The word ‘keeper’ has a few meanings. Two of them inspired jewellery designer Carolyn Kan, 45, to give the name Keepers to her passion project – now a permanent store at the National Design Centre (NDC) showcasing and selling wares by local designers.
“A keeper is a curator or protector of something,” says Kan. “People who support local designers are keepers, because they are supporting and preserving local crafts and craftsmanship.
“It has another meaning: Designers who are creating things of value are also keepers, because colloquially, a keeper means someone who is really valuable or worth keeping.”
Kan started Keepers as a thank you to the design community which guided her when she started Carrie K., and made a commitment to hold a pop-up every three months. “We have never missed a quarter. And what still surprises me is that not only did we never run out of interesting designers and content to showcase, the pool has grown, and it’s grown to a level – in terms of calibre – that I would say is completely international already.”
The pop-ups led to an invitation to the George Town Festival in Penang in 2013. That caught the attention of the Singapore Tourism Board and led to a five-month gig – which was extended to 16 months – in a 4,200 sq ft space at the junction of Cairnhill Road and Orchard Road. It drew more than 100,000 people in the first five months, and ended in January 2016.
With each pop-up, Keepers became bigger and more successful. One of them was on a weekend in May 2017 at the now-defunct New Majestic Hotel. The two-day event attracted 6,500 people (well beyond the expected 2,000), crashed the air-conditioning, brought together more than 60 local designers and artisans, and led to a chain of collaborations among those who met at the event. “People still talk about it today. The response was phenomenal,” says Kan.
“Whenever I see designers with potential, I can’t help but want to talk about them and share them with people,” she says. “It gives me a sense of pride when people go ‘Wow! This is Singapore? These are all Singaporean designers?’ I feel even more proud when Singaporeans tell me they are proud that these are all Singapore designs. That’s probably the thing that drives me the most.”
Kan estimates that to date, Keepers has worked with more than 200 local designers and artisans. Keepers at NDC currently features 40 of them; the line-up changes every two months, with different programmes and events throughout the year at different parts of the centre.
“Every time you come to Keepers, you can discover new designers from across disciplines – fashion, beauty, lifestyle, and even food. Some of my favourites are Binary Style, a scarf label that aims to tell Singapore stories through its depiction of local spots and scenes; Demochoco, a local chocolatier that sells chocolate truffles, sometimes in locally-inspired flavours like salted egg and cereal; and Tresse, a new small leather goods label that comes from a fourth-gen family business that supplies leather to international luxury brands. They specialise in small goods in braided leather, which is the hardest thing you could possibly do. The finishing is incredible. The quality of the leather is top-notch. Even for the inner lining, it uses grade A leather – unheard of unless it’s a super high-end luxury goods brand. It has a full range, including men’s items. Every collection uses different weaving techniques.”
Designers are selected based on the originality of their designs, the inspirations behind their stories, and quality of their craftsmanship. “The production and the finishing have to be world standard. For me, it is really about giving both locals and tourists who visit us a clear idea not only of the rich culture of design here, but also of the high calibre of designs that are equal to any international brand.”
For her efforts, Kan has been recognised as a keeper, too. The designer recently received the Champion for Creatives and Designers Award at the Singapore Fashion Awards 2017 for Keepers, as well as the Bespoke Award and Best Collaboration of the Year prize for her jewellery brand Carrie K.
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