‘Simitaiji?’ is a local slang to ask ‘What’s Up?’. Just like other Singaporean phrases, it can take on other meanings. With a change in tone, it could mean ‘What’s your problem?!’ (another local slang) or even a friendlier ‘Hey, how are you?’
For Ashley Wang and Shawn Heng, (pictured below) ‘Simitaiji’ refers to their less-than-a-year-old baby. Three years ago, this bubbly pair got to know each other through common interests; and with Ashley’s encouragement for Shawn’s design works, it gave birth to their own local brand with the name, you guessed it, Simitaiji.
I got to meet this dynamic duo to find out more about them and, true to their nature, we had a great interview filled with lots of Singlish.
Hi guys, thanks for taking time of your daily schedule to share with us more about yourselves. I’ll like to start this conversation to find find out more about what do you guys do?
Shawn (S): Ashley did fashion design, in the past, and I am a Graphic Designer.
Ashley doesn’t do fashion design anymore?
Ashley (A): Not anymore. I have changed focus in my design style although you’ll still see traces of my fashion design background in some of my works. Plus I’ve also moved to another industry for a full time job.
So what exactly is Simitaiji?
S: Basically, we design stuff with a Singapore twist.
A: It started as a very personal design but it evolved over time la.
S: Initially I designed a shirt for a personal purpose but when people saw the design online, they started asking about where they can buy it etc. And then, slowly, we just came up with the idea of designing more designs.
Then comes the next important question, why the name ‘Simitaiji’?
S: We wanted a very Singaporean name. and initially we were toying with the idea of Simila**iao but we made it more refine afterwards. (laughs) I thought about tai-chi, about people pushing responsibilities away.
A: Basically, we just wanted something that Singaporeans will understand. So this fit nicely.
Sounds like it was very well-thought out. So how many products have you guys been selling?
S: We have 8 (I think; *looks at Ashley*), since last year.
What are some of the platforms where people can actually buy your products?
S: We are on Facebook, Instagram, and little bit of Twitter and we have launched our website on 1st May! A few different channels here and there, but mainly the website and some third party websites as well.
So what is your special, signature product that people can look for?
A: ‘Kueh’ (pictured below) is one of our special products. It is basically shaped like a kueh and it’s very cute.
It looks so cute and unique, can I order customised design?
A: Bo bao (not guaranteed). Becoming a machine, a bit hard but will try (laughs).
Perhaps for special occasions or special projects?
Let’s go into more personal questions to find out more about you guys. have you guys been wanting to be in the design industry since you were young?
S: I wanted to be in design. I studied architecture in poly. After National Service, I went to Melbourne to do design.
A: My dad was in fashion (industry), so I got into the industry. I didn’t really like working so I decided to do something else. Fashion and art was my field of studies. Shawn was working for other people back then, but I felt that the designs he does are very nice so I kept probing him to do more and then somehow we came up with Simitaiji.
Simitaiji is uniquely Singaporean and I have some Singaporean questions for you guys. What are your favourite Singaporean dishes?
A: I cannot think of it now, jialat!
S: Curry Chicken, Singaporean enough?
Favourite Singaporean shows and actors or artists?
S: I use to watch and like VR Man (pictured below) unfortunately (laughs). Although it was very corny. I think for actors, artists, I like Kumar and Dick Lee.
A: I cannot think of anything again, sibei jialat. Kumar, I like him too!
What about your favourite Singaporean phrases?
S: SIA LAH.
A: I don’t have.
S: She says KNS all the time.
Okay, it seems like Ashley isn’t able to think of anything at the moment, let’s move on to other questions. What type of designs do you guys like to do?
A: With my background, I am more towards the feel and touch of things because I learn more about things like knitting and drapping, and arts and crafts.
S: I am more typography. I love more lame, punny double meaning stuff.
So how long do you guys spend on design per day or per week?
A: It is on a ‘whenever-got-time’ basis. (laughs). You can see me knitting on the trains sometimes.
