Inspired by how the Japanese designed “for society”, industrial designer Edwin Low began to explore how good local design could be paired with high-quality Japanese craftsmanship to create iconic Singapore souvenirs. The result: award-winning, high-grade ceramic and porcelain products with a uniquely Singaporean twist.
Retailer, designer and local champion of Singapore design Edwin Low’s first foray into Japanese design was in 2005 when he was introduced to the famous Japanese furniture and product designer Toshiyuki Kita.
Low was one of eight young industrial designers selected for a two-week immersion programme with Kita in Osaka, Kyoto and Tokyo. This was a DesignSingapore Council initiative to nurture emerging design talents.
This sparked the start of a long relationship and interest in Japanese crafts. In his interactions with craftsmen, Low observed many challenges for traditional craftsmen in modern Japan. This included a limited knowledge of global taste, which was a barrier to exporting their products overseas. Faced with a rapidly greying population and slowing demand for cultural goods, the artisans were also closing down legacy businesses across Japan.
The brief internship was pivotal for Low: he saw that the Japanese designed for society. This compelled him to change his Masters’ thesis to look at design from the point of sociology, instead of technology.
He began thinking about Singapore’s product culture and its role in shaping Singapore’s national identity.
He felt that well-designed objects had the potential of becoming vehicles of a culture, best exemplified by Japanese product culture and exports. This was a marked departure from local design philosophy which was either focused heavily on the integration of technology designs for business-driven purposes or selling nostalgia, which, in his view, hardly constitute ed as a product culture.
Low found that options for local souvenirs were saturated by kitschy, low-cost, mass-produced miniatures of local icons that did not represent the rich and complex Singaporean culture. He felt that these souvenirs, or cultural exports, did not resonate with Singaporeans and that there was a pent-up demand for quality products for products and even everyday artifacts that could adequately represent the Singapore experience.
Moved by both the desire to bring Japanese crafts overseas and the urge to make Singapore souvenirs better, Low set up Supermama in 2011. He focused first on selling high-quality Japanese products and worked through middlemen.