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Asia Food Lifestyle Local Singapore

Kafe Kakis: Your guide to the East

Eastsiders, we are coming for you! May’s edition of Kafe Kakis features three delightful places to drop in for an unforgettable bite – whether it is at a floral wonderland with your pampered pooch, or a dreamy space that takes you right to the wonders of Morocco, check out our recommendations for your (socially distanced) hangouts.

[Update: Given the latest no dine-in restrictions under phase two (heightened alert), these places offer take-out too.]

Café de Nicole’s Flowers

Exterior of Café de Nicole’s Flowers

Within a quiet neighbourhood in Telok Kurau lies Café de Nicole’s Flowers, a garden-themed café that will delight all five of your senses. The café is hard to miss, with an elaborate floral archway demarcating its entrance. Within, the space is adorned with wispy flowers cascading from the ceiling. In line with its garden theme, a corner of the space is reserved as a flower shop, and the sweet perfume of flesh florals permeates the air as you enter. 

Interior of Café de Nicole’s Flowers

Their menu is as elaborate as their setting, with an extensive range of specialty floral-inspired beverages, all-day brunch items, and perhaps the most exciting for all, soufflé pancakes, a must-try with any visit. 

We opted for the Strawberry Soufflé Pancakes to start our meal. Get your Instagram filters ready for this one, as you won’t want to miss out the classic jiggly pancake shot! Feast with your eyes first as the pancakes come laden with a light cream and strawberry sauce, with fresh strawberries scattered throughout the plate, accompanied by a scoop of strawberry ice cream a portrait of indulgence. 

Strawberry Soufflé Pancakes

The pancakes are light, fluffy, and airy, with each bite akin to biting into a cloud (if clouds aren’t just condensation, that is). Generous dollops of cream and strawberry sauce ensure that you get a bit of both with each bite, and the strawberry ice cream provides a nice contrast to the warm pancakes. As a whole, however, the dish was a tad too sweet for us, and an element of tartness or acidity would have been good to cut through the richness. 

Brioche Bread Toast, topped with torched brie cheese, truffle honey, pear, pecan nuts, and crispy prosciutto

For a savoury option, try out their Brioche Bread Toast, topped with torched brie cheese, truffle honey, pear, pecan nuts, and crispy prosciutto. Sounds like a lot? It is, but in the best possible way! Every bite will have your taste buds firing on all cylinders, as the crispy and salty prosciutto, mild sweetness of the honey, smokiness of the torched brie, and mildly acrid tang of the pecans, work together in harmony. We did feel that the brioche was slightly lacking, however; while its texture was sufficiently fluffy, it lacked the richness and butter fragrance that characterises brioche buns. 

Perfect Couple

End your meal with a Perfect Couple, a beverage comprising Uji Matcha and sweet potato with soy milk, topped with milk foam, and served with a lilac rose bud to complete the look. Much like the rest of this café and its offerings, the beverage is one for your Instagram feed, with gorgeous hues of purple and green swirling together. Much like how it looks, the flavours meld together in a perfect marriage, with the earthy matcha balanced by the mild sweetness of the sweet potato. Our only gripe is the slightly grainy texture of the sweet potato paste, which may not appeal to everyone. 

Address

224 Telok Kurau Rd, #01-01, Singapore 423836

Opening hours

Monday to Sunday: 9am – 10.30pm

La Fez Café & Bakery

La Fez Café & Bakery

Joining the wide selection of cafés in the east is La Fez Café & Bakery, a pink-themed, Moroccan-inspired café that opened earlier this year. Gold accents and nature elements are contrasted against a carefully curated selection of homeware, which includes a chandelier that is handcrafted in Morocco. For those looking for a pleasant afternoon interlude or a place to beat the heat, La Fez provides the escape from reality you didn’t know you needed. 

The menu at La Fez Café & Bakery is fairly extensive, with a good selection of bakes such as focaccia bread, as well as mains that include prawn, fish, lamb and beef, and house-made desserts.

Majorelle Shakshuka with Feta Cheese

We decided to go with a classic brunch option, the Majorelle Shakshuka with Feta Cheese. Served in a tajine, which describes both a conical Moroccan earthenware pot and the dishes which are served in it, this rendition of Shakshuka was a well-balanced one, with the addition of feta cheese providing a creamy contrast to the sweetness of the tomato base. Mushrooms, onions and tender capsicum slivers are complemented by the addition of soft, pillowy eggs, with the runny egg yolks lending an additional dimension of richness to the dish. Our only gripe would be the house-made sourdough, which we found to be slightly tough. Still, expect a generous, hearty, and comforting dish that’s good for sharing. 

Raspberry Lychee Rose Minaret

We were also delighted to find that they were running a 1-for-1 promotion on pastries and desserts when we visited, which is available on weekdays from 2pm-5pm. Floral, fruity and delicate, the Raspberry Lychee Rose Minaret, one of the newest additions to the dessert menu, did not disappoint. Tangy raspberry filling sits atop a rose cake base, which is surrounded by a light yet flavourful mousse that melts on the tongue. The tartness of the raspberry balances the sweetness of the mousse beautifully, while the moist rose cake base acts as a subtle backdrop to the medley of flavours offered by the raspberry lychee rose mousse. Crunchy pink chocolate balls delineate the border of the dessert and provide textural contrast. Slicing into the sleek mousse – an experience one of our colleagues likened to cutting butter also revealed the presence of real lychee bits. 

Hot Baklava Cheesecake

Fans of cream cheese will enjoy La Fez’s intriguing reinterpretation of two classic desserts through the Hot Baklava Cheesecake, which features cream cheese and pistachio nuts nestled in a bed of filo pastry, sweetened with syrup like in a classic Baklava. Despite cheesecake and baklava being fairly rich dishes on their own, this fusion dish proves surprisingly light on the tongue, with just the right amount of sweetness. The flaky filo pastry and pistachio nuts also provide a nice contrast to the soft cheese, replacing the traditional graham cracker base that comes with cheesecake. 

Address

01-03A 907 East Coast Rd, Singapore 459107

Opening hours

Tuesday to Thursday: 11.30am – 8pm
Friday: 11.30am – 10pm
Saturday: 9am – 10pm
Sunday: 9am – 8pm
Closed on Mondays

Teahouse 1973

Teahouse 1973

Nestled in an unassuming stretch of Sims Place, Teahouse 1973 introduces familiar flavours with a twist, as a fusion café that serves both Malaysian and Western fare. Deep green upholstery, black tables and subtle lighting lend the space a chic elegance, an unexpected addition for a neighbourhood eatery. 

Look out for the usual suspects when it comes to Western fare, as the place offers classics such as the Beef Burger and Seafood Pasta. Tea-lovers will also relish the chance to live their high tea dreams through the Afternoon Tea Set. At just $35++ for two people, this set includes a selection of homemade cakes and a pot of fruit tea.

Mushroom soup with garlic bread

We started the meal with the Mushroom Soup, which was served with a slice of garlic bread. While the soup was satisfactory, we felt that the bread used could have been softer to help soak up the soup.

Curry Chicken + Nasi Lemak

When the Curry Chicken + Nasi Lemak came, we were surprised at the size of the portion, which we would recommend sharing. With a fluffy mound of blue nasi lemak rice topped with a heap of sambal, this dish was well-executed, especially the sambal, which held a pleasant balance of dried shrimp, spice and sweetness. Little side dishes of achar and sambal petai complete the dish, alongside a hard-boiled egg and a smattering of keropok pieces that line the side of the dish. A massive chicken leg protruded from a generous bowl of curry, which was complemented by the fragrant addition of curry leaves. We found the curry chicken to be a tad too oily, and certainly not for the faint-hearted or those with a low spice tolerance, as it packs a fiery kick. Thankfully, the chicken was relatively tender, pairing well with the rice.

Yuzu Tea (left) and Iced Passionfruit Tea (right)

The restaurant also offers a wide range of beverages. The Iced Passionfruit Tea featured a cloud of real passion fruit seeds and syrup at the base of the cup, and was a great palate cleanser, while the Yuzu Tea provided a homely, fragrant option that was not too sweet or tart, to end the meal on a comforting note. 

Address

Blk 53 Sims Place, Singapore 380053

Opening hours

Tuesday to Sunday: 11am – 8pm
Closed on Mondays 

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Culture Home & Family Local News Singapore Youth

Finding one’s place in society after leaving prison

After jail time, most offenders go on to rehabilitate and reintegrate themselves into their communities. But according to the Singapore Prison Service, about one in five of these offenders (as of 2020) find themselves back behind bars within two years of their release. Why does this happen? And how can it be prevented? In the first part of the series, TheHomeGround Asia explored how time behind bars impacted an offender’s journey to recovery. In this second segment, we find out how the year after being released from prison has helped or hindered the rehabilitation and reintegration efforts of former offenders.

Leaving the prison cell and facing the outside world was a huge hurdle for an ex-offender who wishes to be known as June. In fact, June’s perception of how society viewed her was a reason why she continued to succumb to taking drugs, which led to her being incarcerated four times on drug consumption charges over 20 years. 

“I always thought society didn’t like me, especially my family. That’s why I take drugs… When I’m high, I feel like the world is mine. I make my own world,” she shares. 

Stigma continues to impede former offenders like June from their recovery and can be psychologically damaging too. 

Esther Chin, a case worker with HCSA Community Services’ halfway house, explains, “Oftentimes, when they go through stigma and people think that they won’t change, it increases their psychological distress. So, when a person is stressed and going through depressive moments, they find that they are isolated again, just because of the things they have done. It’ll… not be helpful for the recovery process.” 

