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SINGAPORE: Singaporeans sell the oddest things online.
Scroll through Carousell’s millions of offerings, for instance, and you’ll find enterprising netizens hawking everything from Thai amulets and truckloads of cheap Swedish furniture to adult diapers and used underwear.
Snoopy boxer panties from a total stranger? Really?
Thankfully, there are also those who sell items that aren’t simply odd or unusual, but actually practical, useful and, dare we say, charming. We’re talking about Singapore’s local makers, hobbyists who pursue their passion in making things and taking it to the next level by selling them online.
And it’s a growing community.
Carousell co-founder and president Marcus Tan points out the healthy presence of like-minded groups on their online platform today. Handmade Crafters, for instance, has 17,000 members, while members of other groups like Handmade Leather Crafters, DIY Jewellery Crafts and Soap Making Enthusiasts also number in the thousands.
Keen to find out what ingenious products our local makers are hawking? Here’s a sampling of the more unusual ones that caught our eye.
Way better than used underwear. But that's just us.
1. WIZARD WANDS (S$15)
Wingardium Leviosa! Harry Potter fans don’t need to make a trip to Diagon Alley – Singapore has its own wandmaker in Rekha Sandiran (@reki09).
Since 2016, the 29-year-old corporate and training events manager has been making these at home for fellow Potterheads. To date, she has sold more than 100 replica wands.
Rekha has done everything from Harry’s and his gang, to Professors Dumbledore’s and Snape’s. Prefer a left-of-centre wand? She’s done Luna Lovegood’s. Feeling evil? There’s Lord Voldemort’s.
“It’s quite challenging to make and I like that," she said of the wand belonging to He Who Must Not Be Named But Was Mentioned In The Previous Paragraph. "It’s white and it’s not the standard wand – it has a pointed end and a slight curve."
These wands may not have dragon heartstrings, troll whiskers or phoenix feathers at their core, but they look pretty legit. Each one takes about an hour to create and are made of lacquer wood, clay and glue.
Not surprisingly, her clients are young adults who’ve grown up with the franchise, and they’re also quite popular as gifts. Last year, Rekha had an order for 30 wands for a Halloween party.
2. UPCYCLED TOUCH LAMPS (S$88 to S$130)
Soda cans, Milo tins and flasks – Brenton Huang (@hey.izzy) turns these into unique touch lamps.
The 37-year-old training manager in the security industry has been upcycling trash and vintage items for close to four years. He began by turning discarded acoustic guitars and ukuleles into shelves before a literal lightbulb moment, shifting to touch lamps a year ago.
“I love vintage stuff, so I combined my love for these and lamps together. I try to make things that are not only decorative but functional,” he said.
Among the more unusual vintage pieces Brenton has worked with are old irons, metronomes and even a Danger Keep Out sign. His most difficult project was a vintage typewriter.
Where does he get the stuff he works with? Right where he sells his stuff. “Every night, I scroll through Carousell lists looking for these,” he said, adding that he also holds monthly workshops on how to create touch lamps.
His next project, however, may be inspired by his two children. “There are a lot of Lego pieces around," he said. "Maybe I can explore using them to make more lamps!”
3. PIMPED-UP NERF GUNS (S$100 to S$1,000)
There are NERF guns and there are – as James Wong (@foldgod88) describes in his Carousell account – NERF guns for “badasses”.
The 27-year-old, who works in industrial relations, has been customising these for the past two years, transforming the humble kiddy blasters into something way cooler. “I’ve loved them since I was young and I always wished I could do something more with them,” he said.
Well, he certainly did. A member of the pioneering NERF team HACK.exe, which comprises hardcore players who all modify their gear for games, Wong took it a step further by modifying these plastic toys for others.
While NERF guns aren’t illegal per se, James points out that there are strict rules that apply to toy guns in Singapore (if you bring a realistic-looking one out in public, you’re simply asking for it). Before he agrees to any job, he assesses his customers and requires them to acknowledge a Declaration of Responsible Use before proceeding to work his magic.
“You could say I’ve carved a niche within the niche; clients who look for something that can make them go ‘wow’,” he said.
4. MINIATURE LOCAL FOOD ACCESSORIES (S$8.80 to S$18.80)
Fancy a satay brooch? How about steamed pau earrings? Karyl Tan and her family (@klay.sg) have got the right miniature makan accessories for you.
