Move over Lush, this local biz by ex-MaGIC & Mckinsey staff is sustainable AND customisable

Bath/shower time before bed is one of the bigger things I look forward to each day. There’s something about the running water coupled with heavenly scented products that provides a sense of relaxation and escapism, washing the day’s troubles away.

Catering to this sentiment is a new Malaysian personal and body care brand, Ujubath

Adopting the stance of sustainability by using vegan and plant-based ingredients, its founders are launching their brand with its first range of products being customisable bath bombs.

A passion project

Ujubath was founded by Maegan and Suki who were both on career breaks with time and resources on their hands to merge their shared interests. 

Though both came from different backgrounds that had nothing directly to do with skin or body care, Maegan has been experimenting with such products since 2015. Furthermore, after undergoing quarantine 6 times, she felt the need to build a startup that was both tech-enabled and wellness-focused.

Career-wise, Maegan’s launched programmes in the sustainability, deep-tech, and blockchain spaces for Temasek and the Malaysian Global Innovation & Creativity Centre (MaGIC).

Suki’s coded several platforms in her career / Image Credit: Ujubath

At the same time, Suki left her software engineering job at Mckinsey during the first lockdown. The decision to do so was easy, as she’d been flirting with the idea of starting her own brand for about a year prior. 

Suki has also launched online platforms in travel tech and e-commerce, along with a marketplace for house parties. 

Competing in a crowded space

Maegan and Suki told Vulcan Post that the decision to first focus on selling bath bombs was meant to leverage a fitting situation at the time of its launch.

“We were at the peak of staycations and quarantines, so we felt that it would be nice to create something that reflected self-care and our personal missions,” they said. 

Island vibes in a bath bomb / Image Credit: Ujubath

“We would’ve competed in a crowded space if we made soaps, shampoos, or facial products. It’s highly saturated and takes a longer time to market.”

This makes sense, as a new brand like Ujubath would first need to capture a customer following through a product like bath bombs. Single-use products like bath bombs don’t require as high a commitment as say, lotions or shampoos, where customers would have a bigger bottle to finish. 

But once they’ve secured enough customers, other products like shampoos are expansions that Ujubath will be rolling out eventually (but more on that later).

Giving customers the control

The skincare and wellness industry is a highly saturated market. Looking at the players selling bath bombs, you’ve got huge global names like Lush, and home-grown brands like BUIH.

But one unique selling point offered by Ujubath is that it allows shoppers to customise their own bath bombs for a flat price of RM40. Apart from local body scrub brand sukurabu, customisation isn’t something usually offered by many body care brands. 

To build your bath bomb on Ujubath, you’d have to choose your base ingredient that offers different benefits depending on which of the five are chosen. The same applies when picking your preferred tea-based ingredient and botanic oil.

You get the choice of how your bath bomb benefits your skin

From there, the checkout process is standard and you get to include a name to have it labelled on the product’s packaging. 

While I didn’t get to try the bath bomb myself, I appreciated that Ujubath included an image breaking down what each ingredient category meant (for its base, tea, and botanic oil) on its customisation page. 

It’s able to alleviate customers’ confusion as to what these terms mean, and you’re left with little questions about the product you’d end up getting.

According to Ujubath’s site, the product will be delivered in a glass bottle so that customers can upcycle it as storage for other reasons. This is an intentional move by the brand to fit its values of sustainability.

“We’re always trying to reduce our impact [using] compostable packaging, recyclable fabric, [offering] refillable options (you can return five tubs to receive a bath bomb), and more,” noted the co-founders. “We aren’t perfect, but we are always working towards improving our R&D.”

The customer is king

Although Ujubath poses the advantage of customisation when compared to brands like Lush, this brings up a potential challenge in scaling the business. 

Using the same ingredients in large batches makes it easier to mass-produce in a shorter amount of time, thus delivering products faster to customers, which Lush is able to achieve.

If complaints about long delivery times are a concern, managing customer expectations is a price Ujubath will have to bear. Otherwise, the brand offering ready-made stock for their products is also a viable solution, which Ujubath already has options for.

Behind the scenes of making the bath bombs / Image Credit: Ujubath

“Close to the saying, “the customer is king”, we’re avid believers of curation and experiences,” Maegan and Suki explained. 

