As I pen this, Singapore has just formally exited its “Circuit Breaker” stage. To the non-Singaporean readers out there, “Circuit Breaker” is the term our Government uses to describe what is essentially a lockdown.
While we can certainly see the light at the end of the tunnel, we are not quite there yet. We are currently in Phase 1, which to many is basically just an extended Circuit Breaker. Retail stores mostly remain shut, and dine-ins are still not allowed. Many small business owners face a continued loss of income, having to pay fixed costs such as wages and rent even when they are not allowed to open.
Here at Wah So Shiok, I’ve had the opportunity to work and interact with many local business owners in the realm of menswear and watches. Some, especially those with a physical storefront, have shared with me that the current situation has put a severe dent in their earnings, with the year’s profits essentially eroded. A few even confided that they might have no choice but to wind things up. This was when they were expecting to be able to reopen on the 2nd of June – now that that’s extended by at least another 4 weeks, many of them are in serious danger of going under.
If that were to happen, it would be a travesty. Take Meiko Tailor, for example. Uncle Chung (pictured above) has been running Meiko Tailor out of Pan Pacific Hotel for over four decades. They had to stay closed since the end of March, as the Government repurposed Pan Pacific Hotel as a quarantine zone for Singaporean citizens returning from overseas. That’s 3-4 months of little to no income. Even when they are allowed to resume operations (hopefully in July) Uncle Chung predicts that business will still be slow, as people continue to work from home for the foreseeable future.
Others, like Maison 21G, have tried to adapt the best they can. They usually hold perfume workshops in their lovely Duxton boutique, but like many others, the store is shut during this pandemic. To adapt and stay afloat, the local fragrance label has pivoted to making scented hand sanitizers, as well as home scents. While it’s great to see such brands being nimble, the consensus is that this isn’t sustainable. Many have reflected to me that the current COVID-19 pandemic is much worse than the SARS or 2008 Financial Crisis, as at least they were allowed to remain in operation then. I’ve known these brand owners for quite a while now, and some of them have become friends. Seeing them struggling to pay wages, having to consider laying staff off or worse, folding things up makes me immeasurably sad.
As such, I’m writing this to implore all of you to support your local businesses as much as possible. These are trying times, and to get through it we need to lend each other our support. As much as possible, please do try to patronise local businesses. For example, instead of going to a mega-chain like Owndays for your optical needs, why not support a local brand like Oblique Eyewear instead? Or instead of buying a mass-produced Hirsch watch strap, why not get a handcrafted one from homegrown strap label Delugs? If you need a bag or a wallet, why not buy one from a Singaporean company such as Gnome & Bow instead of an international one like Braun Buffel? I know this might sound cliche, but know that when you purchase from these brands, your money isn’t going to line the pockets of some rich CEO. Instead, your money goes towards helping the brand owners pay rent (yes, many still have to pay rent even when they are shut), and their employees. If you need a particular item, do some research and see if there’s a Singaporean alternative. Let’s all take the extra effort to give our local economy the boost it needs, one small jolt at a time.
I know it’s been all doom and gloom up till here, so I would like to end this article on a more uplifting note. I’ve read countless articles these past few weeks that claim consumerism is dead – the economy is in the tank, people are spending mostly on essentials, people are going to stop buying things that they don’t need. While that is undoubtedly true to a certain extent, I don’t think the future of retail is so bleak, especially for the brands that I cover here on Wah So Shiok. People are going to go out again, and when they do, they will still want to look good and feel good. If anything, I predict that consumers will be more conscious about their purchases, choosing to do more research to ensure that they are buying a quality product and getting the most bang for their buck. When that happens, brands such as W.H.Y & Co (pictured above) will persevere because people will recognise the pure passion that they invest in their work.
Take the Phantom II from local watch microbrand Spectre Time, for example. The watch is the unadulterated vision of the brand’s founder Gulshan, borne out of a desire to create a quality sports watch that’s affordable for the masses. When we buy such a watch, we buy into that vision, and wearing the watch becomes an emotional experience. The same applies when we don a custom-made suit from a tailor like Closeknip, wear a dress shoe from Gaius Walks, hold a briefcase from Faire Leather, or spray on a designer scent from Scent by Six – you feel something when you wear them. There’s an inexplicable emotional resonance. The same can’t be said for a toothbrush, or toilet paper, essential as they are.
We are currently living through a truly historic time. Let us remember 2020 as a year where incredible unity and solidarity was shown. We will get through this grave time by exhibiting the greatest in ourselves, and by supporting those in our community.
Like many of you, I yearn for the day when we can all go out, dine-in, and meet up with our friends and loved ones again. We are almost there, just not quite yet. Till then, let’s stay safe, stay home, and support local.
List of local businesses to support:
For those interested, I’ve compiled several lists below on homegrown businesses that you can support in the realms of watches and menswear.
P.S Do check out the new “Discounts!” page for exclusive discounts for Wahsoshiok readers! More brands will be added very soon – stay tuned!
P.S.S.S Shiok is a common word Singaporeans use to express admiration or approval. As of 2016, you can find the definition of the word in the Oxford English Dictionary.