watch) so many said we were crazy because we started a brand new brand without a brand but ironically, this was one of our success formula. So when people now see a watch without a brand, people start associating it with Azimuth.
Do you feel that after 10 years now, the issues have faded somehow and the people are any easier to manage? C: I think after the world financial crisis in 2009, the world has changed a lot so I would say managing them is slightly easier but not easy – perhaps in part due to the change in mind set that the western world is no longer the supremacist. Money play also comes in, because whoever is the paymaster at the end of the day, has the final say. We have a swiss partner on the ground at our factory in Brienne. He is our business partner as well as our long time friend, so that helps a lot. He manages our operations there most of the time, because we all split oru responsibilities up and hence work becomes more streamlined.
Do either of you design the watches yourself, or do you have a design team to help you design it? C: Whatever you see on the watches, no matter how small the details are, are designed by both Alvin and myself. Technicality wise, we leave it to our engineers in Switzerland to sort them out. But in terms of aesthetic designs, we are wholly responsible. They usually help us execute and put the finishing touches on the watch. A: Whatever you both are wearing have been decided by us. Be it the numerals on the face, the alphabets in the circle at the 6’o clock position. How big the numbers are, the colour of the dial, shape, size, strap materials and colour and a million other details all pass through us before they become reality. So yes, to answer your question, we are intricately involved with the production and designs of the watches.
Do you feel a need to fly the Singapore flag with the next rebranding of the company? A: The irony is, in this industry, it doesn’t help us one bit at all if the brand is stamped with the Singapore flag. That’s just how it is, because the trade is like that. Very unfortunate for sure. If you want a sportscar, if it’s not a Lamborghini or a Ferrari, it has to be a Porsche. If it’s a Huawei Hong Long Pao Che, it’s not gonna work. If you’re in the watch industry, you
can’t say that you’re in Singapore and command that kind of price or respect in the industry. Some Singaporeans will say let’s support them but a huge percentage of them are like, don’t touch this bullshit, because it’s from Singaporean brand. If you sell it at $5000, they will say it’s worth $3000. If you sell it at $3000, they will say it’s worth $1000. As part of the rebranding, you will be seeing a more European look towards the brand, with the need for a new face. We’ve been flying the Singapore flag for 10 years and I think we both know it doesn’t work. You can’t fight the current, so you might as well join it. We’re not selling out, because we have always positioned ourself as Singaporean owned and designed but Swiss made. The positioning is extremely important and has to be gelled with the future direction of the company. C: We actually spent quite a lot of time thinking whether we should embark on the project or not. One of the first reasons for, is as a serious watch company, having your own movement is important for people to take you serious. There is a value in in-house movement. Value comes with high cost. To develop a brand new movement, it is extremely difficult. Many big brands therefore don’t even more. It is an extremely capital intensive project to start an in-house movement. In-house movement also comes with it’s own set of movements, and it is not true to say an in-house movement is perfect. An ETA movement is very likely just as good or even better than a movement in house. A newly developed product has it’s own flaws as well, like a young child. Every calibre, every system has to be re-looked, even on CAD it may look good but when it’s produced, problems may show up. If we’re looking at starting the project it could take us up to 5 years before the first one is commercially produced and viable and that comes with NO guarantee of success. For that amount of time, we could have burnt 2 million swiss francs least. You think technically it may not be that difficult but when we probed deeper, we realised the task was mammoth. Even the basic calibres, could have problems. And we had 60 calibres minimum in each watch. An in-house movement does not guarantee an increase in sales. If I have two watches looking exactly the same, but one has an ETA and the other has an in-house movement. The one which has the ETA one goes for $3000 but the in-house one goes for $15,000 (because I have to factor in my development cost) which would you buy? That is a market problem that we cannot predict. Faced with so many challenges we decided against it. We gave it a very serious thought and even budgeted for it and everyone told us it was possible (because they want your money of course). That was about the time when ETA said they would stop selling to other brands outside of their group. The swiss government has delayed this deal but it’s only temporarily, but eventually in 2020, they will cut us out. There is provision of course, but they have all rights to stop supply. So from now till 2020, Stockpiling is one of our short term strategy. But as humans, no one is indispensable. So ironically, when they decided to leave the market, people started coming out and providing alternatives which before the announcement, was non-existent basically. You can’t kill competition inherently. There has been great development in movement development. On the contrary, ETA have pushed the creation of a new market with huge supply forces with their exit. A lot of clones are popping up that are exactly compatible with ETA and whilst they are young, within the next 5 years, the supply will all be ready to purchase and that actually gives us more choices. Based on these 2 revelations, we felt it was unwise to invest so much money into movement production.