Meeting counsellors from non-profit New Life Stories instilled June with a determination to recover, enabling her to come to terms with the stigma: “When I am outside, there’s a lot of stigma towards me, but [the counsellors] always say, ‘Don’t care how they want to talk, [what’s] important is yourself.’” 

In the past, she says, “I got angry when people stigmatised me as a drug addict.” But with repeated reminders from counsellors, she was able to tell herself that “what’s important is the people that care and know me.” And now when people talk about her, she takes it as a “challenge” to be better.

Staying away from negative influences

While being shunned by society is a hurdle, falling in with the wrong crowd has its own set of problems. Former gang members and drug offenders say they might find it difficult to distance themselves from friends and old acquaintances, who might still be engaging in nefarious activities. 

During time in prison, former gang member Yeo Yun Luo was a harbinger of havoc, inciting fights and riots, which landed him in the maximum security wing of the Reformative Training Centre (RTC). While serving his time, Mr Yeo was visited by a pastor from Victory Family Church. Over time and with regular visits from the religious leader, he found faith and decided to change his ways, taking that first step toward reformation. 

Since his release, Yeo Yun Luo has stayed on the right side of the law, and is now working as a project lead at an engineering firm. (Photo courtesy of Yeo Yun Luo) 

Upon release, Mr Yeo moved away from his old neighbourhood, where his former gang members operated, to live with his grandmother. The separation from his past life helped his recovery process: “I didn’t know anybody [in the new estate],” he shares. “That’s one of the reasons that helped me change into a better person… it’s a new environment, and I don’t mix with [old company]. In one or two years, it became a habit. I realised that I didn’t need these people.” 

In instances where physical distance is impossible, other ex-offenders like Rafiq (not his real name) employ the strategy of walking away. In the interim, he sought advice from peers who were also on the path to recovery, joining the Men’s Support Group run by the Industrial and Services Co-Operative Society (ISCOS), an organisation that extends friendship to ex-offenders and their families to help them lead meaningful and productive lives. 

“It was great to be able to share freely about my struggles, seek advice on communication and coping strategies, and encourage each other to continue to maintain the changes we want to make and not give up,” Rafiq says. 

Similarly, June stayed away from people and situations that might prevent her from kicking her drug addiction. After her release, she had to report for regular urine tests, where she would often meet others like her who were in different stages of recovery. In these instances, June would politely inform them that her son was waiting for her at home to avoid prolonged interactions: “Just say ‘hi, bye’, like that.”

But while determination and willpower make it possible to keep potential trouble at bay, family is a more complex matter. 

Family acceptance or rejection

Family can play a pivotal role in a former offender’s rehabilitation journey. (Source: Canva)

Soraya Abdul Rahim, a counsellor in the Family Care & Therapy Department of New Life Stories, says that the family unit is an integral part of rehabilitation and reintegration. Specifically, she addresses how family might sometimes be detrimental to an ex-offender’s recovery. 

“Some are supportive but you might also have those who are negative influences,” she explains. “For example, you have families who have engaged in previous offending behaviour and are still engaged in it, so they might encourage [the ex-offender] to come back to it, and do these things together.” 

Otherwise, family members might reject the offenders.

In the worst-case scenario, Ms Soraya has witnessed instances where relatives actively try to sabotage the offenders, as they no longer want to interact with them. 

“It’s sad because they have no faith in the person’s ability to turn over a new life,” she says. 

On the flip side, family can also serve as a pillar of strength for former offenders, motivating them to rehabilitate and reintegrate back into society.

Such was the case for June, as well as Van, who served five years in prison for assisting with her husband’s drug trafficking operations. Both mothers cite their children as being the key reasons they have kept on the right side of the law, so far. 

June says, “The one thing [that keeps me staying clean] is every day I get to see my son in front of me. I get to see him growing up. Then I tell myself that I’m a mother.”

Likewise, Van emphasises, “My thinking is my kids and my family, that’s all. The first thing is my children… [they] come first.”

Now full-time, stay-at-home parents, they spend their days caring for their kids and catching up on the family time that they lost while in prison. 

Housing and employment concerns

Being homeless and jobless after multiple incarcerations was a stressor that pushed Rafiq back on drugs. (Source: Canva)

Besides family and social influences, practical circumstances may also hinder an individual’s rehabilitation. HCSA case worker Ms Chin cites two common concerns: housing and employment. 

She uses Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to explain this. 

“Basic accommodation is the most needed,” she says. “When there’s nothing to shelter them, it’s like they lose their identities in life.” 

This was demonstrated in Rafiq’s life, when he found himself homeless after repeated incarcerations: “I was again on drugs, as I was homeless and had no direction in life.”

The second key concern raised by Ms Chin is that of employment after release, something that Kevin Anand, a former gang member, struggled with when he was first released in February last year. 

Even though Mr Anand is out of prison, he is subject to a probation period of three years. During this time, he remains under police supervision and has to report to a police post every Tuesday. “Monday to Friday are normal working days for Singaporeans… so there were a lot of obstacles for me to actually find a job,” he shares. 

He also describes the challenges he faced when searching for a job, especially during interviews: “Some of them [prospective employers] ask me, ‘Oh, are you still a gangster? Are you sure you’ve changed?’”

While he eventually managed to find people willing to hire him, it took multiple attempts before settling into a job. 

This, Ms Chin highlights, is a problem that many ex-offenders encounter: “Some of them are not able to sustain the jobs they have. That means they work for maybe one or two days, or one week, then they start giving up.”

Ms Soraya concurs, “Jobs and finding the kind of employer that really understands [is] a struggle for quite a number of [ex-offenders].”

She explains that ex-offenders who are on probation often have a curfew to adhere to, which prevents them from working overtime, even if the job requires it: “Sometimes the boss needs them to work overtime, they can’t… Even if they explain, sometimes the bosses get very upset with them.” 

Others, Ms Soraya says, may be single parents who need to care for their children, which adds another layer of stress and restrictions to their job search. 

Kevin Anand is now working his dream job at Wildlife Reserves Singapore, where he is a zookeeper caring for primates. (Photo courtesy of Kevin Anand)

From the experiences and difficulties Mr Anand had to deal with when job hunting, he suggests that the prison service provides more support to inmates during incarceration and after their release. 

“There are a lot of very good, talented people I’ve met inside prison, but their talent is going to waste because nobody recognises it, ” he rues. “They want us to work whatever job they give you, and so, there’s no progressiveness there.” 

Instead, he thinks that it would be better if offenders go through certain interviews while incarcerated, to “see what they are talented in, and rehabilitate them from there.” 

In Mr Anand’s case, he eventually found an opportunity to return to his old job at Wildlife Reserves Singapore, eight months after his release. Today, he works as a zookeeper handling primates, fulfilling a childhood dream of his. 

Join the conversations on TheHomeGround Asia’s Facebook and Instagram, and get the latest updates via Telegram.

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Arts & Music Culture Singapore Things to do

4 exciting things to do on 15 & 16 May 2021

The weekend of 15 and 16 May comes hot on the heels of the Hari Raya Puasa holiday – to all our Muslim friends out there, Selamat Hari Raya Aidilfitri! 

Here are some exciting things to do to continue the festivities, before further measures kick in after the weekend:

1. Geylang Serai Hari Raya Light Up

(Source: Scribbling Geek / Unsplash)

If you have not already, head down to Geylang Serai to feast your eyes on the dazzling lights display! Ongoing until 23 May 2021, the stretch from Paya Lebar Quarter to Sims Avenue, as well as select roads in Changi and Geylang, has been lit up with 40 light installations and decorations to usher in Ramadan. Organised by the Citizens’ Consultative Committee of Geylang Serai, Marine Parade, and Kembangan-Chai Chee, the theme of the light-up is Celebrating Our Kampung Spirit.

Do not forget to look out for two large light arches at Sims Avenue and Changi Road! However, do keep in mind safe distancing measures, and remember to keep at least one-metre distance from the next group.

In conjunction with the light-up, Bazaar Kita – an online bazaar – was also launched in absence of the usual bustling on-site affair. Patrons are able to browse multiple retail options, order both pre-ordered and ready-to-eat meals, make donations to charity, catch livestreams of performances, and more.

2. Singapore International Festival of Arts

(Source: Singapore International Festival of Arts / Facebook)

The Singapore International Festival of Arts (SIFA) will take place from 14 to 30 May 2021, and transform the Arts House at City Hall into a mega arts extravaganza. Branded as An Arts Festival Reimagined for the Future, the festival offers a whopping 71 events. 

Given the latest restrictions announced, checking out the online programmes might make more sense, since audience capacity for on-site events have been further capped.

Embark on the Dance Trail, where you can use an augmented reality app to place dancers in your environment; tune into Sunset Sessions, a thought-provoking podcast series; or engage in the Impossible Conversation series,  where you can have a conversation with others based on your personal experiences. For this weekend, there will be two sessions available – Impossible Conversation on Care, and Impossible Conversation on Risk – both of which are selling fast. Grab your tickets now before they are all gone.

3. Singapore Mobility Gallery

(Source: Land Transport Authority)

Singapore is known to have one of the most well-connected transport systems in the region. After all, being able to travel from one end of the city to the other in just an hour definitely helps! But how many of us remember how transport was like in the past?

