Across fashion, photography, retail, beauty and entertainment, these digital powerhouses in Singapore are gaining international traction and recognition—proving that the mighty Lion has a lot more byte in its roar.
By Dana Koh Gerald Tan.
Founder of Indie Collaborates
After moving to Singapore from Sydney in 2014, Kristen Leaman soon founded Indie Collaborates, the city’s first creative and talent management agency for the social media and online influencer industry. At that point, it wasn’t really much of an industry at all. Today, the business boasts about 20 highly bankable local influencers with diverse aesthetics and USPs, including Isabel Tan (@prettyfrowns), Savina Chai (@savinachaiyj) and Christabel Chua (@bellywellyjelly).
You could call Leaman the digital power broker, connecting the right client to the right talent. Think: The time she helped Chua leverage on her passion for beauty into partnerships with Guerlain and Benefit Cosmetics.
What were some of the challenges you faced upon entering the influencer industry? Initially, I had a lot of meetings where people were more fascinated with finding out what I was doing in Singapore and where I’m from (I’m Australian), as opposed to finding out which influencers they should be collaborating with and why. Brands were hesitant and explained that their budgets were tied up with traditional media. I faced a lot of rejection in the early days, but I didn’t let that deter me. I knew influencer marketing was going to stick around and I knew it was going to grow.
Eventually, brands couldn’t ignore it and they started factoring influencer marketing in with their strategies.
Has endorsing whatever brand that comes along become a norm today? I personally feel that in 2017, an influencer can work for luxury brands and work for more commercial brands, as long as they stay true to their own style and are genuinely interested in the brands or products they choose to work with.
This is where social media has turned traditional norms upside down, and I love it. I feel it is a thing of the past to be purely categorised as “luxury” and therefore you can only be seen working with “luxe” labels. This is just not the reality for most people.
How has influencer marketing evolved? Influencer marketing has become much more targeted and localised. Brands are becoming more strategic with who they are choosing to align themselves with. They have discovered it is not always about large audiences, it is about whether their audience is the right fit and if the influencer is aligned with their brand and their beliefs. It can be incredibly disruptive to the more traditional methods; especially when brands have strict guidelines, campaign messages and KPIs to be hit. But if they research their influencers and see a good fit, they need to trust that he or she will integrate the message into something that also feels natural to them.
Need a crash course on what’s happening with the streetwear scene? Simply scroll through Timothy Suen’s Instagram feed (@timsuen) for all your updates. The 23-year-old student captures the newest faces, the most covetable sneakers and latest party happenings with an artistic eye, then splices those with evocative pictures of cityscapes from his travels. He’s got an impressive resume to boot too, having worked with established names such as Hypebeast and Highsnobiety.
How would you say “street” photography is disrupting the image industry? I think street photography has always been around but has been democratised through the proliferation of social media. The impact of that is that traditional, high fashion photography has become more open to accepting this “new” style. On the other hand, with many photographers jumping on this bandwagon, it becomes increasingly difficult to find and maintain your own voice.
Which shot changed it all for you? I think it was a simple shot of a queue at the Supreme x Air Jordan 5 campout in Tokyo. It gained traction after Hypebeast asked me to cover it for them. That was followed by a retainer stint at Highsnobiety.
What’s your take on streetwear’s influence on high fashion? I am quite undecided on this. On one hand, I love how streetwear has become so widely accepted. Even in fashion week coverage, you can’t help but notice an increasing number of industry leaders decked in the latest streetwear pieces. This blurring of lines has given the average person an opportunity to identify himself with a more “luxe” image, something he was previously unable to. But just like urban photography, this phenomenon has become so mainstream that a majority of today’s generation have lost their personal identity. Also, with regard to streetwear collaborations with high fashion houses, they have become increasingly inaccessible with higher price points, as such defeating the purpose of streetwear brands.
MICHELLE LEE AND CHARLOTTE TAN
This hilarious duo exploded onto the social media sphere after their Dubsmash (a lip sync app) videos went viral in 2015. Their most famous—a clip of them mimicking car sirens—has racked up over a hundred million views. Nothing’s been able to stop them since. Not even clients, who prefer the pair’s no-holds-barred, iPhone-shot videos over perfectly edited campaigns (which they are just as proficient at), produced with unexpected plot twists and a wicked sense of humour.
How would you describe yourselves as content creators? Charlotte (C): Woke. Dank. Funny. I feel like we are opening up Singapore’s comedy scene because prior to us, it wasn’t very stimulating.