Being well-travelled people yourself and having lived in Singapore for a period of time, and seen the evolution of our society, how have we as a society evolved into, and how do you see us evolving? A: I don’t think it bodes well. Our society has regressed abit in character building, values, and I don’t like the fact that we are very Kiasu. We aren’t gracious enough. This has all to do with how we are brought up and the system we are in. In the last few weeks alone, you’ve seen articles bashing Singaporeans about not being gracious enough (e.g people falling down and no one lending them a helping hand etc.) The kampong spirit is no longer there – obviously we are not living in Kampongs anymore so perhaps we cannot expect that of our peers but also having said that, countries like Australia or Thailand, the friendliness of the people there is something we can learn from. Even HK, have taken an about turn. A decade ago, they were perhaps the worst service providers, but now they have taken a look at themselves and realised that the chinamen neighbours are no longer the Ah-chans they used to be, now they are the big customers. The tables have changed! The society in general in Singapore has become a bit more cold and lost the personal touch. Our gadgets have taken over – going out with friends have changed. I used to climb trees and longgangs, catch spiders. Unfortunately no I don’t allow my daughter to go into the longgangs. Sure we have one of the smartest kids in the world but I think we’re losing out on certain aspects. Which is not good for sure. E.g when someone fails we don’t say, oh poor guy, or encourage him but say things like, oh he had it coming because he knew he had an exam
but he didn’t study. There’s no longer any apathy, the society has evolved to this. In just one generation! When I was young this was not rampant. Now kids are soft, spoilt and sometimes over protected. If you don’t have the latest technology you’re no longer ‘in’. Ok I don’t know about how chris feels, but that’s how I see it. C: Actually, the kiasuism began when I was in my teens in the late 80s and early 90s, my parents were from a totally different era (I like to think I’m still young) and they placed huge dreams on our generations. They used to live in a small 3 room flat and always dreamed of a bigger place and hence the dreams were placed on our shoulders, began from the day we were conscious of our surroundings and of what was happening in our life. The tenacity to survive and the drive to better our lives. The general consensus is that we are too competitive, which is very true. You compete everywhere, in schools with your classmates, because if he gets first, it means you’re second. He is hence your enemy, every man for himself, because you fight for results. You’re also being taught to think which industry is good to be in. Lawyers, accountants, doctors are always “prime jobs” to be in. I remember when I was younger architects and engineers were very “in” and glam. Many were tricked into believing these were ideal jobs when the truth is they couldn’t be further! We became a factory production line for jobs. We should try to change the system now as parents ourself, but kids are more opinionated now and hence the competitive spirit gets worst! If I’m good, then my kids must be better than me! The brotherhood spirit used to be rampant but now self-centredness is promoted. This probably is not only restricted to Singapore but elsewhere as well as we’ve seen. We are no longer a gracious society.
Some countries you’ve seen that have made changes retrospectively, so how do you think Singapore can too? What is our next step that we should take? C: At our rate, our service can only be worst and not better. Sales lines are not something that people now want to do, and hence we import. Because we import foreign talents, the service standard is bound to drop. The high turnover rate in manpower is troubling too. We don’t feel proud to serve. And that is a very big problem in our mentality. This is opposite from the Japanese who feel very very proud to serve. Like it’s their calling, a duty. Even train or lift operators take their jobs seriously. This is something you won’t see here. A: The culture is extremely different unfortunately. The people there are extremely bubbly and cheerful. Whilst as a parent, I can tell my daughter to go sleep if she’s tired and put the homework aside but my wife would say no – and the whole chain effect speech comes into play. Nowadays even if you want your children to go into a good and renowned primary school you have to plan years ahead, by moving firstly within 2km of the school and then signing up for Parent’s volunteer duties. Because the neighbourhood school near you is just not good enough for you. The next thing you know, P2 you have your first streaming. The P5 again and PSLE in a year time. So you very much have to plan 10 years ahead. So how do we evolve? It’s tough man. The evolution is not going to stop here though. When you’re young and without kids, our ideals are always champion but when you have kids, the mindset gets changed and you conform to society and before you know it, you wish you had the energy to do. Of course, no one forces you to conform. You can make a change but if you go down that road, then it would be inevitable. C: Why we started Azimuth is because we don’t want to conform. If we conformed then we wouldn’t have started it because by the time we even thought of the idea we would beat ourselves down and said we can’t do it. But we thought we could. So the system did do some good things because it helped us believe that we could succeed where no one could. A: Having grown up in a very competitive environment with my siblings, I always felt a need to succeed and be better than my siblings. And hence when Chris and I came together at the beginning, we believe we could, the “can-do” mentality. If cannot, we make it possible. So daring to do is important. Because some are afraid to do so, and hence never ever embark on it. Now we have much more new entrepreneurs than we ever had. Web-based entrepreneurship is still rampant but when it comes to very hands-down industries, there really aren’t that many. When it comes to designing shoes, but yet there is only one Charles and Keith. So that could be something we may want to look towards.
