Sell and do good

Sell and do good
Megafash pop-up store started out as an online store, but the year-old business recently opened its first physical pop-up in 112 Katong. It plans to open a flagship store in Suntec by the end of this year.

Megafash pop-up store

#02-09/32, Katong i12, 112 East Coast Road

Open daily, 11.30am - 8.40pm

Fancy a watch made entirely out of wood recycled from discarded furniture? Or an iPhone speaker carved out of natural bamboo? How about a beach mat that repels sand so you don't take it home with you?

These are a few examples of the socially conscious and environmentally friendly items that can be found at Megafash, a two-week-old pop-up store in Katong i12. It belongs to an online lifestyle store of the same name, which has been around for about a year.

Although this pop-up in Katong is likely to last only till July 21 (with possible extension), Megafash is in the process of opening its flagship store in City Hall by the second half of this year.

Online, they carry over 300 different brands mainly from Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, and the Philippines, out of which about 40 to 50 are considered "socially conscious", according to co-founder Ngeow Jia Wen.

"To be honest, we didn't start this business because we wanted to support these brands," says Ms Ngeow, 27. "It was not until I stumbled across a few brandowners who told me the reason they do what they do, that I felt compelled to dedicate a specific section of my business to promote them."

One of her bestselling items at the store is a beach mat by Filipino brand Lagu. Made from specially engineered material that repels sand, it makes trips to the beach a less messy affair.

At the same time, it also protects the shorelines from tourists who accidentally bring home small handfuls of sand which can add up to be quite a significant amount.

Another store highlight is a range of handmade watches by Indonesian brand Matoa, all made of recycled wood. The wood is harvested from old furniture discarded in Bandung, and even the watch case is cut out of a tree and shaped in a way so it can be repurposed as a flower pot.

You won't see loud signage touting its support for the good cause however, as Ms Ngeow points out that advocating socially conscious shopping can be a delicate operation. "I believe it's better to be subtle, otherwise people who aren't socially conscious will stay away from your store.

But if they come in to browse and read the brand story, and like what they are reading, they will be more likely to be on board," she says.

That's why as a company they are often more inclined to support businesses with a strong story to tell, says Ms Ngeow. "Some people say Singaporeans are 'bargain hunters' who only go for the price, but I think at some point people will want to know who made our product, what went into making it, and what it stands for.

It will happen sooner or later, as consumers are getting more discerning and mature now."

Be Movement

Liang Court #01-20

177 River Valley Road

Open until Sept 30 11am - 8.30pm

Tel: 9469-1556

It isn't every day that a publication decides to branch out into a retail venture. Yet, that's exactly what the tri-annual Be Movement - a digital and print magazine which covers social issues in different countries - did.

Founded by 37-year-old Cassie Lim, the three-month-old pop-up store showcases a specially curated selection of artisanal and creative products from around the world created by social enterprises.

The 1,200 square foot space is artfully decorated with bright colours and upbeat slogans. It houses more than 12 labels, including Mother Ethnic, which makes ethnic fashion and accessories designed by a Japanese; Gift and Take (GAT) which sells handcrafted products such as plush toys and key chains made by disadvantaged people; and Personalised Love, which specialises in artisan craft by special needs youth.

Cindy Ng, manager of Mother Ethnic, says: "The pop-up store was a way to bring all the vendors together. A lot of social enterprises don't have a base of operations, and have to rely on three-day flea markets or bazaars, which can be very hectic. At Be Movement, we have a six-month lease, which gives us stability."

In fact, the co-retail store has been so successful that they are currently in talks with building management to extend their lease for another three months, with the option to extend further on a rolling basis until a permanent tenant takes over the space.

Ms Ng, 57, says: "It's the ideal space. Because of its temporary nature, we aren't required to do major renovation, and we don't have to pay the normal rental costs."

Ms Ng was inspired by a group of single mothers she met in 2011. Having limited funds and sometimes large families, they were unable to be financially responsible for their families. Mother Ethnic was formed to meet the needs of these families, and by combining the sewing skills of the mothers and the marketing skills of the group, the label has been doing well.

This is also due to their dedication to the task.

Ms Ng says: "We started locally and expanded to help women in Chiang Mai too. We have five factories there, and I travel there every six weeks to make sure everything is running smoothly."

Another label found at Be Movement is GAT. Its director, Yvette Lau, started as a volunteer and quit her job in the engineering industry to pursue a more humanitarian career after meeting GAT founder Lance Ng at a cancer foundation where they both volunteered.

The 41-year-old says: "We don't advertise that our products are made by hearing-impaired and other less privileged members of society. We want people to choose them because they like the items, not because they pity the people making them."

Ms Lau adds: "Being socially conscious is a choice. It may not have an immediately visible impact, but it'll help future generations and make the world a more harmonious place."

100 Good Things

Balestier Hill Shopping Centre Block 2 #01-685, Balestier Road

Tel: 9790-8786

Open 10am - 5pm on weekdays, closed on weekends

A space of 200 sq ft might not seem like a lot but for Joan Koh, the owner of socially conscious shop 100 Good Things, "less is more". She explains: "This is my first retail venture, so I'm selective about the products I stock. It's more like a showroom than a shop."

The former freelance travel and wellness writer was drawn to all things socially conscious, and feels this outlet is a natural progression for her. "I've always been interested in conscious living, and I've been thinking about doing something like this for a long time. I finally took the plunge, and everything just fell together."

While the showroom is still only soft opened, there isn't a firm launch date as Ms Koh explains that the products will be coming in on a rolling basis. She currently stocks items like raw forest honey (S$18) and silk protein soap (S$9.90), and next week will see a new wave of products including sustainably sourced virgin coconut oil, palm sugar, and organic jute tote bags.

The raw forest honey is a bestseller, and is imported from a rural community in Laos, which practises subsistence agriculture. Ms Koh says: "Harvesting honey is an art, and only a few people know how to do it. The Laotian family I work with harvests the honey from hives in the forest, and I buy it off them."

Another popular item is the silk protein soap which is handmade in Laos and bought from fair trade social enterprises. "It is a bi-product of the silk industry, and it's 50 per cent silk protein which is very special because its PH balance is very close to that of human skin. It contains very few ingredients too, none of which are unrecognisable."

The petite mother of two young sons admits that the location of 100 Good Things, tucked away in a quiet neighbourhood opposite Thomson Medical Centre, is an unlikely one. She laughs: "It's near my sons' schools, so my life is quite centred around this area."

Ms Koh's passion for this venture is undeniable, but she does express doubts on how much profit she can make.

"This isn't an easy task, and if I wanted to make millions of dollars, I wouldn't be doing what I do now. It's an uphill task educating local shoppers and being sustainable and ethical translates to having higher prices, but it's so rewarding when a customer becomes aware of how important it is to be conscious of our interconnectedness with everything."

This article was first published on June 6, 2015.
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