Without a doubt, Boutique Fairs Singapore has become Singapore’s largest shopping event, and by no means has this happened over night. It has evolved from years of the immense vision, hard work and dedication by Founder and Fair Director, Charlotte Cain.
What started in 2002, Boutique Fairs Singapore has garnered an incredible following amongst discerning shoppers who desire beautifully made objects. From Charlotte’s unwavering focus on prioritising design-led products, ‘Boutiques’ has helped launched many new and under-the-radar brands into the local stratosphere; many of which are socially responsible businesses or contribute to social good in some way. What’s more is that ‘Boutiques is more than a shopping event. At the core of Boutiques, and Charlotte’s personal values, lies ongoing support for charities and non-governmental organisations.
The more time spent with Charlotte, the more one learns about this hard-working, overachieving woman. Behind the success of Boutiques is a talented ceramicist and foster-mother of three children, through Sanctuary House.
We are honoured to have been able to spend a morning with Charlotte to talk about the journey of Boutique Fairs Singapore, and the social impact around our favourite hobby – shopping!
My life pre-‘Boutiques’ was being a mum to two daughters and working in my ceramics studio. We arrived in Singapore in 1989 after 10 years in Manila, Philippines. Our daughter Olivia was two years old then and our youngest was born here in Singapore that same year. I was fortunate enough to be accepted as a student of renowned Singapore potter, Mr. Iskandar Jalil in 1990, where I took lessons and participated in my first group exhibition at the National Museum of Singapore. Thereafter, I was encouraged to set-up my own studio and enjoyed many wonderful years absorbed in art amidst the black and white surroundings of my pottery studio – with gas kiln and all! I was incredibly privileged to be able to structure my creative time around the first priority of being a mother. Having a private studio led to several solo exhibitions, group exhibitions and my involvement in many, many charity events.
Life in Singapore
I love the diversity of cultures, the climate and basically everything Singapore has to offer. I am still – after so many years here – fascinated by the fact that a 10 minute drive can take you from the intensity of the bustling city to the heartlands where time seems to have stood still. Bringing up our girls here has given them tools for life and respect for all cultures and religions. Our eldest daughter, Olivia, also lives and works in Singapore.
Our volunteer involvement with Sanctuary House has enriched our lives on so many levels. First of all, it was an eye-opener to the various social layers of Singapore and an introduction to how we can step in and step up and help. We have fostered three babies and I’m glad to say that they all have new lives now. The first two babies are now four and five years old and we are fortunate to see them and spend time with their new families. The most recent baby we fostered was four months old when she and her young mother moved in with us. She is nearly four years old today. Her mum has been granted an apartment with the assistance of the Ministry of Social and Family Development. She is married and has found work. Her daughter stays with us for a night or two every week and whenever there is a need for us to help out. Through this l connection, we do feel we have an extended family right here in Singapore.
The beginning of ‘Boutiques’
As I was heavily involved in the arts in the ’90s and selling my works through galleries, I felt I missed the interaction with the collectors who bought my work. Whether you are an artist or designer, every piece has a story that is very personal. That story often gets lost when we start selling through a commercial third party. I find that the most important aspect of designing is the feedback from customers – the conversations and interactions that form a dialogue. As designers and crafters, we often view our work from a very specific angle. Such dialogue allows us to view our work from a new angle. I felt Singapore needed a platform for this. In my first years of being in Singapore, I started a small fashion import business with a friend. Through this venture, I gained some experience hosting pop-ups and running stalls at local fairs, which of course gave me an insight into how it is being a vendor.
The evolution of ‘Boutiques’
We were three friends with the same goal of creating a platform for new designers to test out their designs and products and build interactions with customers at the same time. We rented a space inside the Fort Canning Park building and held the first ‘Boutiques’ event with 16 vendors. The event grew over the years and has been expanding ever since. We first started out with an 800sq m space at Fort Canning. Boutiques at The Pit Building now spans over 3000sq m and 120 vendors, wherein most adopt some form of social responsibility. There has been an incredible increase in design-led businesses both in the local scene and among expats. This is a fantastic growth and shows how women are taking control of their lives and living their dreams of being independent designers and businesswomen. I must say we initially had a tough time filling 16 spots with strong, independent designers but those days are far behind us and we now have a substantial waiting list.
My vision for ‘Boutiques’ has several aspects to it – all with an equal priority:
- To maintain the strong design-led aspect
- To give new design-led businesses an opportunity to showcase and network
- To support charities and bring awareness of local charities.