“We want to give our users the luxury to create and have fun in the process, and provide them that visibility, where every customer should be aware of the ingredients as it’s essential for their personal care.”

Branching out through collabs

As mentioned earlier, Ujubath will be rolling out an expanded product range by launching other personal care items like shampoos or soaps after it’s gained enough customer following.

Through it, its team plans to initiate circular economy practices by transforming by-products into new ingredients or formulas to make the beauty industry cleaner and greener. 

Thus far, they’ve collaborated with iikal to offer a wellness bundle for RM110 where customers will get iikal’s Gemia scalp scrub along with 2 jars of Ujubath’s signature bath bombs.

“We’re currently working with a seaweed haircare brand and seaweed farming organisation to explore alternative methods of sustainable packaging,” Maegan and Suki added as their next steps for the brand. 

  • Learn more about Ujubath here.
  • Read about other Malaysian startups here.

Also Read: 6 reasons why this LG 4K Smart OLED TV can be a conversation starter in your living room

Featured Image Credit: Maegan and Suki, co-founders of Ujubath

In the NFT space where apes, bears, and people rule, this M’sian presents to you: chap fan

Looking at Yawn of the Apes, a little hobby project by a Malaysian residing in Singapore, you’d have assumed it was started when the NFT hype began taking over this region.

Each ape on the site takes on a similar base silhouette but is then differentiated by its colour, hair, clothing, accessories, and more, based on pop culture influences. They’re very reminiscent of how generative art NFTs look like today.

Did you know: In generative art, the programme or code randomly selects different graphic elements and layers them on top of each other to create a new and unique art piece. The more traits you create, the more unique art pieces you can generate. It’s the method used by popular NFT projects such as the Bored Ape Yacht Club, CryptoPunks, Pudgy Penguins, PhantaBear, and more, to create their collections.

The truth though, is that Wan Tsau has been creating Yawn of the Apes art since 2018, long before the NFT movement ever made it to our shores.

In mid-2021, when he saw the traction that some generative art NFT projects were getting, he decided to take a deeper look into the space.

Come January 2022, and he’s finally launched his first NFT project, Chapfans, which he describes as the “most expensive cai fan (economy rice) in Singapore” and by extension, Malaysia.

A tribute to the humble cai fan

Wan Tsau chose economy rice as the subject of his NFT project due to the diversity of dishes available, referencing the seemingly-endless possibilities of cai fan dishes we could create in real life.

For Chapfans, he’s created 50 types of dishes, 3 types of gravy, 5 types of plates, and 9 background colours. From those, he’s generated 388 plates of Chapfans for his first collection, each being sold at a floor price of 0.04 ETH (about RM409 at the time of writing) on OpenSea.

Image Credit: Chapfans

But there’s another more heart-warming reason behind it. Through Chapfans, he’s able to constantly relive good childhood memories of his time growing up in KL.

Back then, he and his friends would frequent a back-alley economy rice stall off Petaling Street that was run by a few elderly and very maternal old ladies.

“They would call all the schoolboys and girls, ‘chai’ and ‘loi’ (son and daughter in Cantonese). Which is why we started calling the place ‘kai ma’s’ which means godmother’s in Cantonese,” Wan Tsau shared in an interview with Vulcan Post.

“This memory is the creative inspiration for my first Chapfans collection and [it] is called “Kai Ma Cooked Food”, a fictional tribute to the elderly ladies who fed us when we were schoolboys.”

Image Credit: Chapfans

It’s a memory that no doubt many Malaysians and Singaporeans would similarly share, but I wondered if Chapfans’ cultural influence that’s very specific to us would close it off to communities in other countries.

Wan Tsau agreed that it’d be less relevant to non-local collectors, however, he was clear on wanting to focus on something closer to his heart and that had a clear collector base.

Learning how to create NFTs online

The ability to create scarcity for his collectors was the concept that drew him to NFTs in the first place, after all.

“I used to trade and sell trading cards in primary school. A bunch of us pooled together money and I would go to the store to pick up whole boxes of cards to sell,” Wan Tsau reminisced.

“We would open up all the packs and price each card differently and according to its scarcity. The blockchain, NFTs, and smart contracts now allow us to recreate this scarcity for digital products.”

