Would you dare to leave the cushioned life to live your dreams? There are some who do—many after becoming a mother or father. Edwin Low and Lee Meiling are some of the most genuine people I have ever met. I first met Edwin when I visited this shop I heard about on the second storey of a shophouse in Seah Street with a strange name. After that I would meet him many more times for interviews. It was always a delight to have a reason/excuse to go and browse at his shop. I nearly bought (another) teapot once—four at home is enough for now yes—and I have lingered a lot at the ceramics section. The window with the plants; the sunlight shining in creating a diffused air of calm, the placid mood of quiet that amplifies the soft shuffling of feet on the dusty cement floor—do you remember the original shop and were you one of the first few who heaved a breath of delight at the quaintness and wondered if the shop could continue while secretly hoping it would?
Today Supermama is doing so well and I’m happy for Edwin and Meiling. At the recent Maison & Object Asia fair, I saw Edwin with his new collection of babies’ and children’s clothing called Ikue. It is manufactured by a Japanese fabric maker called Maruju founded in 1928 located in Nagoya. The age-old manufacturer experiments with technologies like silkscreen printing, 4C digital printing, stitching on textiles, etc. to create things for the new era. Supermama’s ‘Animal Camouflage’ collection features subtle animals hiding within swirls of colours. I took the opportunity of this launch to speak with them on being parents and their business. It’s our first Conversation series. We’re honoured really and pleased that they have shared these beautiful pictures of their recent trip to Japan. Travel envy is really hard to ignore!
Can you share some favourite memories of your childhood that were important to you?
Meiling (ML): As a child, I could vividly recall waking up late in the mornings especially on rainy days and as my parents and my siblings all slept in the same room, we would laze in bed and in ‘darkness’ and talked to one another. That to me was one of my favourite moments simply because the interaction was so simple and yet we genuinely just wanted to spend more time with one another.
Edwin Low (EL): My grandma had a pig/chicken/duck farm and made bean curd for a living. For the first six to seven years of my life, I stayed over at her farm every weekend. So in a way, I don’t have to imagine much when people talk about how Singapore grew from a “fishing village” to a modern city. I have seen how a kampong works, how vegetables are sold from roving pick-ups, how pigs are weighed before slaughter; how all these things changed and disappear so rapidly, etc. These experiences are very surreal but real. I’ll never exchange them for anything—definitely not an iPad.
In your opinion, what does it take to be a Superpapa and a Supermama?
ML: Personally, I think all mums are super and I really mean it. A mum takes care of the home—from the nitty-gritties to the major decisions. But having said that, a home is not complete without the presence of a father. It is the presence and the commitment of both the mum and the father that makes a family. Hence, if we can be present and committed in our homes and to our children, that to me is a Supermama & Superpapa.
EL: Personally, I feel that the best gift to our kids is for us to live our own lives to the fullest.
How have your daily rituals changed since becoming parents? Can you share what a typical day for each of you is like?
ML: A typical day for me would be to prepare the kids for school, and then sometimes have a good breakfast together before heading for work. By evening, we would both fetch the kids from their grandparents’ house and then head home to spend some time as a family before another day begins. The daily rituals do change after becoming parents but we really do not mind it because of the joy that it brings us.
EL: Same same. For me, breakfast is an important part of the day—be it spending it with the kids, or by ourselves or even when I am alone. We need the short time to clear our minds before we start the day.
Meiling, you share such perceptive thoughts about life, parenting and design on Supermama’s journal. I think yours is a beautiful and heartfelt ‘voice’ for the brand’s products and philosophy. It is not something that many brands have or want to share—a personal voice. Was it difficult to put yourself and your heart out there?
ML: I didn’t use to write until Supermama was set up. When I first started, it was just an attempt to try to document our thoughts and experience in Supermama. But I was encouraged to keep writing to document the experience and my thoughts especially since I’ve had so much varied experiences and inspiration since Supermama was set up. So I would say it is not difficult at all and because it is personal to me, it also reflects our journey of personal growth and maturity as the years go by.
What are your passions and how do you aspire to share them with your child?
ML: I believe in the multiplication of talents, a bible principle and I always believed that we are accountable to how much we give according to how much we are given. It is not a passion per se but it is a belief that I hold on to and it guides me in my life in little and big ways. This is an important truth because like what Spiderman says, “With great powers come great responsibility”. Hahaha but it is true and we should not just live for ourselves but something greater than ourselves.
