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Famous Jamus To East Coast Plan: This S'pore Startup Pivoted To Sell GE 2020 Meme-Worthy Tees

If you’d like a memento of the drama from GE 2020, you may want to consider purchasing a delightfully snarky shirt from Singaplex.

This homegrown brand recently started producing merchandise that captures the highlights of Singapore’s general elections.

“As non-essential meme artisans whose incomes had been impacted by COVID-19, we decided to turn lemons into lemonade,” says Ken Tan, Singaplex’s Head of Digital Strategy.

Some of Singaplex’s products include shirts that feature the slogans “WARM COCKLES des HEARTS” and “EAST COAST by EAST COAST” emblazoned across their chest.

These slogans reference iconic quotes by Worker’s Party’s Jamus Lim and People’s Action Party’s Heng Swee Keat.

Apparel sold by Singaplex during GE 2020 resonated well with the electorate.

“GE 2020 definitely gave rise to better sales. We can now fund our bubble tea and coffee addictions with a bit more ease — important first-world crutches to get by in the troubled world we live in now,” Singaplex’s Jonathan Leong, Head of Content surmised cheekily.

Making Money Off Memes

singaplex

Co-founded by Jonathan and Ken a year ago, Singaplex is run by a group of creative professionals with close to a decade’s worth of experience. The brand was first conceived of as a form of “after-work therapy.”

“Halfway through, we began to take (Singaplex) seriously and post content religiously almost every day, no matter how tired or burnt out we were as we felt it could grow to become something bigger,” Jonathan recounts.

Cashing in on the world of memes, sarcasm and humour, the creative consultancy peddles in satire.

“(We make) first-world infotainment and satirical merchandise for a reality that is becoming crazier than fiction,” Jonathan specifies.

The goal? To build a long-lasting “uniquely Singaporean brand.”

The brand is up-to-date with Singapore’s heartbeat: whether its building creative collateral, recording socio-political podcasts, publishing satirical memes, or creating merchandise that captures the unique cultural climate of Singapore.

“(We’re making) content that keeps the big sad away, content so moving it has the power to bring unicorns back from extinction – even if for a brief moment.”

To date, Singaplex has developed content for clients like MTV, Nike and New Balance.

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Image Credit: Singaplex

They include creative assets celebrating the late Kobe Bryant and experimental gallery artwork “The Garden of Internet Delights”.

“The 20 Boxes Rule” Helps Speed Up Creative Process

Creating apparel was always part of the plan, asserts Jonathan. In fact, the very first incarnation of the Singaplex website had a web store that was already built-in.

However, Jonathan notes that launching apparel from the outset would be “suicide”, adding that the brand first needed to build creative credibility and their own voice.

As someone who used to own an apparel business, Jonathan’s speaking from experience. That business has since shut down when he entered creative consulting, and it took approximately 10 years for him to summon the courage to start an apparel line again.

But that’s the thing about being a creative person, you are always restless and itching to make stuff – the question is how can you make it a long-term endeavour.

– Jonathan Leong, co-founder and Head of Content of Singaplex
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Image Credit: Singaplex

Sharing more about Singaplex’s merchandise, he describes them as “cultural souvenirs” or “polaroid freeze frames” that capture the cultural spirit of a particular moment.

The brilliance and speed of Singaplex designers are critical. Polaroid freeze frame or not, the socio-political messaging on Singaplex apparel is highly time-sensitive and requires short, snappy work.

There is a trick to it. Jonathan relies on “The 20 Boxes Rule” — filling up 20 boxes on a piece of paper with different ideas to create viable content — a trick he picked up while travelling in Japan as a student.

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Image Credit: Singaplex

Ultimately, the way to make apparel sustainable profit-wise is to create “items that appeal to the Singaporean consciousness…that transcends any particular event,” says Ken.

During GE 2020, Singaplex’s creative team were on red alert. Apparel came out literally one to two days after iconic moments occured.

(We) were always glued to our screens reading and watching the news…whenever we saw something that struck the cultural consciousness, we would do things really fast to get items out the gate all guns blazing.

– Jonathan Leong, co-founder and Head of Content of Singaplex

However, Singaplex remains oblique about the more technical aspects of apparel production.

When asked about their production process, Ken simply answers, “the Elfs in our secret base are always hard at work making magic for humans everywhere.”

However, sustainability enthusiasts can be rest assured that Singaplex apparel does not harm the environment or animals.

“We haven’t sold our souls to the devil and so far, have a peaceful relationship with Mother Gaia,” clarifies Jonathan

They’re Not In It For The Money

Working in the creative industry and developing a fledgling apparel business at the same time is tough.

“There are way more profitable careers out there. Making stuff is a lonely journey with many hours hunched over a screen,” Jonathan admits.

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Image Credits: Singaplex

The fashion industry is notoriously fast-paced and volatile. On top of the high turnover rate of new businesses, the industry is also plagued by controversies over sustainable clothing, supply line failures, and labour exploitation.

Regardless, there are ways to make your business work. Selling direct to consumer, particularly via e-shops, is becoming an increasingly popular and practical venture. Singaplex uses the same model.

Ultimately, the brand isn’t in business simply to “make dough.”

“We love satire and making words and visuals have idea sex. Making ideas come to life is simply euphoric,” says Jonathan.

“We provide an avenue of digital therapy for our readers as well as ourselves…although the world can be a depressing place, why not try to focus on looking at it through a light-hearted lens?”

“Because soon enough we’ll all be dead anyway…might as well march towards that day laughing.”

Featured Image Credit: Singaplex

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