Business owners (from left) Aqilah Adnan of Benew; Ryan Len and Ella Zheng of Aaah House; and Fern Teo of Shrub. Credit: Lawrence Teo & Athirah Annissa

Yes, many companies folded during the Covid-19 pandemic. What’s happening today though seems to paint a refreshingly different picture. According to the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority, or ACRA – the statutory board that oversees business registrations here – a total of 64,304 new businesses opened in Singapore last year. (That’s 824 more than in 2020, the first year of the pandemic.) It’s not just us. Already in 2021, The New York Times reported that applications to start new enterprises in the US jumped in spite of the pandemic: 4.3 million businesses were registered in 2020 – a remarkable 24 percent increase over that of the previous year. 

READ MORE: In Singapore, Small Independent Stores Are Reshaping The Way We Shop

One doesn’t have to crunch numbers to get a sense of the vibrancy though. Take a walk through Joo Chiat, for example, and it’s little surprise why there’s plenty of talk about how this once-quaint neighbourhood in the east is shaping up to be the buzzy new Tiong Bahru (or as Conde Nast Traveler had put it in its March 2023 issue: “home to a rising creative class”). Clock its rush of new cafes, drinking holes, artisanal grocery stores and homeware boutiques that seem to keep on coming. (Anyone been to the understatedly chic, flavour bomb of a Japanese cafe that’s Tomo yet?) And, of course, there’s the continual proliferation of online businesses hawking anything from DIY jewellery to prints to crochet garments, many of which are Gen Z-owned.

READ MORE: Shrub Is The Indie Retail Haven You Need To Discover At Golden Mile Tower

The reasons behind the surge are manifold. Some business founders found inspiration amidst the unique constraints of the pandemic, which might explain the number of lifestyle brands that hawk the likes of candles and loungewear – stuff meant to enhance our lives during lockdown – that have popped up. Then there are those who got a pandemic-induced kick to set up the venture that they had always been thinking about. 

Says Fern Teo, the owner of Shrub – a shop that specialises in small art objects and tchotchkes that opened at Golden Mile Tower last October: “When I opened Shrub, I was in a headspace where I just didn’t care about any ‘what ifs’ anymore. I was open to doing this and having either a great time or a sh*t time… I was unequipped in many ways, but that was just fine.”

Here, we profile seven emerging local businesses – all set up during or after the pandemic – and chat with their founders on how they’re navigating today’s amorphous retail landscape and how others can too.


Credit:Lawrence Teo

Ryan Len (left) and Ella Zheng (right) are the husband-and-wife duo behind the conceptual multi-label design retailer Aaah House, which shares a shop space on Yong Siak Street in Tiong Bahru with another design-focused business, Studio Yono.

OPENED: July 2023

LOCATION: 1M Yong Siak Street – visitors can enter via another boutique, the longtime Tiong Bahru inhabitant Nana & Bird, or directly through the backdoor that’s on the alley behind

WHAT THEY SPECIALISE IN: Started by Ella Zheng and Ryan Len – the husband-and-wife team behind graphic design firm Aaah Studio – Aaah House is a conceptual retail label that stocks a variety of playful apparel, books, prints, ceramics and accessories by both local and regional creatives. (These include Zheng herself who crafts beaded jewellery with a delightful toy-like charm under the label Trigger Happy.) Studio Yono, on the other hand, started out as an online store offering art, furniture and design objects created by both established and emerging European designers, and is founded by Kaia Nelk – a Dutch-born former crime journalist who moved here in 2019. What the two businesses share in common besides a retail space? The designers they carry tend to be under-represented or are not carried anywhere else in Singapore.

THE VISION: For Zheng and Len – who have worked in Singapore’s graphic design landscape for nearly a decade – Aaah House is envisioned as a playground where they can experiment with different retail concepts, host small exhibitions, and provide a space to spotlight the creations of their fellow creatives. “We felt that it was time to transition from focusing solely on our practice to giving back to the community and supporting young, aspiring creatives both locally and in the region,” says Len. Nelk meanwhile grew up obsessed with art and design. After relocating to Singapore with her husband, she set out to decorate their home, but found it hard to find over  here the furniture and home objects of the European designers she was familiar with. Studio Yono was born last year to fill this gap.

