Hands-on appeal

Singapore's first Design & Make Fair aims to showcase the growing number of people designing and making their own products. BT Weekend speaks to four makers about this growing trend.

WHETHER it's down to necessity or a simple need to get back to working with their hands, people have started making things themselves. The upsurge in local designers and makers is undeniable; and the trend in Singapore has not gone unnoticed.

Jeffrey Ho, executive director of DesignSingapore Council, says: "We've seen an increasing number of design enthusiasts, students, children, and the general public engaging in more hands-on activities."

To cater to this, DesignSingapore Council has launched its inaugural Design and Make Fair as a part of Singapore Design Week this year. Held at the National Design Centre, the fair will feature 38 different brands and the hope is to "provide a platform for the expression of innovation and creativity to inspire a wide range of audiences".

Mr Ho adds: "Visitors can look forward to hands-on activities using craft and traditional materials to design and create products using everyday things for everyday living. This is in addition to a showcase of works by local makers and designers."

As for the maker's movement in Singapore, one of the participants, Jeannie Chew, founder of natural soap-maker Soaplah, says: "When I was younger, we'd make manual repairs like sew tears in clothing when needed, and it's interesting that it got lost along the way. It's good to see the rising interest in making things yourself because it means we might be shifting away from the buy-use-throw economy we've cultivated."

Natural commitment



NECESSITY is the mother of invention and Jeannie Chew, founder of Soaplah, knows how this adage rings true. Plagued by skin problems such as eczema in her early 20s, the 31-year-old started making her own natural soaps four years ago in an effort to soothe her skin.

She says: "I tried many different popular soap brands but not one of them stopped my breakouts. It got to the point where I had to take antihistamines to keep the swelling down, and I was willing to try just about anything."

On her travels around the region, in places such as Thailand and Vietnam, she found what she'd been looking for: soaps made from natural products. She enrolled in a few soap-making courses there, and learnt the basic processes, because though she'd found a solution, she wasn't satisfied with just buying them on her travels or ordering them online.

Ms Chew started Soaplah two years ago. "I started to see I wasn't the only one suffering from these issues, and in fact, I was quite lucky to have experienced them only later in life. There were people I spoke to who had toddlers with extreme sensitivity, and I realised there was a gap in the local market for natural soaps like these."

The quirky name, she reveals, was a simple choice because whenever anyone would ask her what she was making, she'd reply with "Soap, lah!"

When Ms Chew first began soap-making, it would take her about two hours to make 10 bars of soap. Now, she's able to comfortably make 50 bars in 45 minutes.

Currently, Soaplah sells approximately a few hundred bars of soap per month on the retail side, but the number can jump up to 1,000 per month if there are corporate events scheduled. A bar of soap costs between S$7.90 and S$12.90, depending on the essential oils used.

"What sets Soaplah apart from regular brands is our commitment to being natural. You won't find any harsh synthetic chemicals or preservatives in our soaps," she says.

"There is a trend towards consuming more natural products and supporting local produce, so while we have a stable pool of repeat customers, we'd still like to increase our awareness in Singapore as a local brand with good-quality natural products."

Messages in design

Amado Gudek


THE messages conveyed by her designs mean a lot to Elaine Tan, founder of Amado Gudek. So too the name of her brand, which reminds her of her time and experience studying in London's Istituto Marangoni, and combines the last names of two of her best friends from the school of fashion and design.

"I wanted my label to mean something to me, and naming it after my friends makes it personal and nostalgic," she says.

The 28-year-old has been dabbling in jewellery making ever since she chanced upon a bead shop in Chinatown when she was studying in Jurong JC. She recalls: "It was just for fun then, piecing things together to create something new."

Doing a summer course at Central St Martins in 2010 convinced her to work with resin jewellery as her main medium. She says: "Bioresin has no intrinsic value unlike precious metal, which is commonly used by most jewellery designers. Because of this, it's imperative for us to pay more attention to the design rather than the material, and this often results in a design-focused product created on the basis of an important message."

Ms Tan is all about delivering important messages. For example, her "Diemonds Fauxever" collection encases diamond rings in bioresin. "It makes it seem like they're frozen in time. People always say 'a diamond is forever', so this pokes fun at that concept," she explains.

Her "Second Chances" collection, a collaboration with design label Of Trying Times, encompasses broken pieces of clay being encased in bioresin "so they take on a new form and breathe a new life".

"It's a response to our throwaway culture, really," she adds.

The eco-friendly jewellery brand has items ranging in price from S$29 to S$179.

Heavy duty passion

Concreate Goods


WHEN people look at Juliana Yeow's wares in craft fairs, they usually assume the products are just fashioned to look like concrete.

"They're so used to items being made from wood, plastic, and ceramic that they think it's just those materials being dressed up as concrete," says Ms Yeow, who started Concreate Goods in September last year. "Concrete is seen by many as a heavy material used mainly for industrial construction. I like using it for day-to-day items because it's so different."

Her products range from S$10 for a single coaster to S$189 for a copper pipe table lamp.

The NTU graduate has been passionate about making things for as long as she can remember. "I've always been inclined to design and re-invent things. When I was 15 years old, a friend and I went thrifting to the Salvation Army, and we found these huge pants. We could both fit in to one leg, but we decided to take it home, and made it into two skirts for both of us," she says.

Her love for homeware was a result of growing up. The 24-year-old recalls: "Once you've graduated, you want to look for your own place. I was inspired by interior magazines, and though I don't have my own place yet, I wanted to make smaller pieces for my room."

The most challenging part for her is the process of prototyping her products, because "concrete is a surprisingly sensitive material so it reacts differently to things like temperatures and mixing ratios".

What with working on Concreate Goods by herself, and also helping out with craft initiative Operation Overhaul, Ms Yeow's items are made-to-order. And because suitable rental space is so hard to come by in Singapore, she works just outside her home. "I'm really trying to find the right space though because I don't want to be polluting or harming my family in any way," she says.

Something truly meaningful



AS someone who has made her career all about flowers, Pauline Ho isn't at all shy about admitting that she viewed them as a waste of money just three years ago. She confesses: "In the past, if a boyfriend got me flowers, I'd wonder why he hadn't spent the money on a nice dinner instead."

All that changed when Ms Ho was invited to attend a casual flower arranging workshop two years ago by a friend who'd recently moved back from Australia. The former advertising executive says: "Though I was reluctant to go, I ended up being really interested because they used flowers like eustomas, which were unlike what you'd find in a typical bouquet. And using my hands to create something felt really refreshing."

The 28-year-old took on arranging as a hobby, and posted her creations on social media sites. Before long, she was being inundated by pleas from friends to help them out on special occasions such as Valentine's Day and birthdays.

Though she hadn't planned on it, getting a steady income from her pastime persuaded her to make it a full-time career, and she started Fleurapy (read: flower therapy) a year and a half ago. Her arrangements start from S$120 onwards.

Ms Ho isn't your average florist. For one thing, she makes customised pieces for each client. For another, she isn't afraid of using non-flora to accentuate her pieces.

She explains: "One of the most interesting pieces I've made was for a friend who wanted something for his sister's birthday. I ended up fashioning a bit of foam into the shape of a cake and sliced it up."

Her biggest challenge doesn't come from making the arrangements, but from the clients' briefs instead. She says: "I like to know about a person when I'm making something for them, so I have a look at their social media sites because those really show a lot about a person's aesthetic. It gets difficult when someone describes the recipient as 'kind-hearted' or something like that, because it means I need to probe further to make something truly meaningful for them."

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