Quirky gifts for Singapore's birthday

From quirky notebooks to bags made from old National Day banners, Singapore's birthday is an apt time to lap up locally designed products

Sunny August, with National Day less than a week away, is the month to celebrate all things Singapore.

And you can count on the design scene to fly the Singapore flag in some fun, experimental and patriotic collaborations.

A good place to shop for these new products is Singapasar, a design- centric weekend market featuring more than 800 souvenirs made by local designers and makers.

The event runs this weekend at the National Design Centre in Middle Road.

Fresh offerings include a Merlion-inspired bib and red- and-white necklaces made of polymer clay, ribbons and felt.

Then there is Notebook Vol 2: Inkling, the project of 10 established Singapore designers who push the boundaries of notebook design.

Home-grown specialist printer Dominie Press was tasked with making their ideas an actual product, no matter how outrageous the concepts.

Original creations include a notebook with a matte black cover, with all-black pages and white lines by Mr Jackson Tan of creative agency Black; and a series of 10 notebooks that play with colour gradation by Mr Pann Lim of Kinetic, a design and advertising agency.

These notebooks are displayed and sold in an exhibition now on at Deck, a gallery space in Prinsep Street.

Finally, if you want to support local design and be socially and environmentally conscious, check out advertising agency DDB Singapore's new range of tote bags.

Called LampPost bags, these carriers are upcycled from old National Day banners and made by seamstresses and tailors from the Singapore Association for Mental Health and social enterprise The Looms Workshops. All profits go to the makers.

What are the stories behind these initiatives? The Straits Times checks in with the teams behind these design projects.


Humble notebook gets funky

It's always a fascinating, almost magical feeling, to be able to have a physical connection to a surface as you bring something abstract into tangible visual form - be it with words, drawings or symbols.

MR JONATHAN YUEN, on the relevance of old-fashioned notebooks in this digital age

Their creations range from a notebook whose cover features crosswords and pages are made of treated potato skins, to a minimalist notebook with a thumb-tabbed index at the edge.

Mr Jonathan Yuen, 40, creative director and founder of inter-disciplinary graphic design studio Roots, made a notebook with 10 interchangeable cover sleeves - making the notebook as customisable as a mobile phone.

Each book sleeve is made with different paper and comes in various colours and textures, such as wood grain and leather.

Creative director of creative consultancy Do Not Design, Mr Tan Yanda, 32, designed a "Facebook", with a cartoonish face with hair jutting out of the edges of the notebook.


Mr Tan Yanda of creative consultancy Do Not Design, designed a “Facebook”, with a cartoonish face with hair jutting out from the edges of the notebook. PHOTO: DOMINIE PRESS

Mr Theseus Chan, 56, creative director of Work, who is often called the godfather of Singapore's graphic design scene, put a cheeky spin on his version. From its cover, it looks like a famous brand of notebook, but it is actually a reusable box that has loose leaves of paper inside.

  • VIEW IT / NOTEBOOK VOL. 2: INKLING

  • WHERE: Deck, 120A Prinsep Street

    WHEN: Till Aug 20, noon to 7pm (Tuesdays to Saturdays); noon to 5pm (Sundays)

    ADMISSION: Free

    The humble notebook is given a stylish makeover by 10 established local designers.

These notebooks are available at Notebook Vol. 2: Inkling, an exhibition that opened yesterday at Deck, an independent art space in Prinsep Street.

The notebooks cost between $18 and $32. Each has a limited print of 200 copies.

Organised by specialist printer Dominie Press, the event aims to highlight the relationship between design and print.

The creatives picked for this project are "at the top of their game in the industry and think differently and consider out-of-the-box solutions to problems", says Ms Junny Saw, director of business development and sales at Dominie Press.

Dominie Press funded the event, which cost a six-figure sum to stage.

The exhibition showcases people behind some of Singapore's most well-known design agencies: Chris Lee of Asylum, Jackson Tan of Black, Hanson Ho of H55, Jerry Goh of Hjgher and Pann Lim of Kinetic.

This designer notebook series first took place in 2010 and was titled Notebook Vol. 1 - Begin. Dominie Press was also the organiser then.

Even in an age where everything has pretty much gone digital, including note-taking, designers say the old-fashioned notebook is still relevant today.

Mr Yuen, who always carries a notebook with him, says it will always be important to those who love to write and draw.

