Turning her love for all things National Day into a small business
Consider these an upgraded, more sustainable version of the NDP Funpacks.
While patriotism isn’t rare, it’s undeniably hard to find someone who would enthusiastically proclaim their love for Singapore even on days with no parades and fireworks.
That was what I thought until I met Caitlin Tan, the owner of Coloursplat, a small Instagram business selling uniquely Singaporean products, all of which are designed by her.
On a Thursday evening, I found myself being greeted over Zoom by the bright-eyed 20-year-old who seemed nervous yet excited to speak with me.
“I’m not used to being interviewed. If anything, I usually do the interviewing,” said the former communications student with a laugh, before sharing what made her set up Coloursplat.
“I would say I’m someone who is really proud to be Singaporean. I know youths these days, they’re not really proud to be Singaporean. And I guess I’m a sucker for National Day stuff.”
Indeed, Caitlin’s love for Singapore has transcended her own limitations and has allowed her to build Coloursplat to what it is today.
Pivoting from handmade products to illustrations
Caitlin describes Coloursplat as a business born out of boredom during circuit breaker. Like many other youths, she picked up new hobbies and decided to start selling handmade items like reworked denim bags and resin coasters.
Unfortunately, after three long months, Caitlin saw little progress and felt like it was time to venture into something new.
“I realised that the demand for [handmade items] was very low. I also wasn’t making a lot of profit and considering how they all took so much time and effort to make, I eventually came to the conclusion that this just wasn’t working out.”
She began to think about what she could do differently and reflected on her previous experience working as a graphic design intern.
“I really love designing and content creation so I was like why not combine the two and do something totally new for a change?”
Soon after, Caitlin launched her first self-illustrated product – a tote bag – but the response was initially underwhelming due to her lack of followers. Not wanting to give up at this time, she came up with an idea to market it.
“I decided to send the tote bags to some influencers and thankfully, some of them replied. They told their followers to go and follow my account so I managed to gain more followers through there.”
To her pleasant surprise, the marketing strategy was a success and her page began to blow up. Within a few weeks, her follower count increased by hundreds. Today, she has over a thousand followers.
As word of mouth helped Caitlin reach a larger audience, she even started receiving orders from abroad, the first of which was from a fellow Singaporean who lives in Australia.
“I guess the customer wanted something that is close to home to be with her in Australia.
“As my brand is so local, it’s really appreciated by different ages and anybody in Singapore can relate to it.”
Involving friends, family and followers
Caitlin describes her style as modern with a touch of vintage. She often takes reference from old cartoons and thereafter thinks of ways to add her own flair and incorporate a Singaporean element into the design.
“After I’ve come up with the rough sketch, I’ll try to get a second opinion. The first person I always ask is my boyfriend, mainly because he’s the easiest to talk to and to ask for advice. I would ask my friends but sometimes I feel a bit paiseh.”
Of course, as with every business, not every day is sunshine and rainbows. However, what keeps Caitlin going is the support from her loved ones, especially her family
“From posting on social media for friends and family to see and support, to even lending me a helping hand whenever I need a model for my products, they are definitely one of my biggest supporters and make running this business less tough.
“I even ask my customers as well. I’ll do polls on my Instagram story and I’ll ask my followers what they think of the designs. That way, I’ll know that this is what people like more so I should go with this design. Even things like colours, I’ll ask them what colours they prefer because ultimately, they’re the ones who are going to buy it.”
Another thing that makes Coloursplat unique is its intentionality in catering to those with limited spending power. Caitlin hopes that by selling her products at low prices, it will give Singaporeans more chances to love and appreciate local culture.
She said: “As someone who wouldn’t pay more than $15 for a t-shirt, I tend to feel for people so I won’t price [my items] that high either. Plus, since the start, I was never in this for the money. It’s not for me to gain profits.
“It’s a very long and tedious process but I really enjoy it. I just love the fact that I’m able to reach out to Singaporeans.”
Being a one-stop shop for Singaporeans
While Coloursplat is just a side hustle for now, Caitlin does have aspirations of turning it into a bigger business.
“I really admire people like Christabel (@bellywellyjelly). She has her own shop and warehouse and I think that’s really cool. Beyond The Vines as well. I take a lot of inspiration from them and I hope to have a physical shop like theirs in the future,” she said.
But for now, Caitlin’s short term goal is to make Coloursplat the one-stop shop for all Singaporeans, regardless of age.
“I want my shop to be that one platform where if someone wants to buy a gift, their first thought would be, ‘Oh okay, I can check out Coloursplat because I can buy stuff for my grandma, my mom, my dad or even my boyfriend’.
As for future plans, Caitlin will be setting up her second pop-up booth at *SCAPE on Dec 4. She has a collection titled It Only Takes A Spark that will be released during Christmas time and honours her late dog, Sparky, and she intends to collaborate with The Right To Live, a dog shelter, to set up a donation drive.
She said: “Sparky was one of my biggest motivations to start this business. It only takes a spark is also a lyric from the song Pass It On.
“I hope that this spark will get the fire going and that it will inspire others to not be afraid to take that step to start something they’ve been dreaming of doing or even if it’s just a simple act of giving back to society.”