Fabric of a nation

Fabric of a nation
PHOTO: The Straits Times

Furnishings inspired by memories

Looking at Mr Mike Tay's beautiful hand-drawn wallpaper and fabric designs, it is hard to believe he has no formal training in art or design.

His chic Singapore-themed creations celebrate everything that is unique about the Little Red Dot - from heritage neighbourhoods such as Little India and Tiong Bahru to the intricate design of Peranakan shophouse windows and tiles.

"Design is something I have been interested in since I was as young as six, back when I noticed the intricate rangoli designs outside the home of an Indian family who were neighbours and close friends of my grandparents'," he recalls.

Rangoli refers to floor patterns created using rice flour, coloured powder, flowers or beans.

Mr Tay, 44, adds: "Though I didn't study art or design formally, it has always remained something I was passionate about."

His full-time job in sales and marketing in the media industry kept him from pursuing his passion until last November, when he decided to start a new chapter and invested $15,000 to set up a shop for his brand, Onlewo.

He also started a contemporary art gallery, Flaneur Gallery. Both the gallery and shop are housed in a two-storey conservation shophouse in Jalan Besar.

"I called my brand Onlewo because it sounds like the characters for home nest in Mandarin," he says. "It's apt given that I like my work to be inspired by personal memories."

And it shows. The bachelor's stylish designs are a nod to his own fond memories spent growing up in Tiong Bahru - from buying kueh at Galicier Pastry for friends visiting from out of town to spending his Sunday mornings shopping at the market.

He now lives in Upper Thomson.

His cushion covers and stools sell for $48 and $200 respectively while the wallpaper starts at $350 for a 2m by 3m wall area. Fans of his work range from trendy home owners to businesses such as chic home furnishings store Space in Bencoolen Street.

But for Mr Tay, creating his uniquely Singaporean brand was more than finding a profitable niche in the market.

"I didn't want to create Singaporean-themed work just for the sake of it," he says.

"As a small independent brand, my focus is on producing functional products that are conversation starters and tell a unique story about Singapore."

He has another mission too. Flaneur Gallery helps promote the work of local artists in their 20s and 30s, provides art residency and serves as an exhibition space for their work. He also helped a young artist who recently exhibited at the gallery get his biggest commissioned work to date.

He says of his new start in the art and design industry: "I might not have pursued this line from young, but now that I'm in it, I want to help young local designers follow their passion as I continue to do the same.

"What could be more SG50- appropriate than that?"

Keychain coin for supermarket carts

Having her hands full with a four-year-old daughter and 11- month-old son did not stop full-time mum Dawn Choo from creating her own SG50-themed product to celebrate the jubilee year.

But she also wanted something functional that would come in handy long after the National Day celebrations are over.

Her brainchild? A practical keychain trolley coin with the SG50 logo stamped on it.

The coin, which has the same dimensions as Singapore's second series 50-cent coins, can be used to unlock shopping carts at most supermarkets, saving people the trouble of having to fumble around for an appropriate coin.

Madam Choo, 36, a former civil servant, says: "I had been considering starting a small business since the beginning of the year and thought, why not start off with something special to commemorate the nation's birthday?"

She wanted to create something useful, unlike the many merely decorative products that have already flooded the market.

She struck creative gold while brainstorming ideas with her banker husband, 37, two months ago.

"While we were chatting before bed one night, I realised not many people were aware of the concept of a trolley coin, despite it being so useful for Singaporeans," she says.

"Having gotten one as a corporate gift a few years back, I knew how convenient they were and decided they would make a perfect memento for our jubilee year."

It did not hurt that the round SG50 logo lent itself perfectly to the coin. All Madam Choo had to do was find someone willing to manufacture it.

Within 24 hours, she sought out a manufacturer on Chinese e-commerce site Alibaba.com and sent him the design, branding guidelines and dimensions.

She spent a few hundred dollars to place her first order for 500 coins.

She sold the coins - for $3.50 a piece and $9.90 for a set of three - on local online marketplace Qoo10.com. Within a week, she was receiving orders of up to 100 coins a day and getting requests for customised versions.

In the past month, she has sold more than 4,000 pieces and counts organisations such as insurance firm AIA and the Housing and Development Board as some of her corporate customers.

The overwhelming response has meant that she and her husband have spent hours organising, packing and delivering packages when new shipments of stock come in. They can prepare up to 1,000 packages a day.

But the work is worth it, Madam Choo says. "I've gotten feedback about how useful the coin is and it makes me happy to know it's a lasting memento that people will use and treasure.

"For me, that's been the best part of the whole experience."

The trolley coins ($3.50 each or $9.90 for three) are available at www.qoo10.sg/shop/thesgway.

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