Take a trip down memory lane at Singapore Mobility Gallery, which is celebrating the Land Transport Authority’s 25th anniversary with their new exhibition, ‘Connecting People, Places & Possibilities’. Take a look at old bus ticket machines, where passengers had to press buttons to select their exact bus fare; area licensing scheme labels; as well as motor vehicle certificates of entitlement dating back to the 1990s. Besides offering a blast to the past, the exhibition also looks forward into the future, with sneak peeks at the North-South corridor, and future car-lite towns. 

The exhibition runs from 27 April until 29 October 2021, and is open from 9.30am to 5pm on weekdays. Book your slots here. 

4. Glass in Bloom

Dale Chihuly, White Tower, 1997, and other installations at Gardens by the Bay, Singapore, installed 2021. (Photo by Nathaniel Willson Credit: © Chihuly Studio. All Rights Reserved)

It seems as if Gardens By the Bay is playing host to a neverending slew of exciting events – but who is complaining. Next in line is Dale Chihuly’s Glass in Bloom, which will run until 1 August 2021. 

Be amazed by more than 100 intricate glass sculptures by renowned artist Dale Chihuly, who is known for his larger-than-life blown-glass sculptures. Comprising his first major garden exhibition in Asia, Mr Chihuly has pulled out all the stops. The large ones measure up to a staggering 10 metres in height, with some weighing more than 3,500 kg! The sculptures are all painstakingly shipped from Seattle, and installed onsite. There are three parts to the exhibition: Gardens & Gallery, Conservatories, and Experience. 

Buy your tickets here. You can also redeem your SingapoRediscovers Vouchers for entrance into Gardens By the Bay!

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Culture Design Lifestyle Local Singapore Style Youth

Reimagining fashion waste at Renew Earth Sweat Shop by Post-Museum

From May to August 2021, independent cultural and social space Post-Museum is organising the Renew Earth Sweat Shop for the second year running. Supported by Temasek Shophouse, they hope to bring together 50 participants to create over 60 items that reimagine the future of fashion, carry the message of fashion sustainability, and change the way people see fashion waste. TheHomeGround Asia sits in on their first ideation workshop on 8 May to get the lowdown on the inception of their programme, in anticipation of the four months ahead. 

Making produce bags out of waste fabric; using embroidery to refresh and upcycle used clothing; using origami techniques on clothing to craft beautiful patterns – these were some of the many ideas bandied about during the Fashion Repair Ideation Workshop held by Post-Museum as part of Renew Earth Sweat Shop.

Amid phase two restrictions that saw the workshop make a last-minute switch online, some 20 participants gathered on Zoom to kickstart the project’s first of four ideation workshops. Over two hours, they brainstormed ideas that they aim to realise in the four-month programme. 

Renew Earth Sweat Shop is an outcry against traditional sweatshops that have long been associated with waste, unethical labour practices, and environmental damage. Instead, it hopes to ‘reverse’ sweatshops – “to become what a sweatshop is not, to counter waste, to rethink labour and ultimately to renew our Earth.”

It is the brainchild of Post-Museum, which was founded in 2007 by husband and wife team artist-curator Woon Tien Wei and artist-activist Jennifer Teo, as an independent cultural and social enterprise that aims to “encourage and support a thinking, caring and pro-active community” in Singapore. Over the years, the collective has organised various grassroots projects, including the Bukit Brown Index and the Singapore Really Really Free Market (SRRFM).

Launched for the first time last year, Renew Earth Sweat Shop’s inaugural edition saw more than 100 participants gather in groups of five or eight at a time to sew and learn, as well as to contemplate what the organisers have described as “the ripples our everyday actions have had on a planet that is increasingly more fragile.”

This year, creativity will intersect with “design innovation, craftsmanship, local manufacturing and youth empowerment.”

Whatever ideas participants of Renew Earth Sweat Shop conceive, Post-Museum will do its best to transform into reality, says Mr Woon, who is also co-Artistic Director of The Substation. 

“The project doesn’t have a box,” he explains. “We didn’t frame [it] in a way [such that they all] come up with one solution. We were interested in providing the platform where they can do anything they want, and we’re here to enable it, as much as we technically or possibly can with our limited resources.”

Between May and end-July, youths, talents from the first edition of Renew Earth Sweat Shop and other self-initiated communities have been invited to work on a “viable clothes repair programme” and reusable mask innovations, using tools like embroidery machines, laser-cutting and 3D-printing solutions. The programme will culminate in August with a showcase of all the designs at Temasek Shophouse.

Woon Tien Wei, artist-curator and one of the organisers of the Renew Earth Sweat Shop, with his finished product from 2020’s programme. (Photo courtesy of Post-Museum)

How the Sweat Shop started, and how it is going

Renew Earth Sweat Shop was born out of a desire to explore ways to reduce the amount of fashion waste generated, after Post-Museum witnessed first-hand the amount of waste left behind at its free market, or SRRFM, event. 

SRRFM is a flea market where everything is, well, free. ‘Merchants’ offer whatever goods and services they have gratis, and take whatever they need, no questions asked. 

“But at the end of every free market, we’ll be left with so much extra stuff, and we will have to figure out what to donate, and what to put in the recycling bin,” shares Veronyka Lau, a Renew Earth Sweat Shop organiser. “It brought home the real problem; that even if we tried to do something like this [the SRRFM], you end up with a lot of trash.” 

The Renew Earth Sweat Shop was inspired by the waste left behind after the Singapore Really, Really Free Market. (Photo courtesy of Post-Museum)

“We thought, ‘Wow, how can we make use of that?’,” chimes in Mr Woon. 

“It has a lot to do with the idea of waste and all the excesses in society. It’s a global problem that is actually very difficult to solve,” he adds. “If we acknowledge it’s very complicated, what can we do through a project to discover our role in this?” 

He explains that Renew Earth Sweat Shop is not intended to provide a solution, or to ask participants to come up with one. Instead, what they hope to focus on is the idea of ‘repair’, and how they can give otherwise discarded materials an extended life. 

To support participants in their endeavours, the 2021 edition of Renew Earth Sweat Shop sees Post-Museum working with partners like MakeIT and The Fab Lab to provide additional tools and resources not traditionally used in garment manufacturing. For instance, participants will have access to use 3D-printing and laser-cutting solutions to bring their ideas to the next level.

While last year’s programme was an introduction of sorts, Ms Lau and Mr Woon are eager to push this year’s participants further in their exploration of ideas. 

At the end of the four-month long project, participants’ final works will be showcased in an exhibition at Temasek Shophouse. (Photo courtesy of Post-Museum)

“Last edition, [the idea was] really just to make something,” says Mr Woon. “This edition, we’re saying, [make] something that you think can really help shift the problem and ourselves towards a better solution in the long run.” 

In other words, upcycling fashion waste into items that can be recirculated into society.

He elaborates, “Maybe it will be able to re-enter our society and be reused, extend its lifespan a bit longer. We’re really trying to get people to think about that in four months, and create something.” 

The sewing of ideas

With more resources at her fingertips, Harini Ravichandran, a second-time Sweat Shop participant, has much to look forward to , especially after an overwhelmingly positive experience last year: “I was encouraged that this [the programme] turned out to be some kind of repair café, at least to me, so I thought I should definitely go back to learn and pick up more skills.” 

She adds, “I enjoyed the community sewing experience, and I had a lot of nice discussions last [time] round, so there was more than one reason for me to go back.” 

A bag created by Harini Ravichandran in the first Renew Earth Sweat Shop in 2020. (Photo courtesy of Harini Ravichandran)

Last year, Ms Ravichandran had created a face mask and bags out of apparel items that would otherwise have been discarded, granting them a second lease of life. Further, in a bid to eliminate any wasteful by-products, she had considered making plush toys out of the scrap fabric she was left with, by using them as stuffing for the toys. 

This year, she hopes to continue honing her sewing skills, and making more “small, everyday items” for herself. 

“I want to make produce bags that I can substitute for plastic in the supermarkets, that’s one way of using a form of waste to also reduce my plastic waste,” she shares. “I do yoga, and I have a yoga mat at home, so I’d like to make a yoga mat holder.” 

Ms Ravichandran is also looking forward to picking up more design skills with the equipment provided by MakeIT and The Fab Lab.

“I’ve never come across these before and I’m not quite sure how to use them,” she enthuses. “I’m hoping the workshop can guide me on what tools to use and what skills to learn to be able to make these things.” 

Harini Ravichandran (centre) with Woon Tien Wei (left) and Veronyka Lau (right). (Photo courtesy of Harini Ravichandran)

Other participants are also eager to level up their embroidery skills and add machine embroidery to their repertoire. While some hope to work with laser cutters and 3D printers to give materials like used denim a new lease of life in other forms, like bags. 

Looking beyond product to process

Beyond an end product, Mr Woon was heartened to hear that in the workshop held on 8 May, participants were also thinking about the processes behind the fashion industry.

“There was an exploration of labour as well,” he says, referring to a group who had discussed involving youths-at-risk or elderly with dementia in the creation process to  engage them in something productive. 

Participants at 2020’s Renew Earth Sweat Shop. (Photo courtesy of Post-Museum)

Even as participants consider the mechanics of the fashion industry, Renew Earth Sweat Shop’s organisers are also taking the participants’ journeys into account as they execute this programme. 

Ultimately, Ms Lau explains, the project is designed to spark the initial brainstorming and learning process: “We want to emphasise that this is a learning journey, and the journey doesn’t stop here. We want to use this platform to empower people, impart skills, and hopefully… the ideas don’t stop flowing once the project ends.” 

What’s next?

For the rest of May, the Post-Museum team are meeting with interested participants in three more ideation workshops, before they proceed to the production and prototyping phase in June and July. During these two months, participants can access materials and resources from Post-Museum and its partners, as they begin to develop the pieces they envision will catalyse change in the sustainable fashion industry.

