The Boutiques community is a big, growing family. We take pride in fostering community dialogue: between brands; between visitors and designers; between industry stakeholders and entrepreneurs.
Scroll down to see interviews with:
Anothersole | Benny Chee, Co-Founder
EDEN+ELIE | Stephanie Choo, Founder
Epigram Books | Edmund Wee, Founder
MATTER | Devonne Niam, Digital Marketing Manager
Sea Apple | Ho Su Mei, Founder
Simone Irani | Simone Irani, Founder
SOURCE Collections | Vincent Ooi, Founder
Supermama | Lee Mei Ling, Co-Founder
The Missing Piece | Fock Ee-Ling, Founder
The Nail Social | Cheryl Ou, Founder
Benny Chee, Co-Founder
Before he was in the shoe business, Benny was in insurance. He quit his job wanting to sell surfboards in Bali, but that dream didn’t pan out because he was played out by his suppliers. Fast track to 2018 where Benny has since launched a few startups, of which he counts Anothersole as his most meaningful and successful venture.
“We have failed so many times. I’m not ashamed of it but it could have been avoided. With Anothersole, we realised, look, we are not trying to be the next top fashion brand. We wanted to go deeper and find something more sustainable and authentic.
So, we sat down as a group and asked ourselves, what do we want to achieve — as a company and as human beings; what legacy do we want to leave behind? Is it money? Yes, it’s important to be profitable. We have family to take care of, so that has to work. But that shouldn’t be the primary consideration.”
On Social Responsibility
“Why Buy1Feed1 focuses on children-related issues? First and foremost, we are parents. Phoebe (my business partner) and I looked at each other and she said, ‘Can you imagine, our kids on the street going from car to car asking people if they can clean the windscreen, or asking you to buy some trinkets from them … sleeping on the street, next to polluted rivers?’ I said, ‘Cannot la.’
Children, they’re innocent, they didn’t ask for this. Are they condemned to prostitution or a life of living on the streets just because they were born in the wrong place or the wrong time? This is something that we feel passionately about and we want to do something about it.”
“Weight is a major issue when you travel. Anothersole shoes are breathable, come with a removable sports footbed, and are really light too. Our new Gen II shoes are only 280 grams.
For the space you need to pack two pairs of sports shoes, you can pack five pairs of Anothersole. We combined versatility and functionality; that way, you can pound the pavement for the whole day — in style — and still have no blisters.”
Life as an Entrepreneur
“My whole entrepreneur career is a journey of discovery with a lot of stupidity and a hell lot of guts. We were young and foolish. We just bashed through…nothing was planned really. It was a lot of heartache and pain…twenty years of that.
But, I was just talking to my daughter — she’s only seven. It was raining and we were having one of those daddy and daughter chats. Then I looked at her and I said, I loved my life now. I love having you in my life. I love being a dad. I love running a business. I love building something and I really enjoy seeing it grow … I love every moment of my life and I mean it.”
Stephanie Choo, Co-Founder
Running your own business is no small feat. It can often feel like a marathon with no end in sight, especially if you’re also a full-time mother. We asked Stephanie Choo, mumpreneur and proud owner of ethical jewellery label, Eden + Elie, on what keeps her going.
Find Your Why
“Business has tremendous potential to do good. Instead of focusing on a narrow definition of profit as financial returns only, business should be measured on impact. How are we making life better?
It is tough and there’s no doubt about it. What keeps me going is to go back to the ‘why’ and remember why I started. If you lose your compass, you’ll never last. There are days when things weigh so heavy you will need to hold on to why you started in order to stay the course.”
On Social Responsibility
“Our social mission is two-fold. The first is to provide employment for marginalised communities in need. We currently train individuals with autism through our partnership with the Autism Resource Centre to become bead-weaving artisans and they become part of the Eden + Elie team. We also work with women in need of income to support their families and want home-based work either because of care-giving responsibilities they have at home or because they just need flexibility. We currently have three women artisans.
All our artisans are based in Singapore and we are able to develop not just a contractual relationship with them but build a community of makers. Because the nature of our jewelry is deliberately meticulous in design, it is extremely labour intensive to make. It is also intentionally low-tech — meaning, we use needle and thread, not complicated equipment. It is low waste, clean to produce, and hence very conducive to be home-based work for our women artisans and for our artisans with autism who thrive in a focused setting.”