"It's always a fascinating, almost magical feeling, to be able to have a physical connection to a surface as you bring something abstract into tangible visual form - be it with words, drawings or symbols."

And, as Mr Chan puts it, a notebook is a space of infinite possibility.

"A notebook is a place to say whatever you want. It's the perfect place for your thoughts, feelings and memories. It's a free space."


Banners transformed into bags


LampPost bags, featuring patriotic motifs such as lion heads and orchids, are made of lightweight cloth recycled from past National Day banners.ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

Old National Day banners are repurposed into colourful tote bags in a recent project by advertising firm DDB Singapore.

Called LampPost bags and made of lightweight cloth, the totes feature patriotic motifs such as lion heads and orchids. The first batch can be bought online at $28 each.

The materials were sourced from a banner-maker, which usually threw away its excess stock from previous years. Mr Mahesan M. and Ms Sharon Goh from DDB Singapore picked the ones with the most striking graphics.

The materials were then passed to the Singapore Association for Mental Health and social enterprise The Looms Workshops. Tailors and seamstresses at the two organisations then made the bags.

All sale profits will go to them.

Ms Nasyitah Tan, 42, co-founder of The Looms Workshops, says five women worked on the LampPost bags.

The organisation works with disadvantaged women who are employed to make handcrafted products and co-facilitate design- driven workshops."

Ms Tan says: "They have seen the banners during National Day and now they are making something out of them with their sewing skills. It's as good as a national bag."

The project has received support from luxury fashion store Club 21, which ordered 250 bags. On National Day, shoppers who purchase items from selected Club 21 stores will get a free bag.

DDB Singapore hopes to partner more organisations that have people who can sew, as well as get stock from more banner companies.

Mr Mahesan, 48, creative director at DDB Singapore, says: "The banners once served the purpose of celebrating the nation's birthday and now they have a second purpose that will help someone else."

•Go to www.lamppostyle.com to purchase a bag.


Sungei Road market gone but not forgotten


Digital content publisher Our Grandfather Story recreates the look of a Sungei Road market stall at the Singapasar design market.PHOTO: OUR GRANDFATHER STORY

The Singapasar design market, which draws design buffs and a young, hip crowd, will have an unusual stall this weekend: a former vendor from the Sungei Road market.

Mr Lee Yew Tee, 68, who had been selling his wares at Sungei Road for the past 26 years before the market closed permanently last month, has set up a booth selling old items such as coins, dollar notes and stamps.

Other than the indoor air-conditioned setting, his stall is almost like his original one, where wares are laid out on a ground sheet on the floor.

Nearby, digital content publisher Our Grandfather Story has recreated the look of another stall from the flea market, selling postcards with images of the Sungei Road market - also on a ground sheet. The firm was also the one which brought Mr Lee to the design market.

Although heritage groups have lobbied for alternatives, Sungei Road market was permanently closed to make way for future residential projects.

Including stalls from the old market lends a grassroots touch to the latest edition of Singapasar, which started in 2015 selling merchandise and food from local designers and makers.

This year's event features more than 800 products, such as furniture, food, bags and accessories.

Taking part are 30 vendors such as indie bookstore BooksActually; Ji Xiang Confectionery, which is known for its handmade ang ku kueh; and fashion label GinLee Studio.

The market is organised by The Farm Store, a retail label that sells in-house products and those by other local designers.

For the first time, there is a display corner for newly launched merchandise.

These include The Farm Store's Singapore Skyline Cushion series (from $19), which has five plushies with images of iconic spots here, such as the conservatories and Supertrees at Gardens by the Bay, as well as The Merbaby, a children's bib modelled after the Merlion.

Fashionistas will love The Lorem Ipsum Store's limited-edition SG52 jewellery. Some designs include a necklace and brooch done in patriotic colours of red and white. Items from this series are priced between $15 and $70.

The Farm Store hopes to pull in about 12,000 people this year. The company's brand manager Mabel Low, 29, says the annual event has become a launch pad for young, unknown brands and new products.

"These brands have a good story to tell with their products and concepts. With so many local brands in one spot, the market becomes like a party."

•Singapasar is now on at the Atrium and Design Gallery 1, National Design Centre, 111 Middle Road. It is open from 11am to 8pm today and tomorrow. Entry is free.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 05, 2017, with the headline 'Designed to celebrate'. Print Edition | Subscribe