Finished products from 2020’s Renew Earth Sweat Shop. (Photo courtesy of Post-Museum)

Finally, in August, a showcase at the Temasek Shophouse, where the public will be able to view participants’ upcycled pieces (if safe management measures allow). 

Stay tuned as TheHomeGround Asia updates you on what participants have come up with, and their progress over the next few months. 

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Categories
Culture Home & Family Local Singapore Things to do

Four day-long itineraries perfect for the upcoming school holidays

June is fast approaching, and that means an entire month off school for the little ones! With travel proving impossible, parents might be hard-pressed to think of ways to entertain their kids. 

Luckily, we have just the thing: Explore these four one-day itineraries that span across Central, North, South, and East Singapore.

Central

Start the day on the right foot by visiting the Botanic Gardens! Clinching UNESCO World Heritage status in 2015, the Botanic Gardens is a beautiful 162-year-old garden oasis amid the city’s hustle and bustle. 

(Source: Singapore Botanic Gardens / Facebook)

Troop the kids over to Jacob Ballas Children’s Garden, which is Asia’s first children-dedicated garden. In fact, adults cannot enter the garden without a kid in tow. Embodying the theme of Life on Earth Depends on Plants, Jacob Ballas allows children to learn about the environment through experiential learning and hands-on discovery activities. The newly opened Gallop Extension’s nature-themed adventure playground is also great to explore. Emulating the experience of climbing trees, the playground is a sprawling mass of ropes, tunnels, and slides. 

Fuel up with brunch at Food for Tots – located at Jacob Ballas Children’s Garden – which is an eco-conscious café catered for kids. Let your little ones loose at the interactive play area, before digging into their all-day brunch menu.

(Source: Amazonia Singapore / Facebook)

Next, check out Amazonia, which is located at Great World City. Amazonia is a paradise for kids that love being active – think: a huge play-gym that is over 3,000 square feet, a 10-metre-high wave slide, multiple trampolines, a giant ball pit, and more. Amazonia also has Singapore’s first video interactive gaming wall, as well as a dedicated toddler play area. 

Distance: 13-minute drive from Food for Tots to Amazonia

After all that play, take a breather at the Rail Corridor with a scenic walk. The Rail Corridor has a few entry points; we recommend parking your car at Rail Mall, where a short flight of landscaped stairs leads to the Upper Bukit Timah truss bridge. You do not have to do the entire four-kilometre stretch; it is entirely up to you and your family!

Distance: 15-minute drive from the Rail Mall to Dempsey

(Source: Baker & Cook Singapore / Facebook)

For dinner, indulge in sumptuous fare at the Baker & Cook café and bakery, situated at Core Collective in Dempsey. Share a large plate with the entire family, or a delicious pizza from Plank Sourdough Pizza. The kids can play to their heart’s delight at the on-site playground, which offers a swing, a little treehouse, and more.

Distance: 15-minute drive from the Rail Mall to Dempsey

North

(Source: Hay Dairies Pure Goat Milk / Facebook)

It is funny to imagine Singapore was once a kampung, especially when we are faced with the glittering facades of our now concrete jungle. Escape to the northern end of Singapore for a blast to the past, where you can get up and personal with goats at Hay Dairies Goat Farm! Hay Dairies is easy to explore on your own; reach the farm before 10.30am to view the milking process. Grab some hay to feed the goats, or even try a sip of the goat’s milk for yourself.

(Source: Bollywood Veggies / Facebook)

Next, hop on over to the nearby Bollywood Veggies, often touted as ‘Paradise on Earth’ – the Singapore version. Started in 2000, the place offers farm tours, culinary classes, and more. Fuel up at Poison Ivy Bistro, a farm-to-table establishment that serves only the freshest produce. The menu is seasonal and changes often; you never know what you will find!

Distance: 6-minute drive from Hay Dairies Goat Farm to Bollywood Veggies

Pick your poison: relaxation or adrenaline! The former would delight in a trip to Sembawang Hot Springs, Singapore’s only hot spring park. Try your hand at cooking eggs with the steam from the pools, soaking your feet in the footbath pool, or enjoying the new Floral Walk. 

(Source: Adventure HQ / Facebook)

Adventure HQ, on the other hand, is an exhilarating indoor playground that is a godsend for thrill seekers. Fly down Singapore’s longest indoor slide at 14 metres long, navigate the Urban Climb Zone, jump through the air off a suspended platform, race each other at the Vertical Race Wall, and more. The highlight is the Parabolic Slide, which hoists individuals eight metres into the air, then drops them down a daring 90-degree drop. 

Distance: 22-minute or 24-minute drive from Bollywood Veggies to Sembawang Hot Springs or Adventure HQ respectively

Continue the adventure at ORTO, a 24-hour leisure facility. Be spoilt for choice with plenty of activities available: Go prawning, longkang fishing, go karting, bounce away at a trampoline park, or engage in a game of paintball. Take your pick from a plethora of dining options for dinner as well. Think: mookata, Thai cuisine, local classics, tapas, and much, much more. 

Distance: ~8-minute drive from either Sembawang Hot Springs or Adventure HQ to Orto

South

(Source: Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore – MPA / Facebook)

This itinerary is all about discovering the magic of the sea! Start with the Sea Show at Singapore Maritime Gallery that channels the discovery of the sea through artworks created by 30 artists and illustrators. Kids can embark on a maze-like journey through larger-than-life installations, completed with a ‘Where’s Wally?’-inspired game and augmented reality filters. 

(Source: Bayswater Kitchen / Facebook)

Dine with a view at Bayswater Kitchen that overlooks the Marina at Keppel Bay Harbour. Offering both indoor and alfresco seating, the restaurant is a breezy affair that boasts a menu that revolves around wild-caught seafood. The best part? The restaurant has a recreation room that contains a foosball and ping-pong table, and is also adjacent to a playground. On Sundays, the restaurant even organises colouring activities for the little ones.

Distance: 12-minute drive from Singapore Maritime Gallery to Bayswater Kitchen

(Source: NParks / Facebook)

Once your family’s stomachs are satiated, it is time to soak up some vitamin sea with an island adventure! Head to Marina South Pier, and hop on a ferry to either Kusu and St. John’s Islands, or Sister’s Island. Explore these lesser-known islands, and do not forget the swimsuits or sunblock. And if you have not utilised your SingapoRediscovers Vouchers, now is the best time to do so with the ferry rides.

Distance: 13-minute drive from Bayswater Kitchen to Marina South Pier

Finally, spend the rest of the night unwinding at Sentosa’s Coastes Beach Bar & Restaurant. Dig your toes into the sand, and indulge in their hearty all-day-dining fare. If you still have the energy, you can end the night by catching the Wings of Time, a dazzling light water show topped off with a majestic fireworks display.

Distance: 16-minute drive from Marina South Pier to Coastes Beach Bar & Restaurant

East

(Source: HiRoller Indoor Skating Rink / Facebook)

Be transported to the 80s at HiRoller, a dynamic indoor skating rink complete with pulsating disco lights. If your family does not have much experience with indoor skating, do not fret. The area is segregated into blue and red zones, which cater for beginners and experts respectively. Take your time to warm up; you will be whizzing round and round before you know it.

Grab lunch at the Coastal Settlement, which offers another nostalgic blast to the past. A rustic establishment nestled in the outskirts of Changi, the vintage interior wows at first sight. Feast your eyes on the dangling chandeliers, antique furniture, polished wood panelling, and plenty of items from the past scattered all around. The menu is quite extensive – there is something for everyone.

Distance: 10-minute drive from Hi-Roller to Coastal Settlement

(Source: Diggersite / Facebook)

Who does not love the iconic Bob the Builder character? Allow your kids to step into Bob’s shoes for a day at Diggersite, where they can try their hands at operating kid-sized construction machinery in a safe environment. Kids can pick up various items from a sandpit whilst seated in an excavator; safety helmets complete the experience, with the area sporting multiple yellow ‘CAUTION’ signs.

Distance: 20-minute drive from Coastal Settlement to Raintree Cove

(Source: Changi Airport / Facebook)

Next, travel to the prehistoric era at Jurassic Mile. Park your car at Changi Airport Terminal 2, and rent a bike from GoCycling. A four-kilometre route will bring you to East Coast Park, where you will pass by Jurassic Mile along the way. Jurassic Mile is a one-kilometre stretch that is lined with multiple life-like dinosaur replicas. Get ready for a roaring good time.

At East Coast Park, take the chance to cycle around and take in the sea breeze, and indulge in some hawker fare at East Coast Lagoon Hawker for dinner. If you like, you can even drop by Coastal Playgrove, a large free adventure playground. Clamber up vertical climbing nets, whiz down long slides, make your way through a bamboo tunnel, and more. Once you are done, cycle back to Changi Airport for a fantastic end to the day. If you wish, you can keep dinner for last, and have a sumptuous meal at Jewel.

So there you have it, four action-packed one-day itineraries that are bound to entertain every single member of your family. Which one will you do first? Happy holidays!

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Asia Culture Home & Family Local News Singapore Youth

Embarking on a path to rehabilitation and reintegration, behind prison walls

After jail time, most offenders go on to rehabilitate and reintegrate themselves into their communities. But according to the Singapore Prison Service, about one in five of these offenders (as of 2020) find themselves back behind bars within two years of their release. Why does this happen? And how can it be prevented? In the first of a two-part series, TheHomeGround Asia speaks with several ex-offenders to understand their experiences behind bars, and how these have shaped their recovery process. 

