In Singapore, we deeply delight in our local foods and snacks, which we share across the different cultures that live together on our sunny island.
After all, what would Hari Raya and Chinese New Year be without sweet buttery pineapple tarts to celebrate the festivities?
Or, could you imagine a Singapore without “ice cream uncles” who cut slabs of raspberry ripple and serve them to you in rainbow-coloured bread?
Three Singaporean friends loved their country and its local food so much, they felt that we needed something to represent these delicious treats.
From vastly different careers, Ami, an accountant, Dee, a social worker, and Janus, a game designer, embarked on a project after their work hours to turn our most beloved food into huggable plushes.
A Bite Out Of SG50
The creators, all in their early 30’s, consider themselves a bunch of goofy people who love food and fun.
Before the idea became concrete, they had been mulling over the thought that popular food like pizza and sushi were commonly found as plushies, but you’d rarely see a plush modelled after local food in Singapore.
Dee says, “We wanted something Singaporeans could truly call our own.”
Coincidentally, it was 2015, the year that marked the nation’s 50th birthday with a colossal celebration of all things that make us uniquely Singapore.
The atmosphere of SG50 played a part in pushing Ami, Dee and Janus to take a step forward and design their first pineapple tart plush.
Telling themselves “let’s do this for fun!”, they forked out $4000 each to manufacture a small batch of 1000 plushes and see if people would be interested.
What they soon found out was that many shared their love for the snack, as orders began streaming in even before the shipment arrived, and the batch sold out in 2 weeks.
From Idea To Reality In 4 Months
From the moment they conceived the idea to make plushes in September 2015, the trio gave themselves just 4 months to put in the elbow grease and make it happen.
Besides Janus, who was one of the designers of the SG50 game “Kan-Cheong Kopitiam Saga”, Ami and Dee hadn’t any prior experience in the creative field.
They worked to equip themselves with knowledge about local food heritage, plush materials, manufacturing, retail and logistics.
With a range of different fabrics provided by their manufacturer, they mixed and matched sizes, colours, and details of a few prototypes before choosing the winning fit.
Their pineapple tart plush comprises two fabrics for its “puff pastry” and its “pineapple jam”, giving the cushion more textures to feel.
“We took many leaps of faith as we worked with people from fields we have never engaged in, and we’re extremely grateful to meet very trustworthy and reliable business partners,” says Dee.
By January 2016, they started publicising their first Nom Nom Plush product online, gearing up to begin sales on the Carousell marketplace.
We did our publicity via Facebook, and not even with sponsored posts, because of our limited budget.
Although they had just intended to sell the plushes online, they were taken aback to receive offers from retailers like Hipvan and Naiise, who wanted to purchase and stock their products.
Because of this overwhelming response to have their plushes sold at retail outlets, the Nom Nom Plush trio had to evolve their business almost immediately upon launching.
The More Snacks, The Merrier
Their plush toys can now be found physically in Naiise stores, area65, The Farm Store, and at Takashimaya during festive occasions, aside from their online platforms, Carousell, Lazada and Qoo10.
Needless to say, they also branched into other local delights following the sweet success with their pineapple tart plushes, and now have 15 products and counting.
We asked the food-loving founders which local treats are their favourite—Dee remains loyal to pineapple tarts, while Ami loves kueh lapis, and Janus is an ice cream sandwich kind of guy.
You may recognise their curry puff, otah, and wa ko kueh cushions, some of which they’ve also shrunk into small pouches, keychains and pencil cases.
Their soft and fluffy recreation of the ice cream sandwich even scored the brand a collaboration with Magnolia, where the best of both worlds (real ice cream, and plush ice cream) came together.
Even though the three of them continue juggling their full time jobs with this business venture, their side hustle has grown to hit its 15,000 mark in products sold last year.
Food Is A Cultural Glue
Nom Nom Plush’s local-inspired items are not only popular in Singapore, but have made their way overseas.
“The response from our Malaysian friends has been most welcoming, and most recently, Robinsons Malaysia opened their first store in KL and we were honoured to be one of their pioneer products,” says Dee.
With the world ever more connected, even customers in London appreciate the “Asian flavours” of their cushions—they are stocked at Naiise London, where both Singaporeans living abroad and local Londoners can enjoy having a tasty snack to hug.
Food is always a great way to bond people, whether it’s through sharing a meal together, or just sharing your passion for how much you love a certain dish.
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The founders share that they’ve had some touching moments with customers, thanks to this power that makes food such a cultural glue.
They’ve even had the chance to grow alongside customers and their kids, who have the plushes as a part of their childhood.
Another impactful encounter came from a fan who wrote a really long but touching reflection of how our products helped him stay rooted to his teochew culture, as they reminded him of his grandmother who passed away 11 years back.
“We think Singaporeans are very supportive of local brands because we are mostly at the stage of heritage preservation,” they say. “Supporting local designers is almost akin to a mass movement of shaping the local culture.”
“We see a trend of Singaporeans being fiercely proud of our heritage and this is a very positive sign of a maturing state. And we are optimistic that Singapore will continue to be a market brimming with opportunities for local brands!”
Pets Love “Nom” Time Even More Than Us
Beyond their current selection, Dee says they’ll be looking to explore food of various other cultures, especially since Singapore is such a melting pot where people of all ethnicities meet.
While they haven’t revealed which cultures they’d be drawing their inspiration from next, they mentioned that humans aren’t the only ones they’re making plush toys for.
“We had a recent collaboration with a pet food company, and we were very pleasantly surprised to receive very positive and welcoming responses from pet ‘pawrents’!”
The trio recognises that possibilities ahead of them are endless as long as they’re willing to keep exploring and creating in new directions.
Soon, your ‘fur-children’ could have a snuggly friend in the shape of their favourite food too!
Featured Image Credit: Nom Nom Plush