Working with Artisans
“Sometimes, I am conflicted about pointing out the different abilities of our artisans – especially as autism may be perceived as a disability by some. However, you only have to observe our artisans at work to realise how good they are – and how beautiful the work is that comes from their hands. Our women artisan also tell me that they love the work, and the pleasure of the craft brings intrinsic satisfaction.
Last year, our focus was to begin the training and hiring of artisans. Going forward, we want to reach out to a wider community to share that love of making.”
“Certainly there is a lot of inspiration to be taken from case studies, precedents and a good idea meeting a gap in the market, but I’ve found that I have the most drive, the most passion, and the most flow when I do something that closely connects to who I am. You can run on ambition, but you will run further with ambition, passion and authenticity.”
Edmund Wee, Founder
Meet Edmund Wee. He’s candid, assiduous, and regularly starts his work day with a crossword puzzle. He also happens to run one of Singapore’s most prominent publishing houses, Epigram Books. We stopped by the Epigram office for a quick chat:
On Singapore Literature
“Increasingly Singaporeans are looking to the literary arts as a form of artistic expressions and more of them are looking for a publisher that can help them realise their vision. I started Epigram Books when I sensed this nascent desire. Since then, it’s been my pleasure and honour to have published so many first -time authors and to see a flourishing of Singapore literature. We do not yet have an ecosystem that can support full-time authors. It is my hope that that will happen and Epigram Books is committed to the cause.”
“The Fountainhead was the book that got me into literature. It’s not even a very good book. It’s very misogynistic, but that was one of the first book that I read in my first year of university. Growing up, I didn’t read a lot. I came from a very poor family. So, after I read Fountainhead — the book was a required text for my psychology course — for the first time, I thought, ‘Oh, wow, so this is the power of a novel.’ Then I became interested in reading.
Eventually, the message I got from the book was (perhaps) the most important part of your life is yourself — the training of your intellect. You have to be sure your reasoning, not your emotion, guide your decision-making… and that’s guided my life.”
On Singapore Literature
“All my life, I’ve often been seen as a maverick, a troublemaker … but that’s because I’m independent. I don’t get affiliated.
People always say, ‘Oh, you’re so anti-government.’ I say, ‘If the Workers’ Party were to become the government of Singapore, I would also become anti Workers’ Party.’ I do believe you must always question people who are in power.”
Devonne Niam, Digital Marketing Manager
Up next on our roster is MATTER, a lifestyle label known for its modern approach to heritage textiles and rural artisan production. We sat down with Devonne Niam, Digital Marketing Manager of the label, who let us in on what goes on behind the scenes.
On Social Responsibility
“A socially responsible business is simply a business driven not by profit but by purpose. Their key measures of success should not be based on how much money they’ve made but how much awareness was gained, impact created, and changes implemented through their daily business operations.
In that sense, we are definitely a socially responsible business as we measure our success by how much artisanal fabric was ordered, how many days of artisan employment we’ve created, and the different types of traditional techniques we were able to share with the world.”
Ethical and Sustainable Production
“As a small start-up label, there is no typical workday. Every day is different and unique in its own way — which is the beauty of it all. But generally, every start of the week we like to get together and ‘huddle.’ This is where we share our priorities for the week, important issues that needs to be tackled together, and anything interesting that we’ve found.
There are definitely many unique little things we do as a team, which you could call a tradition. We get together to do random act of kindness at least once a year— to remind us that we need to make an impact on our local community. And we don’t shy away from popping a bubbly or two every time we hit major goals and targets.”
Ho Su Mei, Founder
You may have stumbled upon Sea Apple at our previous editions — their charming, whimsical prints crafted in timeless silhouettes always have us wishing they made an adult range! Just like her designs, Su Mei of Sea Apple is bubbly and warm, often showing a penchant for nostalgia.
“Sea Apple began with a simple idea to provide well designed clothing for children with original prints that tell a story. We wanted to explore ideas that would not traditionally be associated with childrenswear, and create a label that pays as much attention to the mood, motivation and thinking behind a print, as much as the actual garments.”
On Choosing Childrenswear
“Entrepreneurship was indeed something I always felt drawn to. I only gained the courage to do something about it when I was in business school and met many individuals there who started their own things, or were in the midst of launching. It was an exciting time with a very entrepreneurial vibe. I didn’t know at the time I would go into fashion, just that it would be something design oriented.