A familiar sight, digitalised / Image Credit: Chapfans

Though a new ball game, Wan Tsau quickly picked up the knowledge necessary to start Chapfans through YouTube videos alone, despite his zero coding experience.

Thankfully, by the time he began venturing into NFTs, there were more documentation and free code/solutions (like the Hashlips Art Engine) for generative art projects.

Learning from scratch wasn’t particularly a challenge for him though, since he’s also a self-taught graphic artist with no formal background in art. As he put it, “I just enjoy the creative process very much.”

Channelling his inner Andy Warhol

In between the 3+ months that he was making Chapfans, Wan Tsau was working his full-time job as the sole creative lead and illustrator at Piqolo Kids (and still is, today).

Piqolo Kids is a small publisher in Singapore making comics and activity books on exploration and creativity for children. It also makes custom children’s activity books for hotels and the hospitality sector.

Wan Tsau’s work for Yawn of the Apes and Piqolo Kids / Image Credit: Wan Tsau

This coupled with his experience creating the ape-like avatars for Yawn of the Apes meant that his time spent on drawing all the different dishes could be cut down.

“That being said, I think everyone with access to a PC and a simple illustration software will be able to jump into the generative NFT art scene very quickly,” Wan Tsau added.

His goal with Chapfans is now to rally the local NFT community to support the humble cultural icon, cai fan, and hopefully create an exclusive pop art movement not unlike what Andy Warhol did with the Campbell Soup cans.

To date, he’s had a few buyers and will be looking to airdrop some plates in the coming weeks to grow the community.

“I’m currently looking at creating more buzz with different industries from food brands, art collectors, and also lifestyle and home décor folks.”

“I’m also looking to expand into collectible prints and merchandise. But most importantly, I want to get my collectors to be more involved in the direction of the brand,” Wan Tsau concluded.

  • To get in contact with Wan Tsau, you can join Chapfans’ Discord server here.
  • Read more NFT content here.

Also Read: We reflect on how the pandemic has changed our payment habits, to plan wisely for 2022

Featured Image Credit: Wan Tsau, creator of Chapfans

Trade, salaries, reserves, investment: 2021 was a record year for Singapore

singapore cbd

While COVID-19 pandemic is associated with uncertainty, unemployment, ballooning debt and economic woes around the world, the small and still quite isolated city-state of Singapore is doing rather well.

So well, in fact, that 2021 was in many areas a record year for the country, proving its remarkable resilience. Here’s a review of its most notable achievements:

Record trade

As the world continued its rebound after the gloomy 2020, trade-oriented economy of Singapore was lifted by an enormous wave of global demand for goods. This has led to record figures of both exports and imports, rising by nearly 20 per cent over 2020 and 10 per cent over all-time high of 2018, to a total of S$1.16 trillion.

exports vs imports singapore
Image Credit: Singstat

Unsurprisingly, as a result, Port of Singapore has handled a record number of 37.5 million containers, which has helped Singapore retain its top spot as the Leading Maritime City of the World for the fifth consecutive year, according to the Norwegian classification society, DNV, and Norwegian consultancy, Menon Economics AS.

singapore shipping ranking leading maritime cities of the world 2022
Image Credit: The Leading Maritime Cities of the World 2022, Menon.no.

singapore shipping ranking leading maritime cities of the world 2022
Image Credit: The Leading Maritime Cities of the World 2022, Menon.no.

Crucially, all categories of trade have gone up, including non-oil domestic exports in both electronics and non-electronics. The former is particularly interesting, given the global chip shortage and resulting investments announced in the city in response to the exploding demand.

After about 15 years of relative stability, they have jumped by around 50 per cent during the pandemic, reaching S$16 billion in December 2021 alone.

https://www.instagram.com/p/CZROZ3JFcSF/

exports of electronics singapore
Image Credit: Statistics Singapore

Singapore is not just a transshipment hub but a manufacturing one as well, with foreign investment pouring into the country, in spite of border closures.

(Almost) record investment

Speaking of investments, 2021 was an excellent year, following on the heels of a blowout 2020, which saw a record S$17.2 billion flowing into the city-state despite the raging pandemic.

2021 may seem trailing at S$11.8 billion, but it is still more than the S$8 to S$10 billion average targeted by the Economic Development Board annually.

