I remember: UIC and its made-in-Singapore detergents

UIC washing powder a household name

Brothers Lim Thiam Ting (left), 73, and Lim Siong San, 69, are long-serving employees at the UIC detergent factory, having worked there for the last 50 years. The elder Mr Lim started as a production worker but is now a storekeeper, while his brother
Brothers Lim Thiam Ting (left), 73, and Lim Siong San, 69, are long-serving employees at the UIC detergent factory, having worked there for the last 50 years. The elder Mr Lim started as a production worker but is now a storekeeper, while his brother now drives a forklift.ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

Jurong boy Lim Thiam Ting, the oldest of 10 children, got a job at a new factory in the area 50 years ago.

A few months after the 23-year-old started work, the $5 million detergent factory was officially opened. It was called United Industrial Corporation, or UIC.

Fifty years down the road, the Jurong factory is still making detergents and Mr Lim, now 73, still works there.

His brother, Siong San, 69, joined UIC a few months after him in November 1965 and is also still working at the factory, whose spray tower for making washing powder was a landmark at that time.

But after a series of corporate changes, the factory is now under the Universal Integrated Corporation Consumer Products, or UICCP.

At the opening of the factory in October 1965, Finance Minister Lim Kim San called on people to support made-in-Singapore goods.

In 1965, UIC launched a washing powder under the brand Gipo, Jiebao in Chinese, meaning "clean treasure".

But it was no sales treasure.

The quality of the batches of powder used at the launch was not very good, Mr Lim recalled. Guests were given free sample packets, but the brand probably gave people a bad impression and did not do well subsequently, he said.

UIC had better luck with products under the UIC brand.

In the 1980s, the UIC advertising jingle - "UIC, oh UIC, clean and green for you and me. UIC!" - made a deep impression and is a jingle that many people in Singapore can still recall.

When Mr Lim joined UIC, most housewives used soap and wooden boards to wash clothes.

"In the past, my mother used to wash clothes using soap, then it slowly changed," Mr Lim said in Mandarin. These days, while powder detergent still makes up the bulk of UIC's detergent sales, sales of liquid detergents are fast growing. "Maybe housewives these days are getting lazier. It's easier to use the liquid detergents. You don't have to get your hands dirty scooping up the powder," he said.

Mr Lim, who is now a storekeeper, started as a production worker and remembered having to push 300kg worth of powder on trolleys.

A bachelor when he joined UIC, he is a grandfather now; his brother, barely 20 when he started work there, has three grown-up children now.

"I did all kinds of jobs here," said the younger Mr Lim, who now drives a forklift.

"Things haven't changed much (at the factory)," he added.

Said the older Mr Lim: "We feel very comfortable here. We don't feel like leaving."

Ho Ai Li

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 25, 2015, with the headline 'UIC washing powder a household name'. Print Edition | Subscribe