Ok, that rounds up our interview today. Thank you so much for sharing many of your thoughts, and it was really an honour as watch enthusiasts to speak to you both. A: No worries, the pleasure was all ours. C: Thank you very much also for your time!
Shannon Kyle Lim “ There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.” — Paulo Coelho To me, one of the best things a parent can do for a child is to expose them to all sorts of stuffs in order to develop their interests. Allowing them to tr y, make mistakes and fail. But today, society has made it so that we have grown to be ver y afraid of failure, this fear of failure makes it that even as a kid, dreaming can be scar y. As a result, many choose the safer and more “ideal” path. The first poster is inspired by the memo pads at stationer y stores that allow you to test ever y pen until you find the one most suited for you. Just like that experience, I believe that we cannot find our tr ue passion or interest if we do not tr y, fail and explore. The second poster depicts a young brave adventurer, ready to take on the world. It is an interactive poster that allows the audience to jot down what they wish they had tried or want to explore onto the poster.
Munn Iskandar | Capturing the change in time A ver y personal work of looking back at the past; the childhood snacks, the play areas, the toys and the forgotten places of Singapore.
Linus Chen & Clay Kuok | Hawker Fart Visual stimuli have been shown to alter the perception of taste, smell, and flavour. The Hawker Fart (Food + Art) series depicts the idea of eating with your eyes first and provides an aesthetic take on iconically local hawker dishes. No food was re-cooked or modified in any way in this project, they were all takeaways from Redhill Hawker Centre.
THE PARADOX OF OUR TIME
The paradox of our time in history is that we have taller buildings but shorter tempers, wider Freeways, but narrower viewpoints. We spend more, but have less, we buy more, but enjoy less. We have more degrees but less sense, more knowledge, but less judgment, more experts, yet more problems, more medicine, but less wellness. We drink too much, smoke too much, spend too recklessly, laugh too little, drive too fast, get too angry, stay up too late, get up too tired, read too little, watch TV too much, and pray too seldom. We have multiplied our possessions, but reduced our values. We talk too much, love too seldom, and hate too often. We’ve learned how to make a living, but not a life. We’ve added years to life not life to years. We’ve been all the way to the moon and back, but have trouble crossing the street to meet a new neighbor. We conquered outer space but not inner space. We’ve done larger things, but not better things. We’ve cleaned up the air, but polluted the soul. We’ve conquered the atom, but not our prejudice. We write more, but learn less. We plan more, but accomplish less. We’ve learned to rush, but not to wait. We build more computers to hold more information, to produce more copies than ever, but we communicate less and less.
These are the times of fast foods and slow digestion, big men and small character, steep profits and shallow relationships. These are the days of two incomes but more divorce, fancier houses, but broken homes. These are days of quick trips, disposable diapers, throwaway morality, one night stands, overweight bodies, and pills that do everything from cheer, to quiet, to kill. It is a time when there is much in the showroom window and nothing in the stockroom. A time when technology can bring this letter to you, and a time when you can choose either to share this insight, or to just hit delete. Remember, to spend some time with your loved ones, because they are not going to be around forever. Remember, say a kind word to someone who looks up to you in awe, because that little person soon will grow up and leave your side. Remember, to give a warm hug to the one next to you, because that is the only treasure you can give with your heart and it doesn’t cost a cent. Remember, to say, “I love you” to your partner and your loved ones, but most of all mean it. A kiss and an embrace will mend hurt when it comes from deep inside of you. Remember to hold hands and cherish the moment for someday that person might not be there again. Give time to love, give time to speak. And give time to share the precious thoughts in your mind.
BY DR. BOB MOOREHEAD