Many people do not realise that Singapore, like every single country in the world, has families that fall between the cracks. Apart from that, I have always supported young and upcoming designers. ‘Boutiques’ has a history of sponsoring spaces for young designers, offering them the opportunity to network and market their work free of charge. Some of these have been design students from LaSalle or NAFA or student-led projects.
A day in the life
My day is composed of emails, phone calls, planning, planning and more planning. I spend a lot of time coordinating and supporting vendors as much as I can to ensure they feel confident and prepared for their individual boutique pop-ups at The Pit Building.
The biggest challenge is the logistics – from venue rental to obtaining an immense amount of governmental licenses.
What makes ‘Boutiques’ special
Shopping at ‘Boutiques’ is so special due to the fact that the vendors do such an incredible job of creating a boutique space in which to showcase all their designs. We create a space that is open, bright and relaxed, where shoppers can spend the entire day shopping and chilling with friends. There is lots of space for strollers and plenty of free parking. The lounge area has doubled in size and we are very excited to reveal the space designed by Barbara Fritschy of Make Room with furniture from Originals and refreshments by Drink! wine bar. It is the perfect spot to chill out and catch up over drinks. New to this edition of ‘Boutiques’ are workshops on interior design hosted by Make Room as well as talks and workshops presented by Threadbare & Squirrel.
Social responsibility as a core value
Social responsibility has always been a large aspect of ‘Boutiques’. Most of the vendors feel naturally inclined to incorporate some form of social responsibility within their portfolios. There has been little attempt to highlight this most important part. By ‘Sharing The Love’ I hope to highlight the fact that ‘Boutiques’ doesn’t just exist to promote strong individual designs, but is also inseparable from the concept of giving back. This can be through reviving artisanal crafts in villages across Asia, empowering women to work from home, supporting charities and so forth. We are also happy that 100 Women Doing Good is part of this edition of ‘Boutiques’. Drop by their space and have a chat with them, you will be amazed at what they have accomplished.
The importance of social responsibility
I think it is something everybody is conscious about today. It is all about active, responsible shopping and supporting others wherever possible.
Boutiques’ social imprint
‘Boutiques’ generates social impact by creating awareness around conscious consumption – by sharing with customers how they can be ethical and informed shoppers and encouraging customers to chat with the vendors and hear their story.
Personal highlights of Boutiques
I love the buzz when it’s time for set up and all the vendors start creating and branding their space. One of my favourite moments has to be that first walk-through of the space when the displays are up and everything looks absolutely amazing. Seeing all the new designs and products and catching up with vendors and of course the buzz of shoppers, the interaction with charities, the networking of small independent businesses and charities… That’s what it is all about – helping and supporting each other whilst giving back.
I am very excited that we have gotten Singaporean charity, Babes, on board through sponsorship of their space. Babes Pregnancy Crisis Support Limited envisions a more inclusive society where every pregnant teenager needing support will not feel estranged or marginalised. The work that is done at Babes is amazing in empowering the girls to take control of their lives through reconnecting with family, education and finding work all the way from the onset of the pregnancy to the time they feel strong enough to stand on their own feet. Empowering a young mother offers opportunities for the child’s future that they would not otherwise have. We are hoping that customers will drop a few dollars in the donation boxes set up by the entrances to support their work.
I find inspiration in my studio. Working with clay is a passion of mine where there is no sense of time and it’s just the clay, the wheel and me.
On the bookshelf
Paul Auster, Toni Morrison, Margaret Atwood, Alice Munro and Alice Walker are among the favourites in my book collection
Weekends are spent with family and friends or over at our beach house in Nongsa. Biking and kayaking are some of our favourite activities.
Words of advice for other creatives and entrepreneurs
Go for it. Talk to as many people as possible and always stay true to yourself and your dreams. If you have a passion, live it. There is such a strong community of independent designers and businesses that are happy to share their experience with you – and don’t forget – every single one of them had to start from somewhere, so they have walked in your shoes at one point. Never compromise on your individuality – the more you let it show, the better.
When: Friday, Mar 11, 2016 | 9am – 8pm & Saturday, Mar 12, 2016 | 9am – 6pm
Where: F1 Pit Building, No. 1 Republic Boulevard, #02-01, #02-02 and #02-03, Singapore 038975
Payment method: Cash, VISA, Mastercard, AMEX & NETS
Admission: Free (Wheelchair-accessible and stroller-friendly)
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