Yo-yos, sex lubricants among S'pore's successful exports

PHOTO: Yo-yos, sex lubricants among S'pore's successful exports

Who says Singapore is boring? Or unsexy? Or frigid?

Despite Singaporeans ranking badly at the sex-frequency surveys, at least one Singaporean had sex on his mind enough to come up with something to make love-making better and easier.

Declares Dr Stuart Koe, who has a PhD in pharmacy and about 17 years experience in the pharmaceuticals industry: "A good quality lubricant is essential. Those you can buy off the rack were either too sticky or dried easily.

"Those which were of good quality were usually imported and as a result, very expensive," says DrKoe, 40.

This kickstarted the research and development process for the perfect lube in local laboratories, although costs here are generally higher.

He and his companion, Mr Abra Lee, 29, pumped in about $100,000 to kick start the business, which began in 2010.

Besides intensive research in the labs, which lasted two years, they also formed focus groups - both gay and straight - to test their product. The results assured them that the product they had was worth offering to the masses.

"We made about 60 people compare our formula against other leading brands in the market, and nine out of 10 picked our formula," says MrLee, 29.

SuperSlyde was launched in April.

The colourless, odourless liquid is packaged in trendy orange-themed bottles and is suitable for use with condoms, claims Dr Koe.

It contains dimethiconol and dimethicone - types of silicones commonly used in conditioning shampoos.

About 3,000 bottles have since been sold to customers here and in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Australia and elsewhere.

"While sales in Singapore have been significant, 80 per cent of our business is for export," he adds. Most who buy the lubricant are aged 25 and above, according to their research.

Superslyde is manufactured in Singapore, says Dr Koe, beaming with pride.

"The regulatory environment here is very stringent - Singapore is a member of Pics (Pharmaceutical Inspection Convention and Pharmaceutical Inspection Co-operation Scheme), a European standard that is also recognised by Australia.

"This means that products manufactured by a Good Manufacturing Practice-certified plant here have their quality assured, and this is globally recognised," he adds.

Exports of non-oil made-in-Singapore goods - Nodex as the economists call it - typically consist of electronics, especially integrated circuits and computer parts.

Although unusual exports such as SuperSlyde Diamont Noir, and Goosoniqueworx (see other reports) are tiny in production scale, their impact is not negligible, says Mr Song Seng Wun, an economist at CIMB Research.

"Singapore has found itself more vulnerable in recent years because of a shift in consumer preference. Our exports have traditionally been very PC-focused, but mobile devices have now taken the world by storm.

"It's important for people to keep thinking of new ideas... so that there is a constant shift in the market," he remarks.

That these small startups with such niche target markets can survive and even thrive is also a testament to how affluent some societies have become, he adds.

"I see an increase in locally-produced goods, especially at the supermarkets, where we now have sauces and frozen prata made in Singapore. These are products you might not have seen about 10 years ago," he says.

Dr Koe and his team say they've been pleasantly surprised at how well-received SuperSlyde is .

"While sex may not be a dinner table conversation topic for most here, we've had customers posting photos of themselves with the lube on Facebook, which is quite liberal," comments Mr Nicholas Koh, the brand's market and communications manager.

Still, educating consumers about the possibilities silicone-based lubricants offer for their sex lives remains a challenge, they say.

"Asia is practically... virginal when it comes to introducing the concept of silicone-based lubricants. Many have never heard of it.

"At the same time, we are also working on getting SuperSlyde into North America, South Africa and the EU," says Mr Koh.

Mr Ravichandran Chithambaram wasn't "made in Singapore".

But each customised and hand-assembled guitar pedal that the 39-year-old makes proudly carries a "Made in Singapore" inscription.

Born in Malaysia, Mr Chithambaram is now a Singapore citizen and has been living here for the past 20 years.

Better known by his online moniker "Goose", he assembles each pedal lovingly by hand with specifically-chosen parts in his five-room Pasir Ris HDB flat.

The guitar pedals are not only sold here but to distributors in countries like Japan, Australia and the US.

His website, Goosoniqueworx, displays his products and orders are made via e-mail.

An avid musician, he began experimenting with constructing his own pedals back in 2004.

"Then, it was just a hobby. The pedals you buy off the shelf were not giving me the kind of sounds I wanted.

"People would often buy, then modify them. So I thought to myself, why modify when I can build it from scratch at home," he says with a chuckle.

"I learnt basic concepts about electronics in secondary school, where we made transistor radios, and encased them in the plastic boxes we'd find in mum's kitchen," he explains.

"I picked up the rest on my own, especially from information and guides uploaded onto the Internet." Mr Chithambaram confesses that he never imagined that he could make a living out of his hobby. "My friends started telling me I should quit poking at this venture and really consider selling my products," he says.

In 2008, he took their advice and put his pedals up for sale on the Internet.

The rest, as they say, is history.

In a good month, he can receive up to 50 orders for his pedals, which go for about $400 each.

Some of his customers have never heard of Singapore, but that is no obstacle, he says.

"What they're really concerned about is whether they're getting a good quality product. I feel a sense of patriotic pride when they receive it and like the product," he says.

Mr Muhammad Iskandar Shah makes a living out of what you would consider an old-school toy.

Since he started selling them in March, the 25-year-old Temasek Polytechnic graduate has received orders for his yo-yos from people in France, Hungary, and the US.

The yo-yos are all manufactured in Singapore, at a factory in Kallang, he adds.

His Diamont Noir yo-yos, which sells for between $134.90 and $154.90, have found enthusiasts all over the world.

Mr Iskandar's first collection features yo-yos in solid shiny shades like bright pink, purple, and blue.

Each is made from aircraft-grade aluminium alloy, and comes with a pouch and three dice - which act as counterbalances.

So far, 500 of the 72g toys have been sold, a result which has surprised him.

"My yo-yos have sold out at quite a few shops that carry them. I'm quite surprised at how well-received they are. After all, my business is small and new."

That he is a known name in the local and regional yo-yo scene has helped, he admits.

He was a five-time champion between 2007 and 2012 at the Singapore Yo-Yo Championships. He also clinched first place at the Asian-Pacific Yo-Yo Championships in 2005.

Before developing his own line, MrIskandar had his yo-yos sponsored from brands based in Taiwan, Japan, and the US.

"They were good, but could have been better. In terms of the shape and packaging of the yo-yos, I felt I could create an improved version," he says.

In March last year, he designed his first prototype, but found it lacking. It took him seven more tries before he got it right, says Mr Iskandar with pride.

But the road has not been easy, and he had to make sacrifices along the way.

To fund prototype development, he worked two jobs in polytechnic, earning $2,000 a month.

"I worked as a fast-food delivery man from 6pm to 10pm, and a valet driver from 11pm to 4am after that," he explains with a humble smile, adding that Saturday was his only rest day.

In January, he clinched a $50,000 grant from Singapore, which helps local entrepreneurs kickstart their businesses.

"I'm looking forward to trying out new colours for the second collection, and getting more exposure for the Singapore brand overseas," he says.