A charming little shop upon a hill, decked out in happy colours and whimsical trinkets for sale—it sounds like something out of a dream.
Those were the beginnings for Singaporean designers (also husband and wife) Stanley Tan and Antoinette Wong’s business, which is adorably befitting considering its name means “the little dream store”.
They gave it a Scandinavian twist as homage to their shared love for the culture, calling it the little dröm store as they opened it in 2010.
Located on Ann Siang Hill for four years, the store amassed some cult following for its creative curation of products and the choice of a ‘hipster’ location.
Today, you’ll no longer find the little dröm store on a hill or anywhere else.
But even without a physical store, the couple’s designs continue to be well-recognised in Singapore.
Chasing Dreams Beyond The Corporate Life
By the time Stanley and Antoinette—who’d met each other in cell group—decided to start something of their own, they were already seasoned veterans in the design industry.
They’d been working for 6 and 7 years respectively ever since they both graduated from the Visual Communications course at Temasek Polytechnic.
Despite being rooted in long careers, they found themselves craving something more than “working late nights, and burning [their] weekends with over-time”.
The daily grind of work had left them with scant time and energy for their own creative outlets, which to them, were just as important.
We’d share and talk about our own creative dreams but never had the time to pursue them, and we were very much bound by our fears.
Like Stanley and Antoinette, many people have personal pursuits beyond their jobs that call out to them.
Theirs was formed by their habit of saving bits of inspiration, much like how people collect ‘boards’ of things they love on Pinterest.
“We would always bookmark websites and dog-ear magazine pages [when we see] things we like and find inspiring,” they say.
Looking at this vast anthology they’d collected, they decided they wanted to create a space where they could import these alternative products and bring them to shoppers in Singapore.
Almost Emptied Their Savings To Open Shop
Securing a place on Ann Siang Hill, close to the CBD yet tucked away in its own quiet enclave, came at no simple price.
The couple tells us it cost them about $40,000 to set up their store there.
This was a hefty burden for them, even though they shared it with their friends, who occupied a portion of the space for their cake business, Kki Sweets.
With the monumental price of rent in Singapore, the couple’s largest struggle was their finances.
When we started out, we almost emptied our savings from [our years of] working full time.
It continued to be an uphill battle, as they had to make it through times with “literally zero sales” in the store’s earliest days.
Rather than give up, they overcame these hurdles with their faith and a strong will toward the positive.
They propose this perspective towards challenges in life and business: “It takes the same energy to worry with negativity as [it would take] to pursue your dream with positivity.”
“People always ask ‘what if it doesn’t work’—but, what if it works?” they quip.
In time, media coverage began to pick up on their array of artsy wares, and exposure for the little dröm store soared within just six months.
Schooling You In The Arts
Later, the store moved into its second home at School of the Arts (SOTA) in 2014, where they found heavier traffic closer to the heart of town.
Stanley and Antoinette didn’t stop at retailing curious and creative products, they also extended their outreach to engage customers with artists and designers in Singapore.
the little dröm store would regularly run in-store pop-ups, host craft workshops, and hold interview and sharing sessions with their favourite designers.
As designers themselves, they also entered collaborations, producing merchandise together with Swedish cartoon characters Moomin, and Japanese lifestyle brand Polkaros.
“Both of us being introverted graphic designers, we were more used to being behind the scenes [before this].”
“But having to run a business [brought us] out of our comfort zone to interact with people from all walks of life. [Because of that], we are wiser, more people-oriented, and more business-savvy in with dealing with customers, corporate clients, suppliers now,” they share.
(Scaling) Down, But Not Out
Two years into their occupancy at SOTA, the storekeepers went through their next big change to move out again—and this time, give up having a physical space altogether.
“The decision came about when our friends decided to close their cake shop, and since we were sharing the space, we had to as well.”
But it didn’t mean the little dröm store’s run was over.
On their website, the couple writes that closing the store meant they “shifted [their] focus back to being designers”.
They also share in their interview with us that they welcomed this change of pace as it happened to coincide with a new stage in their lives—having their first baby.
“We felt okay because we recognised it was a phase [for us] to spend more time looking after and bonding with our son,” they say.
And in turn, it also gave them “more time on [their] hands” with which they could focus on managing their online store and selling their own designs.
Back then, customers exploring the wonders of their physical shop would discover a whole new world of international brands.
Now, those who visit the little dröm store, online and through other Singapore retailers they’re distributed to, form a new brand recognition of the couple’s original work.
They frequently look inward with appreciation for the local culture, and their products feature elements like popular kopitiam food, or the wonders of Singlish.
Once, they even created 52 designs in an extensive collection of everyday ‘Treasures of Singapore’, that are sure to evoke fond childhood memories for any Singaporean.
Ending off our delightful talk, the couple hints that their physical store hasn’t seen its swan song yet, and they “hope to have [their] own space again in the future”.
Featured Image Credit: Singapore Tourism Board / the little dröm store