Entrepreneur

Meet The Dynamic Duo Behind The Hipster Pasar Malams Popping Up At Unexpected Places In S'pore

Singapore’s oldest flea market, the decades-old Sungei Road, is now shut for good. And in its place, many hipster markets have been popping up as of late.

The profile of these markets is usually that there is one every weekend, and they all seem to possess the ‘Haji Lane vibe’.

Gone are the days of bargaining for second-hand clothes or old-school gadgets – artisans and local craftsmen are now taking the front seat at these markets instead.

The first to focus exclusively on indie artists and designers was MAAD by the Red Dot Design Museum, back in 2006.

Soon after, more organisers jumped on the art market bandwagon such as Public Garden in 2011 and The Local People (TLP) in 2014.

Although TLP was late to the party, it’s pretty much ahead of the game. It has hosted more than 30 art markets to date, and serves as an important platform for young brands to carve out a name for themselves.

From Online To Offline

TLP kickstarted in 2014, and is spearheaded by 30-year-old Pin Goh (founder) and 29-year-old Lu Yawen (co-founder).

“Back then, we were hanging out with a lot of creative individuals who had nowhere to sell the items they were making. This prompted us to set up an e-commerce store – it was meant to serve as a one-stop-shop for all things independently made in Singapore,” said Yawen.

But TLP soon made the shift to go offline in May the same year, when the startup was offered a space at Hoot Kiam Road alley to use.

Organised in collaboration with social influencer agency GushCloud, the TLP team pulled some of their friends – and their friends’ friends – to throw a one-night-only art market.

Image Credit: The Local People
Image Credit: The Local People

They brought together 50 to 80 vendors – made up of local designers, musicians, artistes, and even young F&B entrepreneurs – to hawk their wares at the market.

But considering the ‘ulu’ location and the rainy weather, they didn’t harbour high hopes for a good turnout. However, the alleyways were actually bursting at their seams with close to 1,000 people wanting to pick out unique buys.

Despite the good response – almost all of their items were sold out apparently – the event didn’t exactly run all that smoothly.

The power tripped many times throughout the event, and neither of them knew how to resolve the issue.

The lapse clearly highlighted their inexperience; but to be fair, the TLP x GushCloud night market was their debut event. Such mistakes only serve as a lesson so they won’t be repeated in the future.

“We learn as we go along,” said Yawen optimistically.

“And now that our focus has shifted to crafting experiential markets for makers to showcase their goods in real life, the e-store is currently used as a platform for vendors to rent a booth with us.”

#SupportLocal

When asked why TLP pivoted to organise art markets in Singapore, Yawen said that back then, it was a “very raw concept” that no one really tapped into yet.

“Most market organisers then were doing flea markets, which didn’t provide an experience enjoyable enough that made you want to stay,” she added.

And if you haven’t been to a TLP market yet (where have you been anyway?), think of it this way: street party + artists’ market + live music.

At TLP markets, visitors can expect to see makeshift booths where vendors ply their handmade wares, which can range from hand-drawn illustrations on print, to handmade jewelry, and snacks like sugar-coated churros.

They can also get fitted for a suit, have a haircut, ink a tattoo, or enjoy free movie screenings of underground films at the event.

Image Credit: The Local People
Image Credit: The Local People
Image Credit: The Local People

According to Yawen, the biggest event they’ve organised so far is the Express Art Market – over 30,000 people turned up at the old Tanjong Pagar Railway Station for an afternoon of browsing through quirky finds from various vendors, while enjoying an outdoor concert or two.

Though their art markets are always a ball of fun, the lead up to it isn’t exactly a party.

The TLP team is always hard at work to throw the best event for all to enjoy. They spend the bulk of their time managing the logistics needed for events, the artistes and designers under TLP, answering emails that come in everyday, and dreaming up new concepts.

Standing Out From The Crowd 

With the gamut of weekend markets in Singapore, it’s so easy to drown in the crowd. But the two lady bosses are determined to keep TLP afloat with their strong sense of experimentation.

“The Local People are nomadic space activators who seek to repurpose disused and defunct places around Singapore. We are always on the lookout for weird, in-between spaces,” said Yawen.

Some of the venues where they’ve held their events include DECK – a gallery space made from stacked shipping containers, People’s Park Complex carpark roof, Tanjong Pagar Railway Station; and most recently, the West Coast Viaduct.

2014 TLP x Movember / Image Credit: The Local People
2017 Duct Tape Party, TLP x Singapore Land Authority / Image Credit: Net Reindio

Holding events at such unexpected locations indeed lends a certain charm, and definitely offers a different experience than shopping in an air-conditioned mall.

It allows Singaporeans to learn more about their surroundings and “appreciate the unconventional,” said Yawen.

And with the increasing competition, TLP also aims to “keep things fresh” by using different vendors and creating new experiences for their visitors each time.

TLP organises pop-up events once a month – and most of the time, they try to incorporate a “strong theme” and build the rest of the art market around that so as to ‘spice up’ the event.

In addition, TLP also strictly curates their vendors, ensuring that 80 per cent of their vendors are different from their previous pop-ups.

“We give priority to new and local brands, especially those by art students, because we want to encourage the next generation of artists,” said Yawen.

“We [also] ensure, to our best, that all work sold is original. You’ll never find preloved or mass manufactured items here.”

Advocate For Local Arts Culture

Three years and numerous art markets later, it seems like TLP has found their niche as an advocate for Singaporean arts culture.

Nonetheless, Yawen feels that more light needs to be shed on made-in-Singapore products, because most people have the misconception that local goods do not equate to quality products.

“If they see a foreign brand, they’d think that it’s better than local brands, and I think that should change. But I’m glad the general public is more aware of the Singaporean craftsmen and artists that exist now.”

Meanwhile, TLP will “keep continuing to do weird and crazy things to promote Singaporean art and culture in our ways,” she added.

Check out their Facebook and Instagram accounts to receive updates on their upcoming events!

 

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