Credit:Lawrence Teo

A former journalist who moved from Amsterdam to Singapore in 2019, Kaia Nelk (above) founded Studio Yono – which specialises in quirky art, lifestyle and design items by under-the-radar European creatives – last year. Instead of opening her own shop though, she shares a retail space with another newish Singapore-based art and design-focused label Aaah House, which focuses on a similar range of products – except that its wares hail from Singapore and the region.  



Zheng: “The decision-making and curation is definitely easier if you’re operating alone, but there are more advantages than drawbacks in sharing a space, in our opinion. For instance, we can split the rent and communal expenses. Additionally – since our target audiences differ – we can reach a wider pool of people than if we had gone solo… To make the process easier, it’s important to be flexible as well as mindful and respectful of each other’s opinions and decisions.”

Credit:Lawrence Teo

To make Aaah Haus’ innovative operation model work, the owners of each business take a collaborative stance towards the sharing of the space. “We don’t divide the space because we believe that since we are sharing it, everything should be mixed up to create a more cohesive look,” says Zheng. “We also try to explore interesting product pairings between Studio Yono, Aaah Haus, and Trigger Happy (Zheng’s handmade jewellery label) and change up our store offerings every few weeks to maintain a fresh experience for visitors.”


Len: “Don’t jump into the business half-heartedly. It’s like being pregnant: You either are or you aren’t – there’s no such thing as being half-pregnant. Once you’ve made your decision, give it your all and never doubt yourself. Create a concrete business plan, but remain flexible to be able to adapt if things don’t go as planned.”


Nelk: “I made a big career switch from working in media in Amsterdam to running my own art and design business on the other side of the world… Working in media, one learns to be really social and this training has helped me a lot with running Studio Yono in terms of interacting with customers and getting to know new potential artists and designers to bring in.”

Photography Lawrence Teo Hair Delcine Chan/Kizuki+Lim Makeup Sarah Tan


Credit:Lawrence Teo

Creative consultant Jariel Ann co-founded online store W8RLD as a means to connect the world to some of the most directional fashion labels in Southeast Asia. “Our aim is to create a seamless and risk-free experience for designers, allowing them to focus on creating exceptional garments at a comfortable pace without the burden of having to handle other responsibilities (such as marketing and shipping) that we take care of,” says Ann.

OPENED: Feb 2023


WHAT IT SPECIALISES IN: W8RLD (pronounced “world”) is an online multi-label store focused on representing young Southeast Asian artists and fashion designers opened by . On its well-curated line-up are some of the region’s most progressive labels including Malaysia’s Ghostboy (a rave-ready take on traditional Chinese attire) and Huntilanak (inventive, wearable “sculptures”); and the homegrown Denise Chong Adornments (sensual beaded garments and accessories).

THE VISION: Co-founders Jariel Ann and Aqilah Adnan (not pictured), both 25, have backgrounds in fashion consulting and marketing respectively. They conceptualised W8RLD with the goal of using it as a platform to connect the world to the region’s contemporary design scene, which they say tends to be under-discovered or still perceived as “very traditional”. At the same time, the business is meant to allow these emerging designers to do what they do best: design.  Says Ann: “We recognise the challenges faced by designers who often have to wear multiple hats. Our mission is to level the playing field and enable designers to focus on their core expertise while we take care of the rest (think aspects such as marketing, social media content creation and shipping)”. 


@W8RLD’s co-founder Jariel Ann shares tips on running the business, which opened in February and stocks brands ranging from @Ghostboy to @Adornments ✾. Read more about her POV as an emerging business herself in the Sept 2023 Make It Work! Edition of FEMALE out now on newsstands. #SmallBusinesses #SupportSmallBusiness #LearnOnTikTok #BusinessonTikTok #CareerAdvice #CareerTikTok #TikTokSG #FYP #FEMALEMag

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Ann: “Maintaining control over inventory, processes, and financial aspects requires a lot of discipline. Dealing with spreadsheets can be a massive headache, but it’s still an essential part of the job. I’m thus really grateful to have my partner Aqilah, who efficiently manages backend operations such as order fulfilment, packaging, and shipping… Each of us operates independently for the most part: I handle tasks such as invoicing, marketing, social media, inventory and website development while she takes a hands-on approach to packaging, quality control, shipping and order fulfilment. This arrangement works effectively because our responsibilities are clearly delineated and we always consult each other before making any significant decisions.”


