Good business

PHOTO: Good business

ELLA Sherman and Diana Francis have adopted six dogs and three cats between them, but the longtime friends want to do more to help their four-legged friends.

Last December, they came up with the idea of creating a range of colourful animal-themed merchandise with part of the sale proceeds going to animal charities.

The Animal Merchandise range comprises kitchen and bathware, apparel for women, men and children, and jewellery and accessories. The products, such as a set of placemats for $39.99 and shopping bags for $59.99 each, will retail at Tangs Orchard from Oct 28 and at Tangs Vivocity from Nov 11.

"Animal Merchandise is not a charity," says Ms Sherman, its managing director. "As huge animal lovers we wanted a business that we're passionate about and has meaning."

Animal Merchandise will donate 20 per cent of their annual net profits to eight local animal welfare shelters and wildlife sanctuaries: Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (ACRES), Action for Singapore Dogs, Cat Welfare Society, House Rabbit Society Singapore, Noah's Ark Cares, Oasis Second Change Animal Shelter, Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and Voices for Animals.

Ms Sherman, 36, who is from London, has lived in Singapore for 10 years, and has been a volunteer with SPCA since 2004.

"My experience on the merchandising and fund-raising committees inspired me to turn my passion into a business with strong corporate social responsibility." She used to market and sell real estate investments, but has given that up to work on Animal Merchandise full-time.

She selected which groups to help, picking out those that she personally considers to be making the biggest difference to animal welfare in Singapore. She makes personal trips to inspect the organisations.

"It is vitally important we only select well run animal shelters and wildlife sanctuaries, who strive to educate the public on adoption rather than buying pets and on being kind to animals and conservation of wildlife, who will put our donations to great use," says Ms Sherman.

Ms Francis, 39, adds: "Our focus is to embrace not only well established global animal shelters, such as the SPCA, but also to embrace the lesser known charities and animal shelters."

She has been living in Singapore for the last 17 years, and runs her own design firm, FatCat Designs, doing merchandise and product development. Her clients include the National Heritage Board and Marina Bay Sands. The Brit is also an artist with her own gallery in Holland Village.

As its creative director, Ms Francis does the illustrations of cats and dogs for the products.

"The public can relate to having dogs and cats as pets, so I picked them for the range," says Ms Francis. She also designed the brand logo which comprises a rainbow-coloured bar code and a black cat. The same rainbow colours are found on the merchandise. "The brand is about being happy and fun, hence the colours," she says.

The duo have plans to take the brand beyond Singapore, and they are building a list of animal shelters and wildlife sanctuaries in every country they plan to sell their products in.

"So if you buy our products in Singapore, it will help animal shelters and wildlife sanctuaries in Singapore; if you buy our product in Malaysia, it will help those in Malaysia, and so on," says Ms Sherman.

Playing with food

AT Food Playground cooking school, there are no celebrity or professional chefs to teach you how to whip up a dish. Instead, the cooking instructors and assistant cooking facilitators are stay-home mums, or active seniors.

"The idea to start the cooking school came first, but what got us really excited about this idea was the kind of positive impact Food Playground will make, that is, a socially responsible business that is capable of creating dignified and meaningful employment opportunities for stay-home mums and active seniors," says Daniel Tan, 38, managing director. He started the school with his friend Lena Tan, who is the director.

There are three stay-home mums and two seniors working with them, whom they hired through referrals and from Mums@work, an online career portal for working mothers. The duo plan to hire more people.

Before starting Food Playground, Mr Tan helped set up the area marketing team for Pan Pacific Hotels Group. Ms Tan spent 10 years in the pharmaceutical industry and was herself a stay-home mum before Food Playground.

The school conducts cultural cooking classes, where participants learn how to make local food such as laksa and chicken satay. These classes have been popular with tourists. Food Playground also conducts corporate team-building sessions through its cooking classes.

Ms Tan, 38, says they never intended to hire professional chefs. "Our focus is on the participants' experiences. We believe that amateurs will deliver a different experience that focuses more on the participants, and the bonding objectives, versus chefs who may focus more on the specific cooking techniques," she says. "Engaging seniors and stay-home mums also provides a less commercial experience and better achieves our objective of providing fun experiential learning."

The mums and seniors that Food Playground hire must know how to cook. They are then trained to conduct classes.

Helen Teo, 53, is a cooking instructor who joined Food Playground in February. She used to operate a school canteen stall but found the work stressful, time-consuming and with little room for personal development.

Since joining Food Playground, she has learned new skills in presenting herself and showcasing Singapore's food culture and heritage through sharing stories from her life.

"We provided training so she could engage participants effectively, be sensitive to cultural differences, plan and deliver a hands-on cooking class," says Ms Tan. "Helen's confidence level has also improved with consistent feedback from participants. More importantly, she is still doing what she enjoys the most, that is, cooking."

Another senior, 67-year-old Fong Jie, used to help out at a local dessert shop. She has been working as a kitchen helper at Food Playground since December, but does more than mere cleaning. "She is more engaged in terms of helping us do taste tests and giving suggestions when we are trying out new menu items," says Mr Tan.

The duo say hiring stay-home mums and seniors lets them share their skills and recipes with others, while keeping them employed.

