The Singapore story behind each motif and design

Local firms Onlewo and ipse ipsa ipsum celebrate the distinctly SG spirit in their products

Onlewo founder Mike Tay (left), and ipse ipsa ipsum founder and creative head Saurabh Mangla (standing, right) with designer Nathan Yong.
Onlewo founder Mike Tay (left), and ipse ipsa ipsum founder and creative head Saurabh Mangla (standing, right) with designer Nathan Yong.PHOTO: ONLEWO AND IPSE IPSA IPSUM

Browsing through Singapore design studio Onlewo’s colourful fabrics evokes a feeling of familiarity — each motif found on its homeware products tells a heartfelt story about Singapore.

Take the My Home collection, featuring four patterns titled Blk 1, Blk 2, Blk 3 and Blk 4 after the naming convention of apartment blocks in Housing Board estates, as an example. The unique geometric patterns are reminiscent of the “many faces of Singapore’s HDB blocks”.

While Onlewo draws inspiration from familiar scenes in Singapore, furniture retailer ipse ipsa ipsum celebrates local designers, working closely with them to create products deeply influenced by Singapore’s rich history and local motifs. The brand teams up with craftsmen at its own production facility — the ipse ipsa ipsum Arts and Crafts Centre in India — using unique materials for bespoke creations.

Both brands are among a selected group of Singapore names offering products, goods and services that reflect their strong connection to the country under the Made With Passion national marketing initiative. The initiative celebrates lifestyle brands that bring to life the Singapore spirit of turning possibilities into reality.

Inspiration from Singaporeans and Singapore life

For ipse ipsa ipsum, Singapore culture has always been integral to its products. Its founder and creative head Saurabh Mangla says: “We have taken Singaporean art and craft, and given it a twist with unorthodox materials. For example, our Peranakan Floor Mirror was inspired by a beaded bedspread at the Peranakan Museum, and the Fort Canning Park leaf is an example of biomimicry from an actual leaf found in Fort Canning Park.”

The Peranakan Desk Mirror is a desk vanity mirror handcrafted with coloured bone inlay pieces to create a Peranakan-inspired motif on the back. The clover-shaped frame is also handcrafted with polished steel and electroplated with brass. PHOTO: IPSE IPSA IPSUM

Beyond drawing inspiration from Singapore’s vibrant cultural heritage and flora, the brand, which allows customers to fully customise their furniture, supports Singapore’s creative talent. For instance, it has worked with designers Jeremy Sun on The Straits Collection, Nathan Yong on the Nathan Yong Collection, and Brandon Yeo on the Solicitude Collection.

Mr Mangla says there is “no need to go looking for design talent overseas when we have spectacular talents in our own backyard”, adding that the firm aims to work with at least two local designers a year.

He himself has worked on designs for the brand’s in-house collection, which includes the Joo Chiat Sideboard, Keong Saik Nesting Tables and Armenian Street Tables, named after well-known street names in Singapore with colourful histories.

Meanwhile, Onlewo celebrates patterns and motifs inspired by iconic Singapore neighbourhoods, landmarks or scenes depicting a slice of life — fashioning them with artful care on homeware items, from wallpaper to fabric and upholstery used for items such as cushions or lamps.

Onlewo’s patterns and motifs draw inspiration from Singapore neighbourhoods and landmarks, such as its City In The Garden pattern, which features the Singapore Botanic Gardens, the Singapore Art Museum, colonial black and white bungalows, Newton Food Centre, the historical Cathay building, and Ion Orchard. PHOTO: ONLEWO

Founder Mike Tay says: “My inspiration comes from looking introspectively at my life — where my joy comes from… and when an idea is seeded from that introspection, and I begin to express it, the idea inevitably develops in the context of this country I have lived in almost all my life. The places I have lived, the food I love with my friends, the tradition and culture we are guided by are Singapore in every sense.”

The self-taught designer established the brand in 2015 with the aim of preserving and sharing these memories through design. He draws inspiration from stories across Singapore, “especially people who dedicate their time and effort in helping others, the ordinary heroes of our society”.

Selling the Singapore story to the world

While the current global health and economic crises have affected Singapore brands, both firms are optimistic that immense potential lies ahead.

Mr Mangla says: “Singapore is at the crossroads of a variety of cultures and subcultures, and at the same time, it aspires to embrace technology with sustainability.” On ipse ipsa ipsum’s omni-channel platform launched in April last year, customers use the augmented reality feature and product customiser to visualise how the pieces look with other furniture, and explore different materials and options from the comfort of their home.

One of the hallmarks of the ipse ipsa ipsum Nathan Yong Collection is the variety of options that customers have to personalise individual pieces. Tables or sofas, like the Udaipur Sofa, can have customised attachments such as lamps or mirrors. Customers may also choose from a variety of authentic leather hides in colours such as white or grey. PHOTO: IPSE IPSA IPSUM

To compete on the global stage, Mr Tay also believes that “local brands have to offer something truly unique to international consumers”.

He notes: “The most important (part) of that something is our story. In this era where sophisticated consumers are looking for meaningful consumerism, quality designs with local, experienced stories will build a stronger foundation, and are better ready to present themselves on the world stage.”

Singapore kueh, or local pastries and desserts, and Peranakan culture also make an appearance in Onlewo’s products, including men’s shirts. PHOTO: ONLEWO

The two brands are also determined to keep the Singapore flag flying in the months to come.

For instance, Onlewo is working with a young artist to raise funds for two groups that help disadvantaged Singaporeans, while ipse ipsa ipsum is working with Mr Sun again, on a biophilia-inspired lifestyle collection which will be launched early this year.

Onlewo’s Mr Tay adds: “Singaporean designs will express a more authentic and intimate Singapore story. (And) it is a natural path for us to hone our business acumen in Singapore before venturing out. It’s also logical to build our foundation on our home ground. Patience, stamina and keeping the passion alive will one day get us ready for the world stage.”

Showcasing Singapore's passions, in all shapes and forms

Onlewo and ipse ipsa ipsum are just two of many local brands championed as part of the Made With Passion initiative.

A joint collaboration by the Singapore Brand Office and the Singapore Tourism Board and supported by Enterprise Singapore, the Made With Passion initiative was launched in November last year to showcase selected local lifestyle brands to raise consumer awareness and appreciation, while inspiring brand owners and Singaporeans to pursue their dreams with passion, as every brand has a lot to offer to the Singapore story with their products.

Industries come together to showcase how Singapore’s passions come in many shapes and forms under different pillars.

Various industry pillars visually represented as iconic shapes under the Made With Passion initiative. PHOTO: SINGAPORE BRAND OFFICE

Onlewo comes under the fashion and accessories pillar, visually represented under the Made With Passion initiative as an angled arch symbolising a doorway to infinite possibilities in fashion, while ipse ipsa ipsum falls under the design and decor pillar, represented by stairs to reflect the multi-disciplinary nature of design and furnishing.

Other industries are represented by other iconic shapes inspired by Singapore imagery, focusing on the brands’ commitment to a craft and ambition to succeed, among other attributes.

Discover other local lifestyle brands and be inspired by their stories via Instagram @madewithpassionsg or Made With Passion’s website. You can also shop local and support Made With Passion brands on Shopee, for gifts that truly reflect the Singapore spirit. Don’t miss out on Shopee-exclusive gifts, bundle giveaways and opportunities to catch local brands in action. Click here to find out more.