Michelle (M): I think we’ve designed a space on the Internet and social media where we can express ourselves and welcome others who share the same attitude and beliefs to join us. It’s a union of Singaporeans who aren’t afraid to recognise we know nothing but strive to be informed and are not shy to be opinionated.
How have your social media personas and fame changed your lives? M: We just got signifi cantly richer. But it’s not enough. I’m still poor. I’ve always had a close group of friends so nothing much has changed. But I definitely want to be so rich to the point where I don’t have to pretend to be grounded anymore and I can be rude to everyone.
C: Nothing has changed. My boyfriend still pays no attention to me.
What are your career goals at this point? M: We are already in the works of building a new media platform. Charlotte and I intend to go into makeup and the rest will be building new personalities and doing more creative behind-the-scenes work.
Why the name youtiao666? And where can we find the best youtiao in the world? M: The best youtiao in the world is definitely from Rochor Original Beancurd. It was the place where I first hung out with Charlotte after school. I think I fell in love with her then.
C: The name came up when we were brainstorming for an Instagram account name. And because of our history and how ridiculous it would sound as a name, we thought it made sense. The “666” is open to your own interpretation. But don’t worry, we are not here to spread some occult message!
Tall and effortlessly chic, Nejla Matam-Finn launched The Fifth Collection—an online retailer peddling quality vintage and pre-loved designer goods—with her husband in 2014. Anyone who’s paid a visit to the site will agree that trawling through the tasteful curate on The Fifth Collection can be likened to taking a trip down fashion’s memory lane; each piece looks as if it has its own story to tell. The website hit a new stride last year when Matam-Finn and her team secured around $2 million in seed funding from a group of investors, thus flipping the page to another chapter for The Fifth Collection.
How has The Fifth Collection evolved since its beginnings? We have been in operation for over three years now, but have been building the business for almost four. We’ve earned the trust of the best collectors in Singapore and won the vote for Best Singapore Digital Startup, and grown from a couple of part-time desks in a co-working space to a team of 11 in our shophouse on Club Street.
Has the funding changed something? Yes, but not in the way most people imagine. First, it’s amazing how raising money has raised our profile and given us legitimacy on the market even though we’ve been doing the same job for years. Prior to that, it was not rare for people to ask if that’s the only thing we do, as if it were inconceivable that it’s a real business. We take external investment very seriously—I’d rather lose my own money than lose someone else’s. So the other thing that has changed is that we have a new layer of pressure and expectations that we didn’t have before.
Luckily, it also comes with a few new pillars of support and advice from those same investors.
What does the business offer new and existing customers? We’ve always worked towards the idea that The Fifth Collection should be an extension of every modern woman’s wardrobe.
Collectors buy and sell their items on our site, experiencing more luxury while owning and spending less. We see ourselves powering the modern luxury lifestyle—consume less, experience more. We curate and authenticate everything to make it easy, enjoyable and safe. By extending the life cycle of purchases in this way, we also hope to do our part for the environment by reducing wasteful consumption.
What would you be doing if you hadn’t started The Fifth Collection? I love strategic branding and I find the new advertising mediums fascinating.
I’d probably have ended up working in an agency or luxury group. This is my speciality, after all.
One look at Nicolas Travis’ porcelain complexion and the first question is always: “What skincare do you use?” The 29-year-old is a walking billboard for his beauty brand, Allies of Skin (he even has a tattoo of the logo). The brand has swiftly achieved global success and a cult following since—with earnings upwards of $700k to show for—but it was Travis’ slow and steady approach to research and development that has perfected the formula that’s powering three existing products, with 10 more in the works.
Why did you choose digital marketing for your brand? The goal was always to create a tightly curated collection of skin-changing products. We do not want to excessively add to the already noisy marketplace, which is why we launched the line with only three products. We had to make do with what we had and it turned out to be very advantageous for us because it allowed us to reach an international audience without a hefty investment.
What was your breakout moment? Becoming the first Singaporean beauty brand to be stocked at Space NK, Net-a-Porter and Mr Porter.
Can you break down the science behind your products? We create intelligent, adaptogenic formulas that provide everything your skin needs to repair and heal itself. Our formulas adapt to the changing needs of your skin, and are non-toxic and free of traditional fillers like silicones. So every formula is packed to the brim with actives that function as multi-nutrient supplements for the skin.
What does the term “disruptor” mean to you, and how does Allies of Skin epitomise this? It means you don’t colour within the lines and that you play by your own rules. We don’t follow trends. We believe in creating products that are missing in the marketplace. We’re creating our own tribe; one product and one customer at a time. ■