EL: The word ‘passion’ is overrated and increasingly I find that it has become an excuse to drop everything else in order to pursue what we like. It can be a very selfish act. I always believe that Supermama is our calling, not passion. While passion is inward looking, a calling looks outward. It is a thorough search for our gifts, and upon recognising them, putting them to the fullest use to benefit our society (or circle of influence). I want my kids to enjoy their childhood first, and then in their growing up years, learn to discover their gifts and eventually question how their gifts can benefit others. I don’t think there is a need to intentionally share our passion with the kids.
Since its inception, Supermama has grown into a reputable brand that inspires with its craft-focused initiatives and dedication to good design. How are your children involved in its development, if at all?
ML: Donna my girl is the designer of the Supermama logo! It is something that is invaluable and very hard to be replaced.
EL: Actually apart from the logo, my children are not involved at all. Aiyoh, just let them enjoy what they like for now la, they don’t have to become designer type of kids—I learnt that when Donna insisted to buy a super-obiang Elsa bag [from the Frozen cartoon].
Supermama collaborates with many Japanese manufacturers to create products that marry Japanese craft and Singapore design. This means you travel a lot to Japan. What are some of your favourite memories of these travels?
ML: I enjoy meeting our Japanese partners and visiting the craft facilities as it is a precious relationship that we do not take for granted. I don’t have a particular favourite moment as I always find joy and inspiration when I’m in Japan, looking at the professionalism and dedication of our Japanese friends in their work.
EL: It is always the people that make the travel meaningful. That is why I dread traveling alone. We just came back from a trip to Kyoto where our kids and us bunked in with one of the makers’ apartment in Kameoka. He brought us into the woods, the onsen, hanami (‘flower viewing’) under the Sakura trees, etc—however, it would mean nothing if Mei Ling, my kids or the maker friend was not with me.
Can you share more with us on this trip?
We went to Tokyo and Kyoto in March this year and we brought Donna & Toby along for the first time to Japan. It was a great time of bonding and the most memorable part of the trip was when we were hosted by Roy and Sakiko in Kyoto—founders of the embroidery company Kyo-to-to. They brought us to a mountainous area in Kyoto for a hike and we had the most wonderful time exploring the forest and we even spotted wild deers. When I asked Donna and Toby what was most memorable about the trip, they shared different things with us on different days. My guess is that everything to them is memorable and they simply enjoy spending good time as a family and appreciate the new experience everyday.
Some of Supermama’s recent projects include children’s wooden toys and a new children’s clothing brand ‘IKUE’. How do the products fit into the Supermama story?
ML: Supermama believes in the concept of play and that design is for everyone. Hence, we want to introduce good design to children’s products.
EL: Last year, we kickstarted the IKUE label, which means ‘layering’ in Japanese. It is a collection of fabric items that includes blankets, towels, mini scarves, etc., designed for kids and conditioned (washed to a certain softness). We got the name from how these fabrics are made—each is layered many times in order to achieve a fluffy feeling. We also started on some prototypes of non-technology driven toys such as the wooden playground set which was made in Gifu, Japan. As we are doing this interview, we are in the midst of a discussion to translate the entire IKUE brand into one that is specific for kids that include wearable, playthings, etc. We don’t have a specific Supermama branding or philosophy, so long as we understand the material thoroughly, and feel ‘right’ about working with the maker, we will take on the project. Most or in fact for all collaborations, the makers must show his own belief in his own products above everything else (including profits) before we decide to take it into Supermama.
What do your children think about what you do at Supermama?
ML: They know that we are working in Supermama but I think they haven’t understood the idea of work except to ‘work’ on a laptop and that Supermama is important and part of our lives because we talk about Supermama in our everyday conversations.
EL: Donna just told me today that she wants to be a shopkeeper in Mama when she grows up. Haha…
Lastly, please continue this sentence: Play to me is:
ML: Letting my hair down and enjoying the moment.
EL: being happy.
Thank you for the inspiring answers!
More from the Ikue ‘Animal Camouflage’ collection. The collection is available at the Supermama Store located at the Singapore Art Museum.
+ images courtesy of Supermama