How Local Brand Scene Shang Brings Modern Sensibilities To Traditional Crafts
The journey to being an entrepreneur is never a straightforward one. For Pamela Ting and Jessica Wong, the long-time friends and founders of homegrown brand Scene Shang, the seed of their business idea began during their internships in Shanghai and eventually came to life upon their return to Singapore.
In 2013 they established Scene Shang, a design brand that marries “traditional craftsmanship with modern functionality”. One of their early success stories is the Shang System—a concept that revolves around stacking the Deng stool, He box drawer and Pan tray—which won a special commendation at the President’s Design Award in 2014.
The customisable aspect was a hit: buyers decide on how many drawers, choose from a range of fun colours, and can easily move the piece so much so it easily adapts to their lifestyle and space. Recently, Scene Shang developed the award-winning Xuan table, which functions as a mah-jong table and can be converted into a console. This transformable aspect is a hallmark of many of its pieces.
Over the years, Scene Shang has brought production closer to Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore in a bid to showcase the richness of Southeast Asia. “I think people care about where things are being made. We’re excited to see where we can take our designs and how we can make them with materials like rattan,” shares Wong.
“Producing locally allows us to form a relationship with the craftsman here. It’s quite meaningful for us as this craftsmanship is fading quickly; it helps us preserve culture in a contemporary way,” adds Ting. The founders share more about being a pioneering local brand and where they want to take their company moving forward.
Tell us how you two work together.
Pamela Ting (PT) Jessica oversees the design department, while I manage the business side, but we’re both very involved in the two aspects. We recognise both parts are important to the success of Scene Shang. There’s plenty of exchange and conversation but a lot of mutual respect as well.
That’s how we keep the business and personal relationship intact. Sometimes, though, our friends don’t like going out with us because when we’re out we still talk about work, especially when we see something inspiring in our surroundings.
Why did you decide on putting a modern twist on historic designs as your main focus?
Jessica Wong (JW) When you visit your grandparents’ house, you see beautifully crafted furniture, but it doesn’t really suit your home. So, we thought, wouldn’t it be more meaningful to create quality pieces inspired by our history and culture but made for today? All our creations are guided by this ethos—it could be reflected in the design elements, in the know-how, or both.
One example is the Jia Ju rocking stool, which features joinery techniques commonly used in Chinese furniture but it’s still a playful and modern piece.
How do you grow your collections?
JW We’re always looking at how we can beef up our collections and create complementary products. The development could take a year or shorter but even when we finish a collection, we think about the right timing to launch so our releases are quite fluid. In terms of expanding, we are venturing towards collaborations.
We’ve been friends with local brands Onlewo, Binary Style and Minor Miracles for a while and we always talked about doing something together but never got around to doing it. When we launched the Cane collection in 2020, it initially had plain fabric then we thought it was a good opportunity to introduce fabric prints so we worked with these three studios.
How did Scene Shang fare during the pandemic?
PT With more people working from home and no opportunity to travel, they turned towards sprucing up their spaces. It was quite good for us because we built our online platform from day one; in fact, it was positive for the furniture industry as a whole. At Scene Shang, we also have more return customers than new ones. They buy a piece and put it in a corner, then realise they have other corners to decorate so they keep coming back.
Before Covid-19 hit, we had the intention of bringing Scene Shang overseas, but everything had to be put on hold. Post-pandemic, we plan to get back to where we left off. When we had tourists coming to our boutiques at Raffles Arcade* and Beach Road, there were people buying pieces and paying the same amount in shipping because they couldn’t find designs like these in their countries. We’ve been receiving online orders from around Asia and Europe and we are not even actively pursuing them, so imagine the opportunity when we do tackle those markets.
...we thought, wouldn’t it be more meaningful to create quality pieces inspired by our history and culture but made for today?
—Jessica Wong, co-founder of Scene Shang
How has the local design community evolved from when you launched in 2013?
JW When we started, the spirit of collaboration was not there yet, which is why we went to Shanghai to look for craftsmen and manufacturers to work with us. It was difficult to break into the scene then especially at the quantity that we wanted to produce, which was limited.
Nowadays, there are more makers, manufacturers, and designers to work with locally. The second and third generations who take over factories from their parents are no longer interested in competing in the mass market or merely creating export furniture. They are focused on creating brands made and designed in Singapore. That means there are more people our age who are creating a collaborative atmosphere. Singapore has flourished to become a really great environment for design as there’s an open conversation and no division anymore.
* Editor's note: While Scene Shang had a Raffles Arcade boutique at press time, they have since moved out; their flagship boutique remains at Beach Road. For more information, visit the Scene Shang website.
- Art DirectionCharlene Lee
- PhotographyJasper Yu / Jyu Studio
- Photographer's AssistantEvan Kong
- Stylist's AssistantCheryl Lai-Lim
- HairLydia Thong at The Makeup Entourage, using Keune Haircosmetics
- Make-UpChris Siow at The Makeup Entourage, using YSL Beauty