I eventually gravitated to children’s clothing (despite not being a mum at the time!) because I loved the innocence and endless possibilities that (I felt) were associated with designing for children. Also, I found that working in fashion had a hands-on and tactile element to it that appealed to me.”
Juggling Motherhood and Entrepreneurship
“Don’t try to be everything to everyone at once.
I find that I’m at my best when I compartmentalise my day and set aside fixed periods to really concentrate at work, or to be present with my family.”
Why Organic Cotton?
“Organic cotton isn’t grown with the chemicals and pesticides that are used in commercial cotton.
Not only is this better for the environment because of better soil and water management, but you get a fibre that isn’t laden with chemicals that can potentially cause allergies.
And this is important to us, because our products are going to be next to babies’ and children’s skin.”
Simone Irani, Founder
Simone Irani, designer and founder of her namesake label, is a free-spirited soul who loves anything bright and colourful. Best known for her line of breezy resortwear staples made from beautiful saris, Simone actually began her label without a background in fashion.
Her Creative Process
“There’s inspiration in everything and everywhere. If you are a creative person, you’ll get inspired by anything — by travel, architecture, film, art, or anything really. It’s a certain spirit and feel that you want in your design. It’s a certain experience that you want people to have.
For me, I go through thousands of saris to pick the interesting ones, and I get inspired just by looking at them. I look at the print and the fabric; then, I think about what design and style would suit the materials.”
“I’ve always been designing from my teens. I’ve always been making stuff for myself. When I was a lawyer and started doing it, people started asking, when are you gonna make more stuff? It kind of started like that. I didn’t enjoy corporate, I didn’t enjoy law.
So I quit… This was a hobby that grew and became a business. I started doing little exhibitions with only close friends, doing home sales, and it just grew.”
Vincent Ooi, Founder
We strongly believe in businesses that put social responsibility at their core — businesses that don’t focus only on making a profit but in making real impact. Homegrown lifestyle label, SOURCE Collections, sets the bar high.
“We were inspired by the ethos behind Honest By by Bruno Pieters and its concept of 100 percent transparency. We wanted people to know more about the (fashion) industry; where products are made, the actual cost, how they’re made, and who the people are behind the amazing products.
We always know of the designers but how much do we know about the process and the people who spend hours cutting and sewing up our favourite pieces?”
Why Transparency Matters
“Our thinking goes: transparency is the first step to raising awareness about the issues of the industry and hopefully to have more people get involved to make a positive change.
We also believe that when consumers know more about the stories of what goes behind the product, they tend to love and care for it more to have them last longer.”
“Things don’t always go as planned or the way we want it — despite the fact that we might have invested a large amount of time and effort into it. When we started working on the brand in September 2016, we sat aside a budget and a timeline of when we had wanted to launch. But issues (unexpectedly) kept arising one after another. We had to delay the brand launch month after month and that started to strain the business since there was no income for close to a year.
Eventually, it took a great deal of patience, learning, and hard decisions (that we had to make) before we finally launched the brand.”
Lee Mei Ling, Co-Founder
Meet Mei Ling, co-founder of Supermama and real-life Supermama to her two kids, Donna and Toby. Founded in 2011, Supermama has expanded from a single shop at Seah Street to their current three locations and a cult following (us included!).
“Supermama started with us — Edwin and I — wanting to create a little haven for the city dwellers to slow down and appreciate a curation of well-designed and thoughtful objects. We started the shop wanting to steal more time for ourselves and for our family, and wanting to extend this spirit of slowing down and appreciation through designing a store that recognise those values.
It started with a crazy dream… We were more than prepared to go back to work and shut down the business as we never thought the store could last more than a year.”
Finding Meaning in Work
“To us, it is more than a retail business; it is also about the lives we impact. We appreciate the dedication and discipline of the Japanese artisans (makers) to their craft.
Apart from that, we find that the meaning and responsibility is doubled when some of the Japanese makers are at the threshold of making it or breaking it, facing the threat of failing multi-generations of their family business.”
The Boutiques Experience
“The energy and vibe at Boutiques cannot be replicated easily. We’re really happy to be a part of this community where people seem to come with the intent to support everyone. More than sales, it is the feedback and the encouragement we get from visitors that makes Boutiques different from many other events we participated in.”