Ann: “A big thing for us is AI. In the past, it was common to organise elaborate photoshoots to produce campaign images. Now with AI though, we can create campaigns at less cost and show our products in a greater variety of environments – they still look in-situ! Incorporating this into our workflow has definitely streamlined and added a fun element to our visuals. Customers get to experience something different too.”


Ann: “The way Gen Zers consume content has evolved significantly from previous generations. With TikTok and Instagram Shop functions becoming increasingly widespread, Gen Zers are far more open to making purchases directly through these platforms. Local labels and businesses are now also dedicating more resources to selling through social media options such as live streaming. I think this shift in consumer behaviour suggests that today’s audience is rediscovering the joy of supporting and buying from local businesses – it just takes place through different channels.”

Photography Lawrence Teo Hair Delcine Chan/Kizuki+Lim Makeup Sarah Tan


Credit:Lawrence Teo

Aloysius Yong (left) and Sarah Kee (right), the co-founders of stylish cafe and wine bar hybrid Ceres.

OPENED: March 2023

LOCATION: 18A Circular Road

WHAT IT SPECIALISES IN: Ceres (pronounced “see-reez”) is a cafe by day and wine bar by night with its pared-back menu focusing on quality produce (think sandwiches made with home baked sourdough sandwiches) inspired by the cafe scene in Copenhagen.

ITS VISION: One can say that Ceres also serves as a design mood board for its founders, Aloysius Yong and Sarah Kee – both 27 and friends since meeting in school as graphic design majors. With a keen eye for design, the duo have set out to create (with the help of an unnamed architect pal) a vibe that’s meant to recreate that of entering the home of a friend – one who is an aesthete of the highest order (and an Aesop fanatic). Both Yong and Kee started working in F&B after graduation and opening Ceres is their way of tying their love for coffee, wine and design under one roof. 


Modular interior design, art and wine are all part of its graphic design-trained founders Aloysius Yong’s and Sarah Kee’s formula to success Find out more about how these newcomers are taking on the F&B trade in their own way in the Sept 2023 Make It Work! Edition of FEMALE out now on newsstands. #SmallBusinessOwner #GenZ #SmallBusinesses #CareerAdvice #SupportSmallBusiness #SupportLocalBusiness #LearnOnTikTok #BusinessonTikTok #TikTokSG #FYP #FEMALEMag #SGNews

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Kee: “A lot of people seem to think that when you open a cafe, it’s mostly about making coffee and chilling out, but we actually work pretty long hours: on average 12-13 hours a day and we’re here six days a week.”

Credit:Lawrence Teo

The founders of Ceres have channelled their background in graphic design into F&B with Ceres, which is meant to be a space where three of their favourite things – coffee, wine and good design – coalesce under one roof.


Kee: “Since the pandemic, we have definitely seen more people willing to pay or spend more when they eat out and what they crave are well-curated experiences. They also seem to be more supportive if you’re a small local business – and I’m not just referring to customers. We are lucky to have had many friends help us out. For example, we have a friend who likes to bake as a hobby and we’ve enlisted her to bake sourdough bread exclusively for Ceres. To us, having a personal connection or chemistry is everything when it comes to collaborations, and I think it shows in our products.”

Photography Lawrence Teo Hair Sarah Tan Makeup Beno Lim, using MAC Cosmetics


Credit:Lawrence Teo

Gen Z boss lady Aqilah Adnan, 25, started her bodycare label Benew in 2021 as a means to enhance the showering experience – and after realising that the shower is as much the birthplace of lightbulb moments as it is an underrated space for self-care.

OPENED: June 2021


WHAT IT SPECIALISES IN: A range of vegan bodycare products (think body scrubs, moisturisers, exfoliating gloves, and lip balms) designed for those with sensitive skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis and keratosis pilaris in mind

THE VISION: Founder Aqilah Adnan (yes, she’s also one-half of the multi-label fashion e-tailer W8rld) was inspired to create her gentle formulations as she herself suffers from keratosis pilaris – a condition in which small, persistent bumps appear on the skin. Most skincare products targeted at people like Adnan tend to be clinical in design, but Benew’s are primed to rake in the social media likes. Take the brand’s signature sugar-based body scrub, which comes in the form of colourful, candy-esque balls that melt into skin when in contact with water, adding a fun and sensorial element to one’s showering experience. 


