Toy story: Comics fan builds model business

The seventh Singapore Toy, Game & Comic Convention this weekend will showcase the best of pop and geek cultures. This is the first of a four-part series on local small and medium-sized enterprises making it big on the comic and gaming scenes.

SUPERHERO Green Lantern has performed wonders in his many fictional escapades but the real-world inspiration he gave Singaporean Jackson Aw might be his most enduring achievement.

The masked hero's ability to conjure things through a special ring left an indelible mark on Mr Aw when he began devouring the comics in secondary school.

That interest sparked his creative urges and helped set him on the path towards entrepreneurship and his firm Mighty Jaxx, which makes collectible art figurines based on fictional and real characters.

"Green Lantern has the power to create something out of nothing by sheer willpower and to me, that is, like, crazy... imagine what you could do with that," said Mr Aw.

The self-described serial entrepreneur is now chief toymaker at Mighty Jaxx, which he founded a couple of years ago.

It followed his first taste of business when he started importing vintage cameras that he jazzed up afterwards by making funky sleeves or leather bodies.

Mr Aw, who was doing national service at the time, took the dolled-up cameras and started peddling them, first at flea markets for about US$200 (about S$250) each, before setting up an online store, as well as placing them with retailers.

The vintage camera venture, Dark Room Army, did so well that it was eventually sold to a local camera retailer for an undisclosed six-figure sum.

By then, Mr Aw was bitten by the entrepreneurship bug and never regretted bypassing the conventional route of being a salaried employee after he graduated with a diploma in interactive media from Nanyang Polytechnic.

"I think it is because I didn't know what to do," said the 24-year-old with a laugh, when asked why he chose to go straight into setting up his own business.

"My No. 1 passion is to find out how things are made, mix it up with something new and merge it with my interest in urban art."

Many people his age are probably green with envy at what he has achieved so far in combining adult responsibilities with childhood fancies.

His current venture, Mighty Jaxx, works with contemporary, street and graffiti artists to transform their two-dimensional artworks into three-dimensional figures. The firm employs five full-time staff in design, marketing and sales jobs.

The figurines, which are manufactured in countries such as China and the Philippines where production costs are lower, include irreverent statuettes showing Chinese communist leader Mao Zedong with Mickey Mouse ears and one where demure character Snow White wields a grenade.

They are sold online and through designer toy stores and galleries at prices ranging from $17 to $480.

About 65 per cent of customers are from the United States, while the Singapore market makes up just 15 per cent of the clientele. The rest are from Asia and places as far apart as Israel, Canada and Russia.

Turning that fantasy job into reality would not have been possible without Mr Aw's business and life partner, Ms Ella Mesenas, whom he met while they were studying at Nanyang Polytechnic.

Ms Mesenas, 24, has been with him every step of the way in his entrepreneurship endeavours, helping with events promotion, sales and marketing.

She even lugs heavy stock to the company's warehouse every now and then.

She is also an urban art enthusiast and contemplated working for an animation studio, but gave that up after an internship stint.

"It is very depressing being an animator. It is very magical when you watch cartoons, but when you see how it is done, where you are there countless hours drawing it out, it just kind of spoils the magic," said Ms Mesenas.

Working in close proximity with each other has some level of stress, Mr Aw and Ms Mesenas confessed, but it has not strained their relationship.

Both are now focused on expanding business opportunities.

The company recorded sales of $400,000 in the last financial year, not bad for a firm that was established in 2012 at a start-up cost of $20,000.

Mr Aw is targeting a 50 per cent increase in revenue to $600,000, as he considers opening in Shanghai. "Everything is so much bigger there - the market, the population, the potential, the willingness to invest more in staging exhibitions."

feimok@sph.com.sg