Aside from the 25-year-old interior designer, the family-run “hobby-turned-side business” also includes her younger sister Kelly, her boyfriend Rolan, her aunt Stephanie, and sometimes even her grandmother.
“My aunt has been selling miniatures to collectors for about 10 years. @klay.sg came about in August 2017 because we figured that unless you’re a collector, you don't really have a use for these miniature creations except for display in shelves."
Popular items include the traditional nine-layer kueh and pineapple tarts – and making them can be quite complicated. “Basically, it’s very much like baking but in a much smaller scale,” said Karyl.
The most intricate accessory has been the nasi lemak brooch, she said. “Cutting the rice into tiny pieces is a challenging job, and the peanuts also require special attention.”
As for what other culinary inventions are in the pipeline, that depends on what buyers have been asking for. “We already have multiple requests for wanton mee and chendol!”
5. CUSTOM CAT TREES AND MORE (S$40 to S$950)
Shahari bin Shaik Mohd (@shazz55) describes himself as a “passionate wood-lover”. He also happens to have six cats at home. So it’s no surprise that for the past three years, the 49-year-old has been making all sorts of cat-related stuff.
It all began after a cat tree he bought at a pet shop collapsed under the weight of his “big babies”. Inspired by a friend's DIY cat tree, he decided to make one himself – and it caught on. To date, he has sold between 50 to 100 cat trees. He has also started making cat houses.
Shahari, who recently opened a workshop, has a team behind him to create these feline faves using recycled tropical wood such as tembusu and kaya, and recycled pallets crates. These range from cat scratchers to 2.2m-tall cat trees.
His company’s most ambitious project is currently underway. A client has requested for a “cat paradise playhouse”, which will connect two rooms using cat tunnels and highways. One of the rooms will need to have a bed for each of the four cats. “It’s going to be a massive work,” he said. The project’s total cost is estimated to be anywhere between S$6,000 to S$10,000.
Shahari’s cats also play a part in the business. Before delivering the final product, he lets his cats test its stability. “We’re not just making and selling for a living. All the quality control comes from our cats,” he quipped.
6. ‘SINGAPORELANG’ PASSPORTS (S$7)
You won’t get past customs with these but Zinkie Aw’s (@singlishmamashop) spin on Singapore passports do make for nice gifts.
The 33-year-old photographer and instructor’s “Singaporelang” creations – in Gungho and Kaki versions – are actually a greeting card and mini-book, a merchandise spin-off from a photo series project she did in 2015.
“The design draws inspiration from an 'award certificate', which relates to our experience of growing up and receiving certs, and awards,” she added.
Zinkie also sells other items such as Singlish stickers, which include phrases she learned from her sister and nephew (Alamak, Nasi Lemak! Chop Chop Curry Pok!); ‘Huat-paos’ or ang paos with lucky numbers inside some packets; and a Visual Singlish Dictionary, where one can stick Singlish stickers to her corresponding photographs.
To date, she’s sold around 1,000 of these – proof that Singaporeans love their Singlish to bits. Huat, ah!
7. CUSTOM MADE-IN-SG FURNITURE (PRICES VARY)
Many makers simply use their Carousell accounts to promote their hobbies. For Syed Ahmad bin Abdul Rahman Alhabshee (@ahmad.habshee) it became a jumping-off point to pursue a bigger dream.
Today, the 29-year-old woodworker runs the four-year-old artisan furniture workshop Urban Salvation. Among his clients are the likes of artisanal perfume company Freda’d, race car driver Melvin Choo, and television personality Nadiah M Din.
And it all started with a Carousell account in 2013, when he did simple jobs such as refurbishing and varnishing furniture outside his own HDB flat. “My mom was incredibly angry with me for going from a S$5,000-job to nothing. I had no income when I started,” recalled Ahmad.
Business eventually picked up – during the first year of Urban Salvation, around 80 per cent of his business came from his Carousell customers.
Ahmad makes furniture from reclaimed lumber and, recently, new wood. He specialises in mid-century and industrial styles, and common orders include tables and TV consoles.
While the business is basically a one-man show, he does rope in freelance woodworkers to help out – and considers what he does a way to help others who share his craft.