Industries attracting most of the money were electronics (S$5 billion) and biomedical manufacturing (S$1.8 billion).

Over 67 per cent of the money came from the USA, followed by Europe at 13 per cent — i.e. the West is responsible for about 80 per cent of the outlay that is expected to create 17,000 well-aid PMET jobs in the next five years.

Record reserves

As I reported throughout the year, both Temasek and GIC posted historic results, buoyed by the stock market rallies (particularly in America).

Given Singapore’s reputation for stability and trust, money moved in promptly, surging demand for the SGD, allowing the Monetary Authority of Singapore to accumulate a record figure of S$566 billion in foreign reserves.

Since this exceeds 110 per cent of the country’s GDP, it would be a waste to not use the funds in excess of around 65 to 75 per cent to turn them into a profitable investment. As a result, a whopping S$185 billion is going to be transferred in tranches to GIC, adding to the S$250 billion that the fund is estimated to have gained by March 2021.

gic aum and returns
Image Credit: Global SWF

This is likely to take GIC’s assets under management (which may not be public can roughly be estimated) from around S$1 trillion to S$1.2 trillion in 2022, although the current bear market in stocks is likely to erode some value from the portfolio.

Record Net International Investment Position

One figure that is infrequently mentioned and yet is quite revealing about the economic status of the country is the Net International Investment Position (NIIP).

It’s simply a difference of all of the country’s public and private foreign liabilities and assets, determining whether the nation is a net debtor (i.e. it borrows more from the world than it is owed) or a net creditor (it lends and invests abroad).

net international investment position singapore
Singapore’s journey to becoming one of the world’s leading creditors over the past 20 years / Source: Singstat

As of 2021 Singapore has a surplus of foreign assets over liabilities of close to S$1.5 trillion or US$1.1 trillion (by comparison, the entire China reports a surplus of about S$2 trillion.) In proportion to GDP, Singapore is outranked only by Hong Kong (whose role, however, is dwindling in the pandemic and due to political reasons).

Record low of foreign arrivals

Sadly, not all of the records are positive, of course.

Due to border closures remaining in place, Singapore was visited by a paltry 300,000 people in 2021, the lowest on record, who left just S$1.9 billion – compared to 19 million visitors and S$27 billion in receipts in 2019.

changi airport empty singapore
Empty halls of Changi Airport’s Terminal 3 / Image Credit: Wirestock / Depositphotos

In total, the tourism sector (and, by extension, the entire economy) has lost around S$50 billion in the past two years due to lack of foreign arrivals.

That’s why it’s rather remarkable that the country registered a…

Record GDP

Luckily, we can end this list on a positive note. While we still have to wait for final figures, at 7.2 per cent in real growth — the highest figure in a decade — GDP at current prices should land above the S$510 billion recorded in 2019.

You may think “so what, every country is posting very high rebounds in 2021 after the recession of 2020” – and that is, indeed, true.

But Singapore is not quite like every country in that it largely depends on its openness to the world. Alas, since the spring of 2020, it has been pretty much shut to it and lost approximately 200,000 people from its population of 5.7 million — both low and high end workers who are the victims of the pandemic.

With decimated tourism losing tens of billions of dollars in the past two years and hundreds of thousands of residents gone, there should still be a noticeable drop in GDP — and yet, it’s hard to find.

The economy is not only back on track, but it likely has already reached a pre-pandemic level comparable to 2019 — all of that while the borders remained almost completely closed throughout 2021.

And it’s visible not only in dry statistics, but local salaries as well — which have outpaced inflation, with the median rising to S$4,680 and on track to exceed S$4,800 in 2022 and S$5,000 in 2023.

With a likely resumption of intercontinental travel in 2022, as the Omicron variant appears to be considerably less dangerous, even if more infectious, Singapore should get a much needed boost of foreign visitors, and their money, elevating the economy even higher.

To top it all off, we have to remember that unlike every other country in the world, the little city-state didn’t have to borrow money to prop its economy up, but simply dipped its hand into the vast reserves, barely leaving a scratch on them (particularly as their overall value increased by far more than the government had to use).

After two years, it’s now clear that Singapore not only was the best prepared country going into this pandemic, but it also emerges one of the biggest winners as the world is nearing its end.


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