The main marketing platform for BeNew owner Aqilah? Tiktok! Read more about how she runs her self-care brand in our Sept 2023 Make It Work! Edition out now on newsstands. #SmallBusinessOwner #GenZ #SmallBusinesses #CareerAdvice #SupportSmallBusiness #SupportLocalBusiness #LearnOnTikTok #BusinessonTikTok #TikTokSG #FYP #FEMALEMag #SGNews

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“I’ve discovered that positioning myself at the forefront of the business (Aqilah appears frequently in Benew’s TikTok videos) allows me to establish a personal connection with my customers. My primary focus has been to consistently build Benew’s online community by ensuring a continuous customer experience and fostering authentic engagement with our customers to cultivate lasting brand loyalty… This has really helped Benew gain positive customer experiences that have led to word-of-mouth recommendations and repeat purchases.”


“In the post-pandemic landscape, consumers’ awareness of skincare products has reached new heights. While the clean beauty trend was big prior to the pandemic, it’s now evident that this concept alone might not suffice: people want efficacy too… I now have my eye on several emerging beauty, skincare and wellness trends that resonate strongly with most people. There’s the rising demand for products that protect the skin from digital pollution – just consider how often we are on our phones. Another is functional fragrances: when fragrances offer more than just a pleasant scent to include aromatherapy or mood enhancement benefits.”

Credit:Lawrence Teo

Starting from a batch of body scrubs, Benew has expanded to offer more products in the bodycare game – from moisturisers to gloves that further improve the scrub experience and a lip scrub-balm hybrid. Recognising the potential of TikTok as a key marketing platform, Aqilah has not only ensured that her products are designed to capture the eye, but also streams the behind-the-scenes of running a business to create authentic connections with customers.


“Two years ago, even before the launch of Benew, I recognised the significance of TikTok as my primary marketing platform. At that time, TikTok was predominantly known for fun content like dance challenges, but I saw its untapped potential for facilitating the growth of my small business. That’s when I began crafting video content and some of those videos went viral. In the earlier stages, I also experimented with live-streaming just for fun. Interestingly, live-streaming on TikTok has now become my primary source of revenue… To me, Instagram and TikTok fulfil distinctly separate purposes. Instagram serves as a portfolio for my business and is where I emphasise the aesthetics and USPs of my products. TikTok, on the other hand, is where I showcase the raw and genuine, behind-the-scenes moments of running the business. I find that my customers resonate more with my TikTok content due to its authenticity and through my TikTok presence, I’ve cultivated a close-knit community. For example, I have had customers that got to know Benew through TikTok and are now my friends in real life.”

Photography Lawrence Teo Hair Delcine Chan/Kizuki+Lim Makeup Sarah Tan


Credit:Athirah Annissa

Opened by Fern Teo, the store/multi-use space Shrub offers a wide range of punchy prints, zines and other artistic tchotchkes by local and regional makers. 

OPENED: Oct 2022

LOCATION: #01-28 Golden Mile Tower

WHAT IT SPECIALISES IN: Opened by Fern Teo – a 26-year-old with a graphic design background (as manifested in their own T-shirt label, Ripe) and a history of odd jobs – Shrub is a shop that stocks a variety of small wares designed mostly by local and regional talents. The wares include zines, prints, T-shirts, mugs, lighters and other tchotchkes while the vibe is riotous, colourful and heavily DIY, reflecting the non-arts background of many of the designers. “At Shrub, I stock things that people have made simply because they were curious,” says Teo, who identifies as they/them. “I strongly feel that people should do whatever they want, whenever they want. I think we’re too used to having grand plans or mad skills to start projects, and it doesn’t have to be that way. That way of working tends to create imposter syndrome, which is something a lot of artists struggle with.”


Mistakes are merely learning opportunities for Shrub’s owner Fern. Read more about how they run this charming store at Golden Mile Tower in our Sept 2023 Make It Work! edition out now on newsstands. #SmallBusinessOwner #GenZ #SmallBusinesses #CareerAdvice #SupportSmallBusiness #LearnOnTikTok #BusinessonTikTok #TikTokSG #FYP #FEMALEMag #SGNews

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THE VISION: Beyond retail, Shrub is also a multi-use space that’s shaped by the people who visit it. Various artists and collectives have staged exhibitions and magazine launches here, for example, and there are occasional open deck nights where anyone is welcome to try their hand at DJ-ing. “Shrub was created to carve out a space, energy and culture that I couldn’t find locally. I think I’m chasing a sort of feeling and I know others are too,” says Teo. “For me, the priority is the people who come through Shrub: They are what make and influence the space.”