The Missing Piece
Fock Ee-Ling, Founder
Founder and designer Fock Ee-Ling of homegrown label, The Missing Piece, has been making pieces that are romantic, functional, and ultra-flattering — and she does this all without any background in fashion or design.
Functionality for Mums
“My design philosophy is comfort and style. I design for real women. Mothers who are busy but still want to look good effortlessly — even if they’re only picking up their kids. That’s why I will not buy a piece of fabric unless I have touched it. Every fabric must be cooling and comfortable so that it can be worn outside in the day sans air-con. I also made little tweaks in the details so the cuts are always very flattering yet practical.
For example, I like to add big pockets so mothers can just dump their keys in there. It makes me happy when someone who doesn’t normally dress up — because they’re too busy with their life, looking after their kids and family — puts on my piece. They can dress up, look good, and most importantly, feel comfortable.”
Designing Without Experience
“If you’re formally trained, you’re taught that a certain piece will require a, b, and c. Not having a fashion background doesn’t hinder me because I’ve never felt I have to design in a certain way or for a runway. I only design what I like – and that’s how I’ve always done it. I envision the final piece first and then work with my drafters to realise the design. My drafters often tell me that some of my designs are just physically impossible, so I end up pushing them.”
Motherhood and Entrepreneurship
“When I was handling everything myself, I would spend all my time responding to enquiries that came in from text, Instagram, Facebook, and emails. I was tired, stressed out… and my kids could tell.
I learned to be very disciplined. I try not to work when the kids are around, not even on my phone. When the kids come home after school, you just have to drop it (work). Die die, you have to drop it. Then, I’ll start working again after I put them to bed.
Most mothers would say this: they sleep late and never have enough sleep. I sleep later than I would like — but that’s the choice I have to make.”
On Growing the Business
“I’m trying to speak now to other entrepreneurs who used to be a one-man show, and ask how they got to a full working team. I want to grow the business even more, to take that leap of faith to find the right people who can help the business grow so I can have more time to do what I like: designing and spending time with my kids.
But, I never want to work on someone’s time. I want to maintain control, move at my own pace, and do my collections as and when I want.”
The Nail Social
Cheryl Ou, Founder
We love getting our nails done at The Nail Social, a nail salon cum social enterprise that uses only non-toxic polishes and works with women who face higher barriers of employment. Earlier in 2018, The Nail Social opened their second outpost, The Social Space, combining a nail salon, cafe, and ethical boutiques in one beautiful set-up.
“I’ve been running my own business for quite a while. My first business (over 10 years ago) was also a nail salon. It wasn’t a social enterprise. It was a regular nail salon and I thoroughly enjoyed that experience. Then I had a café and even a backpacker’s hostel for a bit. I had a bad experience with the latter. It was the first time that I brought in an investor. When you partner with an investor, their motivation is entirely different. Long story short, I got kicked out of the business that I had set up. I walked away after two years with zero profit and I actually made a big loss. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to go back to a 9 to 5 job and sit in a desk. So, whatever I did next needed to have a purpose.
As business owners, we can make either really good impact or really bad impact on someone else’s life — and I want to make a good impact.”
Find Your Niche
“When I wanted to start my social enterprise and I was doing my research, nails weren’t the most obvious choice. Jewellery, in fair trades, was more common. I went to India, Africa, and all the different fair-trade workshops. But I realised I have zero background in jewellery making or design and I wanted to work with local beneficiaries. That led me to thinking, ‘what do I have?’
I’m not a millionaire but I what I do have is skill. Before I started my first nail salon — prior to The Nail Social — I took a diploma in Nail Technology and was trained as a trainer. So, I contacted my manager, whom I’d previously trained and asked her to join me as my partner. We both had the passion for the same cause. It really came full circle.”
Running A Social Enterprise
“We run solely as a social enterprise. Our staff are all solely referred to by various social agencies and women shelters. They all have different barriers to employment. What we do is provide them with a complimentary vocational training and employment for them after they are done with the training.
We have evolved a lot over the last two years. We used to work a lot with schools. But with a school, you know, you’re in a room with 25 other people … and with the women we work with, learning in a formal classroom setting is not their strong suite.
We brought the training in-house about a year and half ago in order to personalise our training to each of the beneficiary that we bring in. Some of them learn faster, some of them need more time or need to focus in a particular area. This way, we can cater to their needs better.”