Rafiq (not his real name) had little to say about his time spent behind bars except this: “Life in prison was really hard.” 

Yet, Rafiq still found himself incarcerated a total of four times over 12 years, for various charges of drug consumption and illegal money lending. He was first arrested in 2006, and last released in November 2018. Only 26 when he was first arrested, he says, “[I] wasted 12 years of my life and my youth.” 

Rafiq’s multiple arrests come in the light of multiple tragedies in his personal life. He had first started taking drugs in 2005, after the death of his twin brother. Devastated and unable to cope, drugs were a way to “numb” himself. In the years after, drugs continued to be his solace when his mother passed away in 2008, and when his marriage fell apart in 2010. 

With his repeated stints in prison, Rafiq eventually found himself homeless and jobless, and resorted to associating himself with gangs as a loanshark runner to survive. His crimes caught up with him and in 2015, he served his longest sentence of nearly three years behind bars, and three strokes of the cane. This sentencing was his turning point, and he has stayed out of prison ever since – his longest reprieve since his first arrest. 

So what was it about the last prison stint that hit differently? 

Rafiq had first started taking drugs in 2005, to cope with the death of his twin brother. (Source: Canva)

Counselling within prison walls 

Throughout his time in prison, Rafiq spent much of his time exercising, praying, reciting the Al-Quran, and reflecting on his past actions. 

“I took [the reflection and courses inside prison] seriously,” he shares. “I applied it to my life.”

Along with his own motivation to change, Rafiq explains that these courses and self-reflection helped him to know himself better and manage himself physically and mentally. Ultimately, however, he cites his final sentence as the real catalyst. 

“I felt the pain mentally as it was the longest period of time I was in prison,” he says. “Physically, the three strokes of the cane I received were worse than previous canings I had.”

Other ex-offenders TheHomeGround Asia interviewed concurred that counselling programmes within prison, whether by internal staff or external organisations, were instrumental in their subsequent recovery.

But, a couple of ex-offenders highlight that the approach of the counsellors and who they are also make a difference. 

Rafiq found his last, and longest, sentence especially hard to go through. But he spent most of his time praying, exercising, reciting the Al-Quran, and reflecting. (Source: Canva)

One such individual, who wished to be known only as June, has a story much like Rafiq’s: She was first exposed to drugs 20 years ago, through her husband. Over the years, they became a coping mechanism for her, even as she was repeatedly incarcerated on drug consumption charges.

“I keep telling myself I want to change. But when I go out [of prison], the same thing, I relapse,” she adds. 

In total, June was in and out of prison four times, with her most recent release being in January 2020. Her turning point came when she encountered counsellors from New Life Stories, whose approach struck a chord with her.

New Life Stories is a non-profit organisation on a mission to prevent intergenerational incarceration and recidivism, while improving the quality of life for (ex-)offenders and their families.

While June went through plenty of counselling programmes during her four terms in prison, she shares, “The thing is… whether I want to change myself or don’t want… sometimes a person talks to us, and they are the lucky person who can wake us up.” 

Counsellors from New Life Stories were the lucky ones: “I see that they listen to my problems… they keep motivating me to not look down on myself, to wake up and look forward. From there, I tell myself, if other people can see me this way, why can’t I see myself that way too?” asks June. “And the most beautiful thing is that they will communicate with our children and family outside, so they are really helping us.”

She adds, “Halfway through [New Life Stories’] programme, I feel like if these two counsellors with good education want to help me, why don’t I want to help myself? From there, I keep wanting to know more, I want to be a better person.”

June and her son are beneficiaries of the New Life Stories counselling programme, which helped push June to change for the better. (Source: New Life Stories)

For Kevin Anand, having counsellors who were ex-convicts themselves was something that stuck with him. Mr Anand’s rap sheet comprised gang-related activities, as he had fallen in with bad company in his youth after a tumultuous childhood. Being a child of divorced parents and who was picked on at school had instilled a desire to “stand up” for himself. He found camaraderie with gang members, who often shared troubled childhoods too.

During his time as a gang member, Mr Anand had gotten into multiple fights but had escaped the authorities. At the age of 27, his luck finally ran out, and he was caught and charged for the first time after getting into a fight with a weapon. He spent a year in prison, before being released in 2014. 

The one-year stint did not bring his gang member days to a halt. Instead, he continued getting into fights, and was eventually detained under the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act in 2015, leading to a five-year period of detention before he was released in February 2020. 

While incarcerated, Mr Anand went through counselling with non-profit Prison Fellowship Singapore, a Christian organisation committed to bringing restoration to inmates and their families. There, he was counselled by people who were ex-offenders themselves, and he found encouragement in that they were people who understood his circumstances and struggles. 

He recounts, “There was one brother called Bruce, he also came out from gang, and he shared with me his story. These are things that reflect on myself. He sees his younger self in me, and I see my older self [in him]. How am I going to be [in the future]? Am I going to be like him, or am I still going to be in prison? That actually woke me up, [to realise that] the choice is up to me.”

Kevin Anand spent a total of five years in prison, and found understanding in counsellors who were ex-offenders themselves. (Photo courtesy of Kevin Anand)

The friendships you make or break behind bars

Helpful as it may be, counselling is not a panacea, and inmates still go through their fair share of struggles within prison walls. 

Like Mr Anand, Yeo Yun Luo’s troubled childhood led him to join a gang in his early adolescence. After getting into multiple fights, Mr Yeo’s offences eventually caught up with him, and he was sentenced to 18 months at a Reformative Training Centre (RTC) when he was 16. 

Nevertheless, gang hierarchy still existed within the RTC, and Mr Yeo was one of its leaders. 

“I’m the one that if I say ‘let’s fight’, everybody will just go,” he quips. 

And fight he did, going as far as to incite a riot within the centre’s walls. His actions resulted in an extended sentence, corporal punishment, and time spent in the maximum security wing of the RTC. In total, Mr Yeo’s sentence was extended four times, and he spent over two and a half years in the centre.

Mr Yeo attributes his actions behind bars to social influences: “Inside, you got four people inside one cell, when you know a lot of people, people will talk to you, and the influence is very high. In addition, I was very ai mian zi [meaning prideful in Mandarin], so when they passed over the crown [of being gang leader], I wore it.”

In his youth, Yeo Yun Luo was a prominent figure in his neighbourhood gang circles, and constantly got into fights even while incarcerated. (Photo courtesy of Yeo Yun Luo)

Meanwhile, others like Rafiq, who was determined to change during his last stay in prison, had to muster up the courage to renounce his gang members: “It can be hard for inmates to renounce their gang inside prison as you will be mocked and jeered at,” he explains. “But I decided to take that step to renounce my gang as I wanted to learn how to manage my emotions. If I cannot learn to say ‘no’ and stay away from negative influences while inside prison, I will fall back into the same patterns outside prison.”

While June was not involved in gang-related activities, prison arrangements of having three to four inmates per cell meant that she, too, had to learn to buck social pressures. 

“Sometimes, I want to be good, but there’s always a test,” she explains.

“One morning, I wanted to receive breakfast, then one lady talked very harshly to me. But my other friend told me, ‘Remember, your mother is waiting for you, don’t get into a fight.’ So I just keep quiet and tell myself, ‘Nevermind, me being quiet doesn’t mean I lose,’” she recalls. 

She concludes, “From there, I learned that I don’t need to have a big circle of friends, just a small one that is straight with me.” 

On the other hand, fellow New Life Stories’ beneficiary who gave her name only as Van, found some silver lining when interacting with other inmates during her prison term. 

Van had been caught while assisting her husband in his drug trafficking operations, and was sentenced to five years in prison. Before her arrest, she had not thought of the harm that she was causing by being an accomplice to drug trafficking; she had only been focused on making “easy money”. 

Van was first arrested for drug trafficking charges, after assisting her husband to pack drugs thinking that it was an easy way to make money. (Source: Canva)

But all this changed when she was in remand: “I spoke to some of the girls there, and they shared with me their stories. It’s very painful for me [to hear them]. Because of trafficking, because of me, you’re taking drugs. They lose their families, their children are sometimes not with them but with foster parents, these are the things I hear.” 

She concludes, “It’s a lesson learned for me.” 

With that in mind, Van has committed to her rehabilitation and recovery.

But while this first step is significant, Mr Yeo believes that the factors determining whether an individual will re-offend occur the year immediately after release.

In the second part of this series, find out how these ex-offenders cope in the immediate year after their release from prison; their struggles and triumphs as they reintegrate into society and attempt to reconcile with their loved ones and family members.

Join the conversations on TheHomeGround Asia’s Facebook and Instagram, and get the latest updates via Telegram.

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Arts & Music Culture Design News

Creating a more diverse and inclusive world through emoji

The history of emoji spans 24 years and has evolved from its origins as a simple way to symbolise mood and emotion. Today, it is often used as a communication tool, speaking across cultures and propelling movements for social justice and inclusivity. More recently, Adobe released its Global Emoji Diversity & Inclusion Report, which explores how people are using diverse emojis to communicate, why they matter and how they can initiate positive change. TheHomeGround Asia evaluates the report’s results and asks diversity expert Angela Leung to explain why emojis are important in making meaningful connections in a digitised world.

Over the past decade or so, social media and texting has elevated the use of emoji into an indispensable medium for enhancing emotional communication on digital platforms. Emoji is able to visually spell out what syntax might fail to, while livening up conversations and substituting non-verbal cues, like body language and gestures, as well as tone of voice. 

