By now, you might be well acquainted with many of our local businesses. You know the names – those that command waitlists for their hyped-up collaborations or those known for dropping special releases for their viral bags. And while we love seeing the support that many big-name local labels are getting, we are just as equally excited when we find a label that is still under the radar.
The mushrooming of more independent businesses and retail concepts since the beginning of the pandemic – most of which operate in the virtual space – is undeniably fuelling this thrill of discovery among shoppers. After all, there’s nothing quite like scoring an item from small-scale businesses before everyone else gets wind of it.
In that spirit, we have collated over 20 independent businesses – ranging from labels making bold artisanal accessories to beauty brands with more conscious backstories – that you want to get to know.
What’s the business about: This subversive Y2K-centric label prides itself as a brand that creates wearable art. Indeed, designs such as tank tops, corsets and baby tees, are adorned with DIY artworks that are airbrushed, handbleached or handpainted. More recently, the label has turned one of its signature motifs – tribal tramp-stamp-inspired tattoos – into a series of semi-permanent tattoo kits using jagua ink.
Who’s behind it: Self-taught fashion designer Donna Chua, 21, who is currently pursuing a degree in computer science at Nanyang Technological University started the brand around the middle of 2020. “Epic is not only a cacophony of eccentric and unique clothing, but a product of my infinite exploration of personal ideas and inspirations,” she says. “Epic’s range is limitless in expression, style and medium. There’s no saying what’s coming next.”
Where to get it: Head to its website at www.epicgirl.club
What to expect: Everyday streetwear staples with a healthy serving of positive affirmations. The tees and caps bear comforting slogans like “Good days are coming to you” and “Rest, reboot & repeat”. The brand largely works on a pre-order basis: they start by collecting orders first, then the items go into production and get sent out to buyers when it’s ready. This helps it prevent dead stocks, thereby doing away with unnecessary waste. The retail model also lets it more room to experiment with styles, colours and designs that its customers love.
Who’s behind it: Run by sisters Liyana and Iwani Hashim in August 2020, Wacky Wears first started out as an earrings brand before rebranding themselves into the Wacky Wears that fans love them for today. Liyana runs the brand full-time, while Iwani works as a product designer aside from her role in co-managing Wacky Wears.
“Originally, we dabbled with selling earrings, even though neither of us wore them at the time. It was more of a way to support our daily expenses back in university,” said the duo, who prefer to reply as a collective. “Looking back, we realised that our ‘why’ wasn’t particularly strong, which was why the earrings phase of Wacky Wears became unsustainable.” Meanwhile, Iwani had been illustrating on the side and had thoughts of sharing her artworks as prints or incorporating them into apparel like T-shirts. When she pitched this idea for a rebrand to Liyana, they came up with a proper plan and decided to take the leap.
Where to get it: Check out www.wackywears.co
What to expect: Barely a year old, this “for-fun T-shirt project” is exactly that. The tops are designed by a revolving roster of artists and each drop – or ‘series’ as it’s termed by the team – is produced in limited quantities. Clock its wicked collaborations in the past with artists such as @lunch.666, @brozm and @liuyiohno. Homegrown silk screen printing outfit Konstrukt Labs handles the production.
Who’s behind it: Pools is helmed by artist and freelance graphic designer John Fan, and supported by Goh Zhong Ming and Debbie Lee of Konstrukt Labs. “In the year leading up to starting Pools, I was doing a lot of personal work and felt that there was a lot of ‘dead space’ that comes with solitary work,” explains Fan. “This led me to believe that engaging in a community-based project could be a fulfilling way to complement my independent practice. It was also a great medium for connecting with my peers and local creatives I followed on Instagram.”
Where to get it: Via www.poolsproject.com
What to expect: T-shirts with fun, wholesome and at times romantic messages.
Who’s behind it: Ryan Haiqal, 20-year-old student advertising student from Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts runs Honeymoon Stage as a one-man show. And by that we mean, he handles the marketing, designing, sourcing, packing, and shipping by himself. The DIY spirit continues in the way he creates the visual branding for the brand. He says: “Recently, I start reaching out to my very close friends to be models for Honeymoon, as well as a close friend who really wanted to shoot for my latest two campaigns.” The Gen Zer also cites music and art, the retro-inspired Japanese label Vuja De, Tyler the Creator, Virgil Abloh’s ‘three per cent rule’ and his experience working at a vintage shop in Bugis as some of his creative inspirations.