S: it’s pretty much part of our lives. It is just something that we can switch to during work, on and off. We don’t exactly have ‘fixed’ time to work on Simitaiji, it’s pretty much whenever we want I guess. Sometimes, she may be on, I may be off, and vice versa.
Why did you guys choose to go into designing?
A: Design is about making sense of the world. You design something base on what you can visualise.
S: I was always doodling and liked it. Even during my internship, I used a software meant for other purposes to create other unrelated things. (laughs)
What else do you guys enjoy about design?
S: I like it when people understand my designs. Different people ave different interpretations.
Does it matter if other people see your work in a certain other way?
S: It’s fine.
A: Just like painters and authors. Everything is open for interpretation.
S: For example the national gallery of Singapore logo. I think it’s nice but there’s lots of criticism about it. Open to interpretation.
What are some of the challenges you guys face through this time working on Simitaiji?
A: No time. And always doing lots of trial and error.
S: I guess, mostly when we disagree with each other.
So how do you guys solve such disagreements?
S: Fight lor! (laughs)
A: No la, where got fight. Depends on how much we disagree. But we always end up trying to reason it out with each other and putting it nicely.
S: We get opinions from family members a lot.
A: We have lots of discussions and really depends on how much one can convince the other about an idea. Just sell the idea.
When do you guys disagree the most? About designs or products?
S: Sometimes we may agree and then at some point, we might suddenly disagree. Like for example, we might agree with design but not execution.
A: Lots of back and forth. Like who likes VR man (laughs).
*drifts into another conversation about VR man*
A: His sense of humour is so lame but although it’s so lame, you’re laughing at it at the same time. It’s funny but painful.
S: I have a dry sense of humour which she don’t understand. Like more British.
Any future plans for Simitaiji?
S: The website in May 2015 and to be more self sufficient.
A: Im not sure if it’s gonna be something that we will put a lot of time into it because we are also busy with other things.
S: The dream is that it’s a thing on it’s own. A brand that stands on it’s own.
When will that be?
S: Maybe in 5-10 years.
A: It’s an interest, it’s a hobby and when you make it into something more serious like a business, it becomes stressful. Simitaiji is still young so it’s still got time to grow.
S: I think we see a few similar brands but they play more on the nostalgia theme with the Singaporean twist and will talk about ‘younger days’. We are not so much that, more of what is Singaporean in behaviour and nature.
What would you guys say about the Singapore arts scene/design scene?
S: The design scene is changing. Singaporeans are beginning to accept different kinds of design. People are more open now.
A: Yea, Singaporeans are more open to local designers and we do have good designs here and also we have good products.
S: Singapore is matching up in terms of products.
A: But in terms of paying for designs, we are no where near the world standard.
S: Though the quality is there.
A: Singaporeans like to squeeze designers here. Every single drop from them.
S: But the mindset is changing. Slowly.
What will you say to young people who want to go into the design industry?
A: For money, no. For passion, for interests, yes.
S: I think they should go abroad first. Broaden their minds.
A: Both of us went overseas to study and when we came back, we both felt something for Singapore. Sometimes when you’re overseas, people just don’t get you in terms of phrases then you realise that Singapore does have an identity but you only realise it when you’re overseas.
S: I was in Australia watching soccer and then some of my friends and I would use phrases like ‘Power la’ but my Aussie friends would not understand.
I think there’s something heartwarming about having Singaporeans overseas sometimes. There is the identity, I guess people are just trying to identify something that is actually there all this time.
A: I will show my friends 881 to showcase Singapore sometimes.
S: It’s also very interesting how foreigners want to learn Singlish. Although it’s not a concept that you can grasp easily.
Thanks for your time Ashley and Shawn!
<End of Interview>
Head over to http://simitaiji.com to find out more about Simitaiji and support local designers like Shawn and Ashley!
Check out their Facebook page as well.