Through emoji, users have an unspoken dimension to share what they think and feel in the digital era of text-based communication. Measuring just 128×128 pixels in resolution, these pictograms encapsulate different moods, irony, humour, even identities and values giving messages added meaning, often symbolic. The invention of emoji also assures us that we do not need to be eloquent speakers or good writers to get our message across to our intended recipients. 

But is the current selection of emoji enough to support a global system of digital communication, encompassing people from a vast array of backgrounds, interests, cultures, mores, values, et cetera? 

Adobe’s Global Emoji Diversity & Inclusion Report attempts to answer this question by “unpacking the importance and impact of diversity and representation in emojis for self-expression and identity.” Through the global study, it interviewed 7,000 frequent emoji users across seven countries: United States, United Kingdom, Germany, France, Japan, Australia and South Korea.

The survey results were evaluated by Paul D. Hunt, Adobe’s delegate for the Unicode consortium’s emoji subcommittee (ESC). Mr Hunt highlighted that despite regional differences between survey results in each country, the result was clear – 83 per cent of respondents said that a more inclusive representation is needed in emoji.

He thinks that emoji can help people express themselves in ways that words often cannot. And that is why it is important to be able to see ourselves represented, otherwise we miss the opportunity to share meaningful aspects of our personhood with the people we are engaging.

He asks: How are we going to change our culture to be more inclusive and amplify the voices of those who have, traditionally, been underserved, underrepresented, and at times, ignored? How can we think about the people that have important stories to tell, that need to be heard, and enable them to share their points of view?

According to the Adobe Global Emoji Diversity & Inclusion Report, hairstyle or hair colour, accessories, body type, and eye colour are the top customisation options emoji users say would better reflect their personal appearance. (Source: Adobe)

The evolution of the emoji – the lingua franca of our times

The word ‘emoji’ comes from the Japanese words ‘e’ (meaning ‘picture’) and ‘moji’ (meaning ‘character’). The term originated from the 1990s, as mobile phone culture exploded in Japan. While SoftBank, known as J-Phone at the time, released the world’s first known set of 90 emoji on 1 November 1997, Shigetaka Kurita is often credited for being the founder of emoji that popularised its function. 

Initially created for NTT DoCoMo’s i-mode, a mobile web platform, Mr Kurita’s designs were inspired by manpu symbols from Japanese manga, such as a drop on the head to signify nervousness or confusion. These simple markers of emotions drew Mr Kurita to expand on the idea for DoCoMo, creating a set of 176 basic emoji.

The original NTT DoCoMo collection of 176 coloured emoji, designed by Japanese interface designer Shigetaka Kurita was added to The Museum of Modern Art’s permanent collection in 2016, and is currently on display in New York City. (Source: @sigekun / Instagram)

The early emoji sets were intended to help facilitate electronic communication and serve as a distinguishing feature from other mobile platforms and services. But today, the emoji has become more than an icon to indicate one’s emotions. It has become a bridging tool for communication between people who speak different tongues.

In his book, The Emoji Code: The Linguistics Behind Smiley Faces and Scaredy Cats, English communications and linguistics professor Vyvyan Evans explains that the emoji “adds more than a splash of colour to our digital alphabet”, and credits emoji for providing a “visual form of communication that is both resonant and powerful.” 

A picture is worth a thousand words, and emojis resonate with people because they transcend the boundaries of language.

From mood to movement

Although it takes nearly two years for new emojis to be rolled out on platforms like iOS, the emoji is growing beyond the controlled pace of its creators to reflect the changes in society.

Singapore Management University Associate Professor of Psychology, and diversity expert, Angela Leung explains that as more people gravitate towards the emoji as a form of convenient communication, “they easily become meaningful symbols associated with shared meanings endorsed by a collective, sort of like a cultural symbol or cue.”

Indeed, in recent years, emoji have played a part in several cultural phenomena and even dabbled in politics. Social and cultural movements have also been a large consideration in the design of emoji. Twitter has launched custom emoji to embolden citizens in various countries in their conversations about voting during elections. For instance, it created an emoji of President Halimah Yacob to celebrate her presidential victory. And launched special emoji to be used with conversations about the 2020 Singapore election on its platform.

Singapore President Halimah Yacob gets her own emoji on Twitter in 2017, the first for a female head of state anywhere in the world. (Source: NextShark)

Emojis have also proven to be an effective platform for activists to raise awareness in online protests. 

Earlier this April, Twitter launched an emoji to celebrate the first anniversary of the #Milk Tea Alliance online protest movement. The alliance emerged last year when it united anti-Beijing protesters in Hong Kong and Taiwan with campaigners in Thailand and Myanmar. 

Recognising the popularity of the movement, with millions of tweets being posted using #MilkTeaAlliance, Twitter designed the emoji consisting of three different shades of milk tea from countries where the Alliance first formed online. 

Similarly, the three-finger salute that originated in the dystopian novel and film series, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins was recently adopted by pro-democracy protest movements, spreading from Thailand to Hong Kong and to the ongoing Myanmar coup, where it has since developed into a pro-democracy symbol.

Emojis were even used as a form of code to circumvent censorship laws in China at the start of 2020, when the coronavirus first broke out in Wuhan. Dr Ai Fen, the director of the emergency department of Wuhan Central Hospital, was the first doctor and whistleblower to pass along information about Covid-19. But messages of the whistleblower’s interview kept getting deleted due to censorship by the Chinese Government. Users of WeChat, the Chinese messaging app used emoji to evade censors, by translating Ai Fen’s viral interview into emoji, like the hieroglyphs of antiquity, escaping detection.

Chinese WeChat users translated Dr Ai Fen’s interview on the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan into emoji, to escape censorship by the Chinese Government. (Source: @CarolynZhang13 / Twitter)

Beyond a communication tool, emoji have become a platform that reflects our cultural settings or identities, and even our political movements, a system that grows and expands as societies and people do.

Emoji elitism

With the rate at which the emoji is evolving, it might be easy to assume that the emoji is at least sufficient to convey the general, mainstream narrative of the technologically inclined. But what happens to those who are not part of the general narrative, or those who belong to a minority whose narratives are perhaps not as well-known?

Some have argued that to assume the universality of emoji’s narrative is to be rooted in a form of cultural elitism, which prioritises a mainstream narrative over that of the minority. 

The fact is that despite the widening selection of emoji available, only half of emoji users across the seven countries Adobe surveyed feel their identity is adequately reflected in current emoji options. 

For respondents in all seven countries, culture is the number one category that respondents wish to see more inclusivity; with this being the case for 41 per cent of Gen X-s and the majority of respondents who are multilingual. Age and race/ethnicity also follow closely as the categories respondents want to see better reflected in emoji options. Only 54 per cent of global emoji users feel that their identity is sufficiently reflected in current emoji options. 

217 new emojis have recently arrived on iOS as part of the latest iOS 14.5 beta, including gender options for people with beards. The upgrade also includes an option for mixed skin tones for couples emojis. (Source: @Iammordida / Instagram)

The limitations of emoji

Even in a more diverse cyber world, there are limitations to emoji as a tool of communication. For instance, the Adobe survey shows that 63 per cent of the disabled community say that they feel under-represented. Some respondents have also asked to see more emoji of “helping objects”, such as wheelchairs, canes, or even hearing aids, while others have found it reductive to represent their disabilities through objects.

Dr Leung notes that people interpret emoji subjectively. The emoji’s small size means that not a lot of detail can be included in each symbol, which limits how representative an emoji can be. Its presence as a visual medium also means that the emoji has to be easily deciphered and understood by the recipient, hence it cannot be overly complicated.

The results of the survey boil down to a paradoxical question: If the emoji library is meant to reflect social and political changes and to keep up with news and current affairs, how could it ever be inclusive enough?

To this, Dr Leung agrees that it would never be inclusive enough and explains that this is because emojis are often created reactively, in response to what is happening. 

“It is unlikely there are emojis to represent accurately everything that we want to convey,” says Dr Leung. “After all, they are not exhaustive and cannot replace texts.”

But she argues that perhaps too much emphasis is being placed on the emoji as a symbolic bastion of inclusivity. Rather she suggests, “The key lies in people’s intentions or purpose to use emojis, not how inclusive or exclusive the emoji itself is.” 

Gender and cultural inclusivity are two important aspects to consider in making new emoji more representative. (Source: Adobe)

Towards diversity and inclusion in the emoji library

Still, recognising that the emoji library will never be inclusive enough, is not a reason to stop trying to make it as inclusive as possible. 

According to Adobe’s survey, a majority of respondents (more than 70 per cent) believe that inclusive emojis have the power to create positive change in the world by sparking positive conversations about important cultural and societal issues. 

A broader representation of diverse voices and experiences can also deepen understanding and empathy between different individuals and cultures.

Emojination is a five-year-old grassroots organisation – whose motto is ‘Emoji By The People, For The People’  – that helps emoji seekers navigate the complicated and arduous Unicode approval process. (Source: emojione)

Mr Hunt hopes that emoji can create more compassion among users, and says that he was happy to see a lot of optimism in the survey results: “It may be my overly optimistic view of these little cartoon characters, but I am hopeful that by making our systems for interpersonal communication more inclusive, we will be able to see and understand each other better, empathise with each other more and create a more cooperative culture that values the strength that comes from valuing diverse experiences and voices.”

Adobe expects to release a second part of the survey later this year, which would expand on the current findings and insights around the diversity and inclusivity of emoji worldwide. It has also partnered with Emojination, a grassroots organisation dedicated to championing for the design of more representative emojis.