He says: “I actually love the ‘honeymoon stage’ high point in a relationship. I love how nothing in the world matters and it’s just you and your partner together. I think I’m a person who just loves love – it’s sweet and it’s happy, most of the times… I feel like it’s fun. And if it doesn’t work out, there’s always that nostalgic feeling of how you wish things were again and how you wish you could turn back time to those moments.”
“That’s kind of what I wanted to evoke and embody in my products. Like how an artist has a canvas to put their feelings on, mine is my T-shirt at the moment. Basically, you’re wearing my feelings, my ideas, and my creative side,” he adds.
Where to get it: Hit it up on TikTok or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
What to expect: No-frills ’90s-tinged wardrobe perennials such as camisoles, flare pants and mermaid skirts that let you channel your inner Charmed sister. The brand also focuses on being ethical and sustainable by producing its designs locally and making sure that each design is made-to-order and produced in small batches of 25 pieces
Who’s behind it: 21-year-old business graduate Denyse Oh started the label in 2020
Where to get it: Add your items to cart at its e-commerce site www.naouu.com
What to expect: Pouches, bags and accessories – all of which are lovingly handmade with a distinctive wabi-sabi aesthetic that features raw and textural elements. For instance, hobo bags and crossbody sling bags feature artistically crinkled fabric. The brand also focuses on textile exploration and uses organic materials such as onion peels, rust pigments and wood for its creation. A piece of good news for fans: It is currently exploring expanding into a clothing line.
Who’s behind it: Temasek Polytechnic apparel design and merchandising graduate Fiona Ng started the brand in 2020 amidst the pandemic as a creative outlet. “It allowed me to explore various crafts. I first learned about natural dyeing in my fashion design course and wanted to pursue it further after graduation,” says Ng, who has experimented with natural dyeing, braiding, and shashiko stitching (a form of Japanese embroidery using a running stitch) techniques.
Where to get it: On its e-shop at www.stilnook.com
What to expect: Stylish athleisure brand based in Singapore with product categories spanning activewear and loungewear. The brand prides itself on offering inclusive product ranges that cater to Asian bodies as well as petite and plus-sized customers. Even their colours are said to flatter different skin tones.
Who’s behind it: Junissca Tantono and Malcolm Sim started the business during Covid-19 from an extra bedroom space. Tantona heads the product development, marketing and publicity, sales, operation and customer service aspects of the business while Sim deals with the accounting and data analysis. Since then, their team has grown to four.
Where to get it: Shop online at www.urbnzd.co
What to expect: If pastelgore is on your aesthetics vision board, then Claycat, which was started in 2021, is a must-see. The brand is known for its handmade head-turning accessories – think pendants made to resemble mushrooms pustulating with eyeballs, or voluptuous vampire lips and pierced lungs all strung together with pastel beads and crystals.
Who’s behind it: Claycat is the brainchild of 20-year-old Zoey Lim, who runs the business full-time. “The business started as a hobby, and I was putting everything I made on sale. People started to catch on with my work, and I’ve never been happier and honoured for the encouragement I get from people admiring my work.”
Where to get it: Via its Instagram account @claycatco
What to expect: Tropicore-meets-Y2K accessories such as oversized floral necklaces and crystal beaded bracelets. The brand started off selling shoes in 2020 during the peak of the pandemic before it rebranded in 2021 to become a maker of statement costume jewellery. Today, it is adored for its necklaces in particular.
Who’s behind it: Faith Teo, 20, a first-year psychology student at the Singapore Management University who also models part-time. “I started out doing shoe customisations, where I was digitally designing and hand-painting shoes. When 2021 rolled around I decided to revamp my brand and redesign everything from scratch,” she says. “I picked up knitting and crocheting in 2021 as a hobby and decided to focus on the handcrafted aspect for the next chapter of my brand. In 2022, chunky and abstract necklaces were taking the world by storm and I loved the way they looked. That was when I decided to try to make them myself. I ended up doing a soft launch online and I was blown away by how much love and attention they were receiving.”
Where to get it: On its Instagram page @yea.imadeit
What to expect: Founded in 2022, the large focus of this brand is on wood-accented jewellery. More recently, it has gone into making fluffy crocheted bags and accessories. Contrary to how most brands own a signature item or look, Dillydallydally is one of the few that are constantly evolving. While the brand creates adorably squishy bags and wood-themed accessories that may be perfect for your next concert fit, Dillydallydally is always about keeping the product mix fresh as it works to slowly introduce new styles.
Who’s behind it: Dion Lim, 21, who also freelances as a photographer and videographer
Where to get it: On Instagram at @dillydallydally
What to expect: Founded in 2020, Objects of Mass Distraction is a multidisciplinary studio specialising in jewellery and lifestyle products, including incense holders and charms for your Crocs. These are made entirely from found objects and natural materials like stones and seashells from locales ranging from Trapani, a city on the western coast of Sicily to East Coast Beach. No two designs are ever alike, because where other creators work with pre-produced parts such as beads or charms, the brand sources materials straight from Mother Nature.
