Interview by Caitlin de Laure
Photographs courtesy of Edwin Low
Edwin has staked a high price, not to earn himself a name, but to create a voice. His project for SG:IO, Little Red Dot, was yet another massive collaboration he undertook to express Singapore’s history and cultural memory through an everyday object—a bowl. Edwin shares with us the backstory of Supermama, the purpose of collaboration, and his insights on SG:IO.
Could you tell us how it all began with Supermama?
I left my job as a lecturer at the Singapore Polytechnic and started Supermama about four years ago, in 2011, primarily because I had my second child and wanted to spend more time with my kids. Supermama started as a retail gallery because I realised that—especially in busy Singapore where it seems like every shop you go into, you’re compelled to buy—there is a lack of spaces where people can just sit down, relax and collect their thoughts.
The first month was tough; we sold our home, downgraded and threw the sales proceeds into Supermama. Fortunately, we enjoyed a very good first year with our kids. Moreover, while we expected the business to go bust in a year, we actually survived. In the third year, I began making contact with a couple of Japanese facilities, one of them being Kihara, a Kyoto-based pottery maker.
When we got the collection going, surprisingly, it was quite a hit, so we did a post-mortem to find out why it was so successful. As a product designer, it has always been a dream to have something like a MUJI by Singapore instead of Japan because there were no similar local object labels. The success of the collaboration really woke me up—I realised that Supermama could be the one to fill in this gap.
From there, we started collaborating with many local designers. We do design some pieces ourselves, but we make it a point to work with as many local designers as possible, primarily because we want to create a Singapore language instead of a Supermama language.
Can you tell us some distinctive features of Supermama?
Supermama started without a logo and branding—nothing at all. I rented the space from a Hainanese clan, so there was only the clan’s signboard. One night my daughter, Donna, couldn’t sleep and decided to draw what she called an elephant and a hippo, which became our logo. It doesn’t look like it contains either animal but somehow one could still perceive them. That really intrigued me and I wanted Supermama to be that; I want people to come into Supermama not being able to grasp what Supermama is.
I also really take pride in showing my products. Sometimes, I don’t care how I curate, position, or package my products. Being a product designer, what matters to me is that the product must be good. When I first started, I threw away all the packaging of the collections and displayed them as they were. If people wanted to buy, they would.
Furthermore, what I really like about my staff is that although they are all introverts, even the marketing team, they are all very creative people. I find this ‘quietness’ really defines Supermama as a brand.
Read more in The U Press N˚10 (Singapore edition).