Said Jennifer 8. Lee, a co-founder of Emojination: “Adobe’s support has been critical to Emojination’s five-year push for more inclusive and representative emoji, as it allows us to provide support to the passionate individuals who are pushing to see themselves and their cultures represented, which has resulted in emoji for sari, hijab, boomerang, piñata, matryoshka doll, long drum, arepa and bubble tea.”

Join the conversations on TheHomeGround Asia’s Facebook and Instagram, and get the latest updates via Telegram.

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Asia Culture Health & Fitness Home & Family Sex & Gender Singapore

Here, queer, and facing their silver years

In the second instalment of this two-part series, TheHomeGround Asia delves deeper into the challenges faced by the queer community when it comes to ageing, the pressures they face, and how this impacts their views of the future.

When it comes to ageing, finding a social safety net is a challenge that the queer community faces.

Sarah (not her real name), an expatriate in her 50s who identifies as a lesbian, thinks that Singapore’s social safety net is reliant on family support and “incentivising the heterosexual nuclear family”. However, she is quick to point out that not all queer people have family support, which she says can “create a level of vulnerability”. 

“A lot of people either have to really tough it out in family environments that are not supportive, or leave,” she says. “And when they leave, they put themselves at a huge risk of financial insecurity.” 

She says that queer people do not often have the safety net of “family… social acceptance… [and] in some cases, even a social network of friends who can be there for us.”

Developing a social network can also prove to be difficult, especially for the older members of the queer community. 

Sarah explains that the spaces that the queer community have to gather and form a community, such as clubs, bars and cafes, tend to be focused among younger people, adding that individuals in the lesbian community tend to “couple off, and you just go home and knit, and they’re not out in the world anymore.”

This can lead to social isolation as one gets older.

“If you find yourself later in life, your partner has died, or you’re divorced… or you have an illness or a disability, you can find yourself extremely socially isolated as well,” she says, adding that people can start to feel isolated and excluded when they cannot fit into the queer community. 

The impact of not legalising same-sex marriage on ageing

The lack of recognition for same-sex spouses in Singapore is yet another issue that the queer community faces, Sarah explains, as this would lead to queer spouses not having the same legal rights as spouses in heterosexual marriages.

Here queer facing silver years
Sarah says that queer couples have to consider factors such as whether they would be separated from their spouses, or whether their relationships will be recognised in a way that allows them to age with their partners. (Source: Nick Karvounis / Unsplash)

This has a direct impact on immediate day-to-day situations as well, such as one’s ability to visit a loved one who falls ill and is in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU). 

Dr Roy Tan explains that only immediate family members have visitation rights to patients who are in the ICU. “[If] you’re the partner of a person, even if you’ve been living with [them] for years and years, you’re not allowed to visit him,” he explains. 

Nicholas (not his real name), who identifies as bisexual and works in the communications industry, shares that one of his friends was in a similar situation after her partner had to be warded in the ICU after an accident. 

“She felt completely guilty and just distraught because she couldn’t go into the ICU,” he says. “She also felt weird loitering around, because after a while people realise like how come this girl keeps staying here for this other girl [when] they’re clearly not [from] the same family? So then she felt she had to go back [home and] she felt even worse.” 

Here queer facing silver years
Partners in same-sex relationships are unable to visit their significant others in the ICU, as only immediate family members are allowed to do so. (Souce: Muskan Anand / Canva)

Sarah notes that the lack of recognition of same-sex marriage also has repercussions on a queer person’s legal rights when it comes to their children.

“A gay or lesbian couple isn’t allowed to adopt in Singapore,” she says. “I know some lesbian women who’ve adopted, but they’ve done it as saying they are singles.” 

For those who have managed to adopt children, she claims that the lack of legal recognition presents issues such as the non-biological parent having no legal rights to their children, as opposed to countries where the non-biological parent is able to adopt the child.

Not having a legally recognised marriage also creates a greater need for a lasting power of attorney (LPA) for those in queer relationships. Dr Tan shares that it is recommended that gay individuals arrange for an LPA, to let one’s partner or close friends have better control over their care and financial situation, as they would not be able to without an LPA.   

“If you lose your mental capacity, your partner cannot make your decision for you, only your immediate family members [can],” he explains. 

An LPA enables individuals aged 21 years old and above to appoint a person to make decisions on their behalf, in the event that they lose mental capacity. This would grant the appointed person the ability to act on their behalf for matters concerning one’s personal welfare and property and affairs. 

Challenges faced by single people 

LGBTQ+ individuals who are single face additional challenges, such as limited access to housing needs, Sarah says. 

She explains, “If we look at access to HDB [housing], for example, a lesbian couple can’t access… Even a single woman has to wait until she’s well into her 30s.”

Grants offered for housing programmes that cater to singles include the Singles Grant and Enhanced CPF Housing Grant (Singles), both of which are available to Singapore citizens who are single and aged 35 years and above.  

Those who are queer and single also face the worry of not having people who can take care of them, says Zuby Eusofe, founder of The Healing Circle SG, which aims to provide a safe space for queer Muslim people in Singapore.

“They may have nephews or nieces or siblings of their own age that will look after them. But after that, where will they go?” she asks, questioning whether old age homes are equipped to cater to the needs of the LGBTQ+ community. 

Medical expenses are yet another worry, especially if they do not have children who can aid them with defraying these expenses as they get older. 

Zuby adds that in a nuclear family, one’s children can help to cover some of these medical expenses, but that queer people without offspring do not have that option. 

“For single queer people, that will be very tough. They do not have anyone,” she says. 

Planning for the future

For Zuby, keeping herself healthy is a priority. “I try to look after myself, like doing exercise once a week…It’s really important for me to keep my health,” she says. 

When asked about how he plans to take care of himself in his older years, Nicholas, whose family is unaware of his sexual orientation, says that he envisions himself hiring a domestic helper to help him, and worries over his ability to support himself in the future. 

He says, “I don’t fear ageing, but I fear [that] I cannot support myself, because I cannot depend on my family to help me out if they know the real circumstances.” 

Sarah believes that helping the queer community in the ageing process would entail enacting change at an earlier stage, to provide greater social security. 

“We have to start a lot earlier than aged care,” she notes. “It’s about ageing in the best context possible… having the right economic opportunities upfront.” 

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Ramadan break fast experience at Dahrul Ihsan Orphanage

Muslims in Singapore have been observing the month of Ramadan. As the most sacred month of the Islamic calendar, Muslims not only fast but also take the opportunity to self-reflect, repent and purify their souls by practising charitable deeds and acts of compassion. TheHomeGround Asia had the opportunity to break fast with young Muslims at the Darul Ihsan Orphanage and to find out what Ramadan means to them. 

Ramadan is often a time for understanding, patience, tolerance and sacrifice. For many in the home, it is a special occasion as they are able to celebrate and break fast together with one another as a community. Through donors- and staff-led activities, residents receive the care and guidance in their faith and remember those less fortunate around them. Since 1962, the Muslimin Trust Fund Association (MTFA) has been actively providing sustenance and education for vulnerable youths and orphans in the community.

Check out the full video above as we speak and learn about the activities organised during Ramadan in the orphanage.  

WATCH: In Conversation With: Jayaprakash Joghee Bojan, wildlife and nature photographer

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Move over cotton and leather, biofabricated textiles are the future of fashion

Mushroom, kombucha and algae might sound like a list of ingredients for a health-conscious recipe, but these living organisms are the source of a new wave of sustainable biofabrics. From plant-based leather to lab-grown silk, TheHomeGround Asia explores a buffet of planet-friendly materials that looks set to revolutionise the fashion industry.

Earth Month (April) may be over but that does not mean we should slack off on our sustainability efforts. Indeed, at the risk of sounding trite, in the age of climate change, every day ought to be Earth Day and everyone ought to do their part to protect and preserve our planet. It is a responsibility we must not shrug off, given the sizeable ecological footprint of our lifestyles – and especially of our wardrobe choices.

The price of trend-chasing

It is hardly news that the fashion industry (in particular, fast fashion) has a deleterious impact on the Earth. Much ink has been spilled on the environmental cost of our addiction to the low-cost, low-quality runway rip-offs that fast-fashion giants like Zara, H&M, SHEIN and ASOS churn out at breakneck speed. Nevertheless, the statistics are worth reiterating.

According to figures released by the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the fashion industry accounts for an estimated 10 per cent of global carbon emissions due to its complex supply chains and energy-intensive production processes, and, as a consequence of textile dyeing and treatment, nearly 20 per cent of wastewater worldwide too.

Moreover, the most commonly-used materials in the apparel industry, including polyester and cotton, put a considerable strain on Earth’s natural resources.

Sustainable business network Common Objective calculates that 65 per cent of all garments manufactured are made of synthetic fibres, such as polyester, nylon, elastane and polyurethane (PU), which are exponentially cheaper than natural fibres, but are basically petroleum-derived plastics. In fact, each year, about 342 million barrels of crude oil are exhausted in meeting the demand for these plastic-based polymers. Additionally, these synthetic fabrics shed large amounts of microfibres when washed, exacerbating the problem of plastic pollution in our oceans and waterways.

Natural fibres are not necessarily better for the environment, either.

Take cotton, for example. Although cotton is biodegradable, it is a water-guzzling crop. It takes up to 10,000 litres of water to make a single pair of denim jeans and up to 3,000 litres to make a t-shirt. Cotton cultivation also uses high levels of pesticides and insecticides that can pollute local ecosystems and water supplies, and, in turn, cause adverse health effects in humans.