Who’s behind it: Charlene Kuah, who also freelances as a copywriter. Kuah says that a lot of her work involves “elevating and re-contextualizing things that people may not immediately find beautiful or even worthy of a second look”. Yet, when she pairs two mismatched rocks with pearls to form a pair of earrings, they are bound to garner more than a second look.
Where to get it: Enquire through its Instagram page, @objects_of_mass_distraction
What to expect: Silver and beaded jewellery that is infinitely versatile, given that you can wear one on its own and make as much of a style statement as if you were to layer several of the designs together. In particular, the designs are perfect for those looking to imbue their looks with a certain Y2K vibe. The brand uses a multitude of materials including strings of pearls and edgier chains to piece together its creations, and each piece is topped off with a multitude of charms such as winged hearts or stars bearing sad smiley faces.
Who’s behind it: Another brand that was birthed amidst the circuit breaker of 2020, Kopi.Toast is the brainchild of PR account coordinator Kwang Shi Ying, who is a self-professed lover of jewellery before she even made her first piece. What started as a hobby to pass the time became a small business that’s slowly built up a following on Instagram.
“It’s hard for me to encapsulate Kopi.Toast’s brand in a single descriptive word because I believe that my designs are a balance between uniqueness and approachability,” she says. “Each collection released is intentionally designed to offer something for everyone, regardless of whether you gravitate towards simplicity or a bolder design. It’s versatile enough to be worn for casual, everyday wear to more dressed, special occasions.”
Where to get it: It’s Instagram, @kopi.toast
What to expect: Quirky and unique lifestyle products and gifts that promise the illicit a chuckle from your recipient. Perhaps the biggest differentiator for Give This Crap‘s products is that you never know what you might find. From jarred poetry and cute socks to tiny messages rolled up into pill capsules and a card game to decide whether you’re in a ‘situationship’ or relationship, there’ is no telling what novel ideas you can get here.
Who’s behind it: Run by Melissa Tan and Glenda Tang, who are also the brains behind creative agency Two Sleepy Heads Creative Studio
Where to get it: Its e-shop launches on Oct 31
What to expect: If you dig fluffy anthropomorphic critters, you’ll dig Sara Street. The label’s signature motif is a rabbit with a permanently grumpy face named Laura. The merch fleshing out Laura’s world spans stickers, art prints, keychains and soft toys – which are all handmade. At once kawaii and twee, here’s a label that makes cool the blitheness of girlhood (and it started before NewJeans).
Who’s behind it: Artist and graphic designer Sara Ho started the business in 2020. “The things I create are primarily a way to keep my inner child alive and less about marketability, and this longing for nostalgia probably stems from the desire to relive a time when life was free from the responsibilities and stress (that come with adulthood),” says the 32-year-old.
Where to get it: Find Ho’s creations at www.sarastreet.com
What to expect: Around Gallery is a shop-slash-gallery space. Central to the curation of the shows and wares here is a desire to recreate the feeling of discovering a friend’s treasure trove. Think illustrations by local and international artists, a selection of risograph works, and collectables like sticker sets, keychains, clips and washi tape.
Who’s behind it: The space is founded by longtime pals Cheryl Kook and Angeline Toh. Kook is an artist and had been hosting pop-up shows in various locations over the years, but decided to build a space of her own to run them more effectively. Meanwhile, Toh is a graphic designer who handles the branding and marketing of Around Gallery.
Where to get it: 3 Everton Park, #01-73
What to expect: Think of this as an emporium of surprises. Open Door Store is a double-storey space that’s akin to a minimart of quirky objects – especially those by Singapore artists and creatives. Clock T-shirts with exclusive prints from a variety of artists, and accessories that spoof retro design icons and everyday objects.
Who’s behind it: Co-founders Goh Zhong Ming and Debbie Lee. The duo has been running their silkscreen printing studio Konstrukt Labs since 2017, which has become a go-to name among many artists and designers here for their printing services. This has allowed them to be versed with the problems these creatives face here, including the lack of places to stock their merch. Open Door Store was born out of this – its name refers to how its inventory is mostly made up of things created by friends and clients and that anyone is welcome.
Where to get it: #01-16B Kapo Factory Building on Playfair Road
What to expect: This quaint store on the ground floor of Golde Mile Tower used to be a locksmith but is now a cult multi-use space stocking some of the coolest wares and designs by indie creators. It stocks a range of prints, zines, posters, clothing, pins, and other assorted wares from local, regional and international artists.
