Making the Merlion hip

Making the Merlion hip
Life interview with Edwin Low, founder of Supermama, the local lifestyle store.

Supermama can probably reinvent even the kitschiest piece of tourist tat and make it covetable.

For starters, it has used motifs inspired by the scales and curves of the Merlion to adorn elegant Japanese ceramic ware. The set of plate, saucer and chopstick rest costs $50.

The lifestyle store's founder Edwin Low, 35, has sold about 200 sets since it was launched in March. He says: "Singaporeans are proud of the Merlion, but we do not want it represented in the form of a super cheapskate-looking object."

The Merlion collection is one of many projects he has initiated to take local icons and design to the masses. He makes it a point to carry Singapore-designed products in his Bras Basah Road store, including products dreamt up by him and his team of five.

He has headed the Singapore Icons Studio Project, which brought together five other local designers to create a series of quintessentially Singaporean images for crockery made by Japanese company Kihara.

He sold thousands of pieces from the collection and won the President's Design Award for Design of the Year in 2013. For Singapore's jubilee year, he is designing 50 SG50 collectibles that reflect Singapore's heritage and quirks, such as erasers which can be stacked to form an HDB block and a Merlion plushie.

Mr Low, who has a master's in industrial design from the National University of Singapore and taught experience and product design at Singapore Polytechnic from 2008 to 2011, says: "Being a Singaporean industrial designer, I often question how I can enrich the lives of people here from the point of an object. Design affects lives directly. Recognising this notion gives me added responsibility as a designer - a responsibility I do not take lightly."

Mr Low, who is married with two children, wants to take the Singapore brand of design overseas and will open a shop in Tokyo selling Singapore-designed products by the end of next year.

He also aims to start a design entrepreneurship and apprenticeship programme here to encourage more designers to set up their businesses and to "overhaul the image of design and technology lessons" in schools. For example, he is exploring ways to hold apprenticeship programmes for tertiary students during their holidays.

Mentoring young designers and educating the public about good local design, he says, is part of Supermama's mission.

"Education is the only way for history, values, knowledge and the belief system of a society to be passed from one generation to the next. Without a medium to translate the messages, every generation will need to restart its engine and there can never be progress.

"At Supermama, we do not sell products. We provide design education for the public."

This article was first published on July 4, 2015.
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