Meanwhile, the production of real leather (cowhide, lambskin etc.) has not only been accused of fuelling animal cruelty, it also contributes to greenhouse gas emissions, deforestation and toxic chemical pollution. According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, livestock farming generates around 15 per cent of the world’s total greenhouse gas emissions. 

On top of all that, the fashion industry generates around 92 million tonnes of textile waste annually, with the equivalent of a garbage truck of textiles dumped in landfills or burned in incinerators every second. In 2020 alone, Singaporeans tossed out some 137,000 tonnes of textile and leather waste, of which only four per cent was recycled.

In light of these statistics, the question is: What can we do to lighten our fashion footprint? The oft-repeated mantra is ‘buy less, buy better’. That is, as much as possible, avoid the trap of excessive consumerism by purchasing only what you need; sticking to wardrobe staples that you can wear over and over again; and shopping vintage or secondhand. Also, if it is within your means, invest in higher-quality pieces that will last longer, support small, sustainability-driven labels, and opt for renewable materials that have a minimal impact on the environment.

Fortunately, with an ever-growing pool of conscious shoppers clamouring for ethical and eco-friendly clothes, recent years have witnessed a surge in sustainable textile innovations, from plant-based leather to lab-grown silk. Below, we give you a quick rundown of five of the latest developments in the burgeoning field of ‘green’ fabrics.

The world’s first mycelium leather garments, designed by Stella McCartney and fashioned out of Bolt Thread’s Mylo Unleather. (Source: @mylo_unleather / Instagram)

Mycelium leather

The word ‘fungus’ generally conjures up icky images of mould and decay, but it seems the humble eukaryote is finally getting its turn in the spotlight, thanks to a handful of big-name brands that have bet on a fungal future for fashion.

Mycelium leather is a vegan leather alternative that is rapidly becoming a hot commodity in the industry. This novel biomaterial is composed of mycelium, the expansive underground root system of mushrooms that facilitates the exchange of nutrients, helps break down organic waste matter, enables plants to communicate with one another (it has been described as the ‘wood wide web’), drives carbon sequestration, and more.

At present, the major players in mycelium cultivation are US-based start-ups Bolt Threads Inc., MycoWorks and Ecovative Design.

Artificial substitutes to leather have mushroomed in popularity over the last decade. According to a market research body early last year, the global vegan leather market is expected to increase by nearly 50 per cent between 2019 and 2025. The material is hard-wearing, supple and breathable, making it an attractive alternative for clothing, including footwear and handbags.

How is mycelium leather made?

Fed with agroforestry by-products, such as molasses and sawdust, cultured mycelial cells are grown in proprietary trays under carefully controlled conditions, which induce the filament-like hyphae to tangle together to form homogeneous, hard-wearing sheets of fibre. Once harvested, these mats of mycelium are usually dehydrated, and then tanned, dyed and finished in line with traditional leather-making techniques.

Hermès’ Victoria travel bag gets a mycelium leather makeover. (Source: @mycoworks / Instagram)

Why is mycelium leather considered sustainable?

Not only is mycelium leather reportedly infinitely renewable and completely biodegradable, but because it is a fast-growing fungi that thrives in the dark, its production is said to consume far fewer natural resources and emit fewer greenhouse gases, versus that of animal leather. Furthermore, by adjusting the size and shape of the proprietary trays, mycelium can be coaxed to grow into specific shapes and dimensions (e.g. a sneaker or a handbag), thus eliminating the waste associated with cutting animal hides.

Where can you find mycelium leather?

As the technology is still in its infancy, it could be a while before mycelium leather becomes widely available and accessible. Always at the vanguard of sustainable fashion, earlier this year Stella McCartney introduced the world’s first mycelium-based wearables: A jet-black bustier top and coordinated utilitarian trousers, crafted using Bolt Thread’s Mylo Unleather. However, the garments are one-offs and are not available for sale; rather, they serve as a glimpse of what is to come.

We might not have to wait all that long, though, as Hermès announced in March that it is planning to give one of its famed handbags a mushroom makeover. In partnership with California-based startup MycoWorks, the luxury French maison will reimagine its classic Victoria travel bag in an amber-hued mycelium leather called Sylvania, with the model slated to hit the market later this year.

And in mid-April, Adidas broke the news that a Mylo Unleather variation of its iconic Stan Smith sneakers is on the way, where the outer upper, three-stripe logo and heel tab will be made of the mushroom-based material and combined with a natural rubber sole. The Stan Smith Mylo is expected to roll out sometime in 2022.

A new version of Adidas’ Stan Smith reimagines the classic silhouette in mycelium leather, cork and vulcanised rubber. (Source: @mylo_unleather / Instagram)

Microsilk

If you saw a cobweb, you might swat it away without a second thought. But did you know that spider silk (what arachnids use to weave their webs) is actually one of the toughest materials known to man? Five times stronger than steel, but springier than rubber and extremely lightweight, spider silk is one of nature’s wonders.

For decades, scientists have tried to replicate this spidroin fibre in the lab, to little avail. Until Dan Widmaier and his team at Bolt Threads came along, that is. After eight years of painstaking research, including studying hundreds of different spider species like the argiope bruennichi under the microscope, Bolt Threads reached the holy grail, having succeeded in creating a serviceable, scalable, synthetic spider-style silk, dubbed Microsilk.

Stronger than conventional silkworm silk, Microsilk retains the coveted softness, smoothness and lustrousness of the original, in addition to being hypoallergenic, antimicrobial and tear- and water-resistant. What is not to like about that?

Displayed in the Museum of Modern Art, this microsilk shift dress was designed by Stella McCartney in partnership with Bolt Threads. (Source: @boltthreads / Instagram)

How is microsilk made?

Worry not, because no spiders are harmed in the manufacturing of Microsilk. Instead, Bolt Thread’s scientists bioengineer genes that mimic spidroins and implant them in yeast cells. Combined with sugar and water, and left to ferment in large stainless steel tanks, the yeast multiplies and produces silk proteins, which are then extracted, purified and spun into yarn.

Why is microsilk considered sustainable?

Bolt Threads claims that because Microsilk is protein-based, it has the potential to fully biodegrade at the end of its life. Adding to its eco-credentials, Bolt Threads also states that the sugar utilised in Microsilk’s fibre-making process is obtained from renewable resources.

Where can you find microsilk?

As with mycelium leather, Microsilk is still in the research and development phase, but it is only a matter of time before the sustainable fabric becomes commercially available. In March 2017, Bolt Threads debuted a direct-to-consumer, limited-edition range of Microsilk neckties that sold out within minutes, followed later that year by a limited 100-piece run of winter beanies knit from Microsilk and Rambouillet wool, which met with similar success.

Frequent collaborator Stella McCartney also employed Bolt Threads’ biomaterial in two prototype dresses: the first, an asymmetrical gold shift dress designed expressly for a 2017 fashion exhibit at the New York Museum of Modern Art; the second, a white tennis dress in a high-performance blend of Microsilk and cellulose, conceived as part of the 2019 Adidas x Stella McCartney collection.

The 2019 Adidas x Stella McCartney capsule featured a sporty, microsilk tennis dress. (Source: @boltthreads / Instagram)

Bio-leather

Concocted during the Qin Dynasty as a health-boosting elixir, kombucha has enjoyed a meteoric rise in popularity over the last few years, now found everywhere from supermarket shelves to craft cocktail menus to beauty bars. The next frontier in the kombucha craze? Vegan leather footwear.

A sustainable substitute for animal hide, bacterial nanocellulose or bio-leather is derived from the gelatinous microbial mat known as SCOBY (a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast), a key ingredient in brewing kombucha tea.

This bio-fabricated textile is the brainchild of a team of Columbia University researchers, spearheaded by material scientist Theanne Schiros and developed in tandem with biomedical engineering professor Helen Lu and PhD student Romare Antrobus.

How is bio-leather made?

Adopting a circular waste-to-resource approach, Dr Schiros sources waste SCOBY from Brooklyn kombucha brewery Om Champagne Tea and feeds it with sugar gleaned from waste streams, such as coffee grounds and leftover fruit. During fermentation, the SCOBY converts the sugar into bacterial nanocellulose, which is then treated with enzymes and tinted with plant-based dyes so that it looks and feels like animal leather.

Under the One x One incubator run by the Slow Factory Foundation, Dr Theanne Schiros teamed up with Public School’s Dao-Yi Chow and Maxwell Osborne to realise a pair of bio-leather kicks. (Source: @publicschoolnyc / Instagram)

Why is bio-leather considered sustainable?

A life cycle analysis conducted by Dr Schiros proved that this closed-loop system reduces human toxicity by almost 10,000 times, as compared to chrome-tanned animal leather, and its carbon footprint is up to 97 per cent lower than synthetic PU leather. What is more, once grown, bio-leather will assume the shape of whatever mould it is dried in, meaning that it’s also effectively zero-waste. Oh, and it fully degrades in a domestic compost heap in a matter of months.

Where can you find bio-leather?

Under the Slow Factory Foundation’s One x One incubator programme, Dr Schiros joined forces with Public School New York’s Dao-Yi Chow and Maxwell Osborne to realise a pair of monochrome high-top sneakers made entirely from bio-leather, except the cork and vulcanised rubber soles. Sadly, you cannot buy these kombucha kicks just yet, but we are keeping our fingers crossed that Dr Schiros and her team will figure out how to scale up the production process soon.

Algae fabrics

It sounds like a plot straight out of a horror movie, but in the not-too-distant future, the clothes you wear could very well be alive. Enter algae-infused textiles