“At the moment, Shrub is being curated quite intuitively and I’ve grown to accept that there’s no checklist of things that I should be looking for. If a design feels right, then we’ll go ahead and carry it. When there are new works coming in, I will usually ask whoever’s around me for a second opinion. I’ll also ask friends and regulars for feedback on what they would like to see more of at Shrub… I reach out to the artists I’m interested in through DMs, or if they’re able to meet in person, I would have a conversation with them to get to know them in person. If the vibes are right, I move on to confirm that we’ll stock them.”

Credit:Athirah Annissa

Occupying a former locksmith space at Golden Mile Tower that used to be run by Teo’s grandparents, the insouciant mix of contemporary art and vestiges from its past (think old padlocks and cutting machines) makes for a dream grunge set-up. Says Teo: “It’s really funny because the unit is really old, grimy and messy, but despite that, people feel that it’s a breath of fresh air due to our city’s rigid modern landscape. That’s the most common response I’ve gotten from regulars, passersby and random tourists.”


“I think people are starting to have more fluid views on spaces…I think there are a lot of us who are seeking deeper, more genuine connections with others within the physical spaces that we visit… In the future, I plan to have some music shows as well as non-transactional events such as pizza night – or bring in a zine and do a show-and-tell kind of night.”


“I have this belief that every artist taps into a unique plane of creative energy when they’re making something, and when you pick up their work and like it, it’s probably because you are also on that plane of creative energy. That interaction can’t happen through a screen!”

Photography Athirah Annissa Hair & Makeup Sarah Tan


Credit:Lawrence Teo

Gideon Kong (left) and Jamie Yeo, a husband-and-wife team of graphic designers, started their own design studio, gideon-jamie, before establishing Temporary Press – their independent publishing outfit – to make books and be involved not only in how these look, but also what they communicate.

OPENED: May 2022

LOCATION: #06-01 Primax Building on New Industrial Road

WHAT IT SPECIALISES IN: Temporary Unit is a bookstore that brings in niche art and design books and publications from around the world, run by the husband-and-wife team of Gideon Kong and Jamie Yeo. At present, it stocks approximately 100 titles that touch on a wide range of topics – from the quirky (a visual history of striking match advertisements in Singapore) to meditative (how food is tied to Singapore’s identity and development over the decades).

THE VISION: With its founders being graphic designers who run their own design studio (gideon-jamie) as well as small-scale publishing company (Temporary Press), a bookstore was simply a natural extension of what the duo does and stands for. “We stock titles that are hard to find here… They are also books we would have wanted to publish ourselves,” says Kong. At the same time, Temporary Unit doubles up as a space in which Kong and Yeo hold workshops on design topics and stage exhibitions of artists who interest them. 



Kong: “We do have Gen Z customers who are very interested in the books we have at the shop and have encountered some who stay on for a long while to carefully browse through our selection. After all, the books we produce and stock are not books that can easily be appreciated through a digital photo. This is because the physical form of the book is as important as the content it holds and the way it is designed says something about or in addition to its contents.”

Credit:Lawrence Teo

Temporary Unit is a bookstore that brings in niche art and design publications that can’t be easily found in Singapore. All three projects are housed in a spacious 1,500 sq ft industrial unit in the Ubi area, adding to its charm.


Kong: “I dare not predict people’s relationship with print but I feel that if print does die, it would be because the publications are poorly produced – works that have no need for their physical form to communicate its content… Personally, I find that my relationship with printed works or publications strengthens after having been constantly surrounded by digital media. Print provides a different medium for receiving and reflecting on content – the process of appreciating its content is slower-paced (than that of reading something digital), but it’s also a more productive one.”

Photography Lawrence Teo Hair Delcine Chan/Kizuki+Lim Makeup Beno Lim, using MAC Cosmetics

This article first appeared in the Sept 2023 Make It Work! Edition of FEMALE