"Active seniors have a lot to share about Singapore's food culture and heritage," says Ms Tan. "Plus, many stay-home mums bring with them strong communication from their previous experiences in the corporate setting. In fact, some of them are highly skilled in human resource, training and organizational development, so they are an excellent fit as event facilitators to run our corporate team-building programmes."Giving back

FOR Teresa Tan, running two deli cum organic retail stores is not enough to keep her satisfied. She also makes it a point to actively support local businesses, and regularly contributes back to society.

Mrs Tan, in her 40s, started Nothing But Green, an organic retail store in Tanglin Shopping Centre in 2011 before opening a deli cum retail store at Circular Road last May. She has two other partners in the business. Two months ago, she opened her second deli cum retail store at Tanjong Pagar Plaza. The store at Tanglin has since closed.

She became interested in consuming organic food after the birth of her son five years ago. "I believe that eating healthy starts from young," she says. "Eating organic food is the right way to go."

Her deli menu comprises salads, sandwiches and soups. Popular dishes include Masisseoyo, a Korean-style stew, made with organic beef brisket and potatoes, and Tofu Burger - made of tofu, potatoes and carrots.

Since Day One, she has been getting her supply of vegetables and fruits from Quan Fa Organic Farm in Lim Chu Kang. "The produce is definitely fresher than imported produce, because it comes direct from a local farm," she says. But more importantly, she wants to support local businesses, and in the process help to raise awareness for them, "so that there will be more demand for local organic produce, and in turn, the farm will be motivated to increase their variety".

Her organic retail stores also sell the IDOCARE environmentally conscious brand of laundry detergent, dishwashing liquid and floor cleaners, that are made by a local manufacturer.

A firm believer in giving back to the community, Mrs Tan has been supporting the work of Arc Children's Centre, a pastoral daycare centre for children aged 3-18 with cancer and other life-threatening conditions.

Since last year, Mrs Tan has been organising activities, such as baking and art and craft lessons for the children at her delis. Next Tuesday, she will host a session for 18 children at her Tanjong Pagar outlet, where they will be taught how to make crafts out of recycled materials. The kids will also have tea, and go home with a goodie bag.

As a mother, helping kids resonates with her, and "I wanted to help smaller organisations", she says. "I feel good being able to help others on top of running a business."On the upcycle

WHEN he created his eponymous brand of bags and accessories, Swiss designer Markus Freitag never imagined how popular it would become.

He and his brother Daniel are graphic designers who were looking for a functional, water-repellent and robust messenger bag to hold their drawings in 1993 when they launched the Freitag brand.

Today, the firm produces around 400,000 products annually, from messenger to tote bags, backpacks and wallets. These are sold through 10 Freitag stores and over 450 retail partners worldwide. In Singapore, Freitag is available at fashion store Actually.

"The idea was to make bags for our personal use," says Mr Freitag, 43, who was in Singapore recently. "We never had a business plan at the start."

At first, they had no idea where to get material for their bags from, but living next to the freeway gave them ideas.

Trucks covered with tarpaulin often drove past their flat. Due to wear and tear, the tarpaulins had to be replaced every five to eight years, and they were usually discarded.

The brothers decided to take the green route: recycling the tarpaulin, together with old seat belts from unwanted cars and bicycle inner tubes to make their bags. "We take these materials from the street, but give them back to the street in the form of new products," says Mr Freitag.

Each year, Freitag uses 440 tonnes of tarpaulin, 35,000 bicycle inner tubes and 288,000 car seat belts. The tarpaulin is cut into pieces to form bags, the inner tubes form the edging for the bags, while the seat belts become straps.

When they first started, the brothers obtained the tarpaulin for free. Now they have a team of staff who do truck spotting. "They are the ones that call up the truck companies to ask when the tarpaulins will be available," says Mr Freitag.

He adds that some tarpaulins are more costly than others. "Especially the darker coloured ones, because they are harder to find."

Mr Freitag knows there are other bags made of tarpaulin in the market. "The tarpaulin we use is entirely recycled," he says. Some other manufacturers are known to use new tarpaulin.

The brand prides itself on not only using recycled material, but their production process at their factory in Zurich is eco-friendly too. "We recycle everything that the production line requires," says Mr Freitag.

Rainwater is collected from the factory's rooftop to wash the tarpaulin, and the final rinse water for one load is used during the next load's pre-wash cycle. The factory has a lush rooftop garden for inspiration and insulation, and pays a premium for hydro and solar electricity.

It uses galvanised mesh wire fencing for its balconies, anodised steel for its doors, large insulating windows for light and plenty of insulating concrete.

The brothers design the bags themselves. "Our personal needs are a good base on how we decide what new products to introduce. We also talk to the team and our friends for ideas," says Mr Freitag.

New models are introduced four times a year, but classics such as their Dragnet messenger bags remain favourites.

In his personal life, Mr Freitag also has green habits. For one, he has no driver's licence, preferring to move around on his bicycle. He also separates his trash, and buys quality products that last.

Future plans for the brand include expanding its range and opening more retail outlets. "We also want to look at how we can go into other product segments but with a recycling theme," says Mr Freitag.

Get The Business Times for more stories.