Who’s behind it: Visual artist Fern Teo started Shrub in Oct last year when they took over the locksmith shop from their grandparents when the seniors retired. “As a space, we share it with the community. So you have people taking over doing art shows, interactive events, magazine launches, and sometimes parties where people come and spin open DJ decks. In the future, I plan to have maybe some music shows, and also non-transactional events like pizza night, or bring a zine, show and tell kind of nights,” they say.
Where to get it: #01-28 Golden Mile Tower
What to expect: Qwerky Colours sells plant-based semi-permanent hair dyes (called “conditioning colour”) in vibrant trendy shades. The products function as a conditioner that coats your tresses with colour that will last anywhere from one to three months. The affordable plant-based formula is free of peroxide, ammonia, and alcohol, meaning that it won’t damage your hair or break the bank. We also love the range of trendy rainbow tones available, which includes everything from a fashionable hot pink (‘Barbie’) and neon orange (‘Hey Tiger’) to a lustrous teal (‘Fairy)’ to a mysterious midnight blue (‘12am’). Adventurous souls can also pick up multiple colours and DIY their own custom shade.
Who’s behind it: Koh Qi Wen, founded the brand in 2021. She was spurred to start the business after the bad experience of using semi-permanent hair dyes in the market that dried her locks out, smelt unbearable, and were not long-lasting. Hoping to encourage others to unapologetically express themselves without damaging their tresses, she founded Qwerky Colour with the mission of bringing “affordable, nondamaging, long-lasting hair dye in trendy shades to the masses.”
Where to get it: Check out its products on www.qwerkycolour.com
What to expect: 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 bonus: the products’ cheery designs are primed to rake in the social media likes.
Who’s behind it: Founder Aqilah Adnan started the business in 2021 as she wanted to create her own gentle formulations as she herself suffers from keratosis pilaris – a condition in which small, persistent bumps appear on the skin.
Where to get it: Shop at www.benew.online
What to expect: A small-but-mighty grooming brand, whose hero (and only, for now) product is The Clay Hybrid hairwax, which is developed specifically for the Singaporean climate.
Who’s behind it: Ian Ho and his (very private) business partner founder the brand in July 2023.Having spend nearly a decade in the local market distributing beauty and grooming brands, the duo realised that there was a gap in the market when they could not find a hair product that could withstand the infamous tropical humidity here, while retaining a matte look. After rigorously researching different ingredients and formulations, The Clay Hybrid was born as an answer to those looking for a hair product with lasting efficacy.
Where to get it: Cop the The Clay Hybrid from the very fun and graphic e-commerce site, boundary.is
What to expect: Placement Perfumes offers immersive, made-in-Singapore scents. Drawing inspiration from the realms of video games, music, literature, visual art, and the Internet, the brand meticulously crafts immersive, concept-driven fragrances. In a saturated (and predominantly Western) fragrance market, Placement Perfumes stands out for its inclusion of notes that are both abstract and comforting to those familiar with the region’s tropical climate – think storm-saturated soil, green banana, and bitter starfruit. Take for instance its evocative second series Deictic – it is an ode to the “experience of tropical rain in different contexts – indoors, outdoors, before, during, after.”
Who’s behind it: Self-taught perfumer Jade Kaur who launched the brand two years ago
Where to get it: Explore its e-shop at www.placementperfumes.com
What to expect: Scent Journer offers sustainable, mood-boosting scents – that it dubs ‘mindful perfumes’ – to support your well-being. Based on scientific research charting the impact of scent (known as aromachology) on the human body, each fragrance features scents that please our olfactory systems and evoke positive emotions. Choose from a range of poetically-named fragrances such as ‘Clouds in Heaven’ (pandan-tinged white florals) and ‘The Blooming Jewel’ (a blend of rose, bergamot, and chamomile). Can’t get enough of your favourite fragrance? Each of the brand’s fragrances is also available as tablet scents (perfect for perfuming and refreshing wardrobes) and ‘mood essences’, which you can use with your favourite diffuser. You don’t have to worry about smelling good at the cost of the environment either – Scent Journer sources ingredients from ethical producers around the globe, which partake in sustainable and energy-efficient harvesting processes
Who’s behind it: Former cosmetic formulator Joyce Lian. Her background in creating fragrance stemmed from her time studying perfumery and cosmetic science at Singapore Polytechnic and chemistry at the National University of Singapore.
Where to get it: Metro (#02-28 Paragon) and Design Orchard
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