If you told me 2 years ago that the December of 2017 would see me on my way to becoming an actual entrepreneur, I would’ve never believed you.
I never planned to start something of my own like that, even while being back in Business School sitting through another Economics class. I’ve never brainstormed business ideas that I could monetise, I never once thought about working for myself, etc.
But today, The Print Shop sees me putting my work out on the streets doing pop-up booths regularly, being lucky enough to be invited to events to showcase my work or join markets, and feeling like the brand I built from the ground up is getting a bit more recognised. I mean, Jetstar Asia featured one of my guides to Okinawa on their Facebook page this March and I never even asked them to! It was an incredibly surreal feeling.
So here’s the story of how this passion project actually started, and how I felt in the midst of it all.
After my diploma, where I used to dance, sing and perform through the various co-curricular activity clubs in Ngee Ann Polytechnic, all the opportunities I had to be creative kind of went with graduation.
Sure, I was doing a few things on my own trying to keep it alive, but nothing ever felt permanent or concrete.
I’ve always loved travelling and telling stories of my experiences around the world, which is why I consider myself a storyteller first and foremost.
Ever since I moved to Spain at 19 and returned at 20, all my closest friends can vouch that my Instagram feed was always constantly overseas.
Going through a pretty low point, I started continuously looking at photos of my travels wishing I was somewhere else where I felt less held down.
I’ve always taken photographs when I’ve travelled, but not archiving and storing them in a hard disk drive back then means my travel photos start from when I was 17 in Dubai.
I’m most sore about losing all my photos from Jaipur and Agra on a school trip to India at 15.
Still, I had thousands and thousands of photographs just lying around on my hard disk drive, and I was inspired to turn my photos into postcards.
The idea behind it was that I wanted people to be able to share my photography in a more tangible way.
When I travel, I always collect postcards.
It felt natural and organic to me, which is why it’s kind of funny now that sometimes when I do booths, people come up to me saying it’s such a throwback thing or that I’m trying to bring writing letters back, when I’ve been doing it my entire life.
I started my first line of 10 postcards, wrote the stories behind them on the website, put it up on my web store and announced the release of them on my Instagram. Back then, the only people that followed me were my friends, and it was the support from my friends that really pushed me to feel like I had something I could call my own, and that it was good enough to stand on it’s own. In all my other creative endeavours before, I was always part of an ensemble, but this time I was doing it all on my own terms.
Initially, I wanted to have my cards stocked in selected stores in Singapore where you would normally find products by local creatives.
I either didn’t get any response or if I did get an email back, it was that they had too much stock on hand and couldn’t afford to take me on board.
I thought then, that I needed a change of plans.
I can’t remember how I first got the idea to do pop-up booths or to join fairs.
But I wrote into Public Garden, submitting my work, the story behind the brand, and asking if I could join the December 2017 consumer trade show.
Looking back now, it’s incredible I even found the nerve to write into Public Garden, possibly the biggest consumer trade show in Singapore where I’d be setting up a booth alongside hundreds of other far more established brands and artists, not just from the country but regionally as well.
When I got accepted, it was a massive confidence boost for me.
I was excited but nervous at the same time.
I knew I didn’t want Public Garden to be my first ever booth, so I quickly booked a booth outside School of the Arts (SOTA) the weekend before with MOX Parade so I would have some experience going into Public Garden.
Back then, covering booth rental was tough.
I only had postcards, and with rental being in the hundreds everyday in Singapore, realistically, I had to sell a lot of postcards to ever make it work. Other brands were cashing in $50 or more in each transaction while my highest was $10, and let’s face it, other brands with products that are higher in demand like jewellery will always be able to sell more than I will 90% of the time. So I had to climb the uphill battle of selling art where the market for it wasn’t big, and for smaller amounts to cover the same amount for rent.
Public Garden the following weekend was overwhelming in the best of ways.
I’m a lot more confident in my work now, but I really wasn’t then. However, the support from people who did appreciate my work felt incredible. Sure, I had to do a lot more talking about my actual work to bring out the core and heart of the project to people (plenty people walk by my booths going “Oh, postcards. K cool.”), but those that got it just connected with it in a way I still can’t really put into words. The soles of my feet were sore from standing for 8 hours non-stop on both days of the show, I was losing my voice, my head was pounding, but it felt so good.
But I knew I had to be smarter about this whole thing if I wanted to continue being able to run this project.
I never got into this with the idea that I would make tonnes of money from this to do this full-time and quit the hospitality industry. If I did I would’ve never chosen to do something so niche in Singapore.
It sounds like I’m making it up for a nice bit of PR but I promise I’m not.
I just wanted to do this to be able to stand on my own creatively, and in a way convince myself that I am good enough to do something on my own creatively.
But again, being realistic, even if I wasn’t going to be turning much of a profit on this, I needed this project to be able to sustain itself.
I thought about other things I could put my photography on, and in the process taught myself a bit about product design.
I met with potential suppliers and printing companies, visited factories and looked at materials, making sure I was going to be happy with the other products. In the space of 2 weeks, I produced my first line of tumblers, notebooks and tote bags. How I found the energy to do so and launch 3 new product lines at one go, I’ll never know.
Ever since then, the brand has grown steadily, seeing collaborations with people I really trusted to rep my brand and showcase the work to more eyes. People have come up to me at booths telling me they knew of the work through another friend or family member.
I’ve had friends tell me they’ve seen other people in the streets carrying my bags which is an incredible feeling. I haven’t seen it myself apart from events that I do but that’s pretty surreal too. Within a year, I was approached to do my first consignment retail venture in a jewellery store, and had good feedback.
And that, I guess, is the long story of how this entire brand started.
With a lot of other things in life to focus on currently, I’m taking each day as it comes with this project.
I’m incredibly grateful for the support that’s been shown to me since day one, and I’m excited to see where this journey eventually leads.
If you’d like to check out The Print Shop, you can head over to the Shop on the website, where you can also read the stories behind each photograph. I do ship my products worldwide too! Alternatively, I do plenty of pop-ups, and you can keep up to date with new product launches and dates of pop-ups on my Print Shop Instagram if you’d like to see the work in the flesh.