Arts and crafts for a cause: How it's being done in Singapore

Alycia Lim
Alycia Lim
Anchora collective.

Crafts may be a pastime or a profession, but for some, it's also been a way doing charity.

In Singapore, there are several groups whose founders have combined their love for making things with a desire to help the less fortunate.

Here's a look at what a few have been doing.

Sew-A-Hope

When the earthquake that killed over 9,000 people struck Nepal in May this year, secondary school friends Zwen Chua, 37, and Janice Lim, 37, knew they had to do something to help their friends.

Both of them have strong ties to the country, as Chua goes over biannually for her Buddhism retreats, while Lim goes frequently for trekking.

After raising funds through their personal social media accounts, they were surprised to find they had collected $50,000 in less than two months.

Wanting to help in a more sustainable way, they started in May Operation Rejoice, a non-profit organisation which is in the process of being registered, said Chua.

When another secondary school friend donated fabric to them, Chua and Lim decided to launch Sew-A-Hope, which allows volunteers to pick up the fabric and donate finished goods, such as pencil cases or pouches that the group could sell.

With no prior sewing skills, Chua purchased a sewing machine and began hosting sessions where people could drop by to meet and sew.

She quickly realised, however, that most preferred to work in their private workspace.

While they don’t record the amount of cloth collected by volunteers, there has not been any issues with missing fabric.

“In fact sometimes, volunteers bring back items sewn with their own fabric, as a donation,” she said, adding that everyone can play a part, even children.

Chua, who is a school principal, said, “It is important for people to know that you don’t have to have much to help. Every little bit counts, no matter how little, and everyone can play a part.”

DesignUp Asia

Through their social enterprise DesignUp Asia, co-founders Kim Ong, 55, and Anisa Johnny, who is in her 30s, provide income for women without access to formal employment through jewellery making.

The duo met at a hackathon in 2013, where they first brought their ideas together as strangers and won.

Working specifically with single mothers, the organisation has since trained over 50 women with the help of volunteers, the trade of jewellery making.

The jewellery made by the women are sold online directly through DesignUp Asia's site or through fashion websites such as Zalora.

“The beauty of jewellery making is that it’s modular, so it’s easy to teach and learn,” said Johnny, who comes up with the design collections on their site.

She noted that some of the women they've trained were so good that they have started their own businesses.

“One lady shared that she was always told she had ‘fat fingers', but today she is making amazing jewellery," said Johnny.

The organisation may be in its infancy, but Johnny said they are quickly expanding and are looking to make their mark overseas, the UK in particular.

“We’re really looking to get more orders from retailers so we can increase the number of quantity to give the women more work,” she said.

Anchora Collective

While starting a social enterprise is a great way to give back to community, Anchora Collective founder Cheryl Ou, 32, who started the business in April 2013, does it differently.

Having come across many fair trade products that were beautifully made, Ou decided to combine retailing with doing good.

Working on a startup isn’t new to Ou, however, as she has been running various businesses since she was 21.

“I’ve had a very bad experience with a greedy and unscrupulous investor in a previous business, and that negative episode inspired me to think about business differently.”

She said that by working with fair-trade suppliers, using eco-friendly materials, or supporting the marginalised, the startup is able to contribute to a more inclusive society.

“I also wanted to support the artisans by helping to market their products to a wider audience,” she said.

Currently working with organisations in Cambodia, India, Indonesia, and Africa, Ou said she doesn’t work directly with the artisans due to language barriers, but goes through fair trade organisations that have committed to their training and employment.

“We’re not a charity and do not rely on donations, as i do not think that is sustainable for me nor the artisans. Our main aim is to support the training and employment of marginalised artisans, so that they can learn to be self-sufficient and independent,” she said.

Paintinks by Melt

Therapist for special needs children Melissa Tan, 41, discovered that she had a talent for art after she posted a random sketch on Facebook.

“I teach kids with autism and they are very visual people… one day, I painted one of the images I saw on a children’s book, and two of my friends asked if they could have it.”

That inspired her begin selling her art in 2012, and later, put up website Paintinks by Melt in 2013, which she uses to promote her artworks, primarily paintings or drawings of animals.

She donates all the money that she gets from selling her pieces on the site to charities such as the Breast Cancer Foundation, Bright Vision Hospital, as well as pet shelters.

Unlike many other artists, it was never the intention for Tan to venture into drawing and painting.

“Art was never my forte in school. My primary and secondary school friends who see my Facebook posts are still pretty surprised at what I’m doing,” she said.

The humble artist said, “I think everyone has an interest, but they’re just afraid to try.

“I’ve stopped drawing for a long time, but with practice I see my artwork getting better and that’s proof that it’s not impossible to do art," she said.