Fun and festive

SINGAPORE - Tired of wearing the same old staid red outfit for Chinese New Year? Or bored with the predictable and uninspired designs of hongbao and other festive accessories?

If you are looking to stand out from the crowd and the expected sea of red this season, a handful of indie retailers have injected quirky twists with local humour into traditional festive clothing and accessory items.

There are at least 12 local retailers - most of them operate online - selling Chinese New Year-themed items, from T-shirts to hongbao packs to door mats. And they are reporting brisk sales, with some from overseas too.

For instance, the hongbao packets by rudepackets, started by three friends - journalist Hon Jing Yi, 27; graphic designer Jill Quek, 26; and civil servant Tony Tan, 29 - have been selling well.

Decked out with cheeky slogans such as Congratulations - Here Is Your Advance Baby Bonus and This Is Less Than 1 per cent Of Your COE, the group originally intended for the hongbao to be used for weddings.

But since they launched rudepackets in December, they have received many requests to sell the hongbao for Chinese New Year. The group used crowd- funding site Pozible to test the popularity of the hongbao and hit their target of $1,000 in four days.

Unlike traditional hongbao that are printed with animals or auspicious sayings, Ms Quek says their design inspiration came from everyday situations.

"We talked about all the things that irritate Singaporeans these days, especially for newlyweds who have relatives asking them about having children and the 'grown-up' decisions couples have to make about finances such as buying an HDB flat and cars."

Another business which took its cue from uniquely Singaporean things is Temasek Clothings, helmed by freelance copywriter Selena Soh, 26, and freelance art director Melvin Lim, 29. They describe themselves as "two proud Singaporeans with a special kind of humour". They set up their T-shirt venture about six months ago.

Their 10 Chinese New Year-themed T-shirts with funny phrases are bound to draw a few laughs. Top sellers include CNY FAQ: For The Married, where wearers can tick off a checklist of typical questions from relatives such as when they will have children, and Seven Lontongs, which plays on the name of the Malay dish and a verse from Bai Nian, a popular Chinese New Year song.

This is the first time Temasek Clothings is doing a Chinese New Year series and its owners say they have already sold more than 500 shirts since sales started early last month.

Ms Soh says: "It's tradition for people to buy and wear new clothes for Chinese New Year, so we thought we would inject humour into T-shirts and give Singaporeans something fun and different to wear for the season - to spark conversations and laughter."

Others are pushing boundaries with non-traditional colours.

Local T-shirt company Statement has a black tee with the word "huat"

(Hokkien for prosper) printed on a sliver of red, modelled after the classic Obey Bar Logo T-shirt by streetwear label Obey Clothing. It is considered taboo to wear black during Chinese New Year.

Statement, which carries other T-shirts with local phrases, was started in 2012 by marketing executive Visakan Veerasamy, 25, and designer Desmond Chua, 27. Both work at ReferralCandy, an online referral marketing platform.

Referring to the Huat T-shirt, Mr Veerasamy says: "We've got the Ah Kong-friendly version in white, but the black shirts are for the rebels who want to wear something different this year."

Part of the appeal of these quirky offerings is their longevity beyond the 15-day festive period.

Fictive Fingers, a textile-printing business, has designed a special edition of its hand-printed furoshiki, a Japanese wrap cloth that can be used to hold food, wrap containers or as a scarf. The limited-edition wraps come in auspicious colours such as tangerine and raspberry.

Owners and sisters Aisah Dalduri, 23, and Hani Dalduri, 30, have also collaborated on an Hourglass Knot Bag with local fashion boutique Soon Lee.

Ms Aisah says: "Our designs have an Oriental feel to it, but they look modern and are functional too. The colours are perfect for Chinese New Year, but the products can be used all year round."

Shoppers are lapping up the quirky offerings. Many of the retailers say some items have already sold out, while others have a long list of orders that might not reach their buyers in time for the first few days of Chinese New Year.

Ms Beatrice Lau, 27, bought about 50 hongbao from rudepackets as she felt they were "unconventional". Her family has a collection of hongbao that they either get free from banks or shops, or has bought to give at weddings.

The public relations consultant says: "It's tongue-in-cheek and no one would get offended. Singaporeans would get the humour behind the message because it's so local."

Art director Kelvin Yip, 27, was one of the few to snag two T-shirts from Temasek Clothings in time for Chinese New Year. He bought T- shirts with the words Little Ming (Xiao Ming is a popular name used by children in their Chinese essays in schools here) and an upside- down "huat" emblem.

He says: "I don't know of any other cool T-shirt brands with smart designs that feel so close to home."

This article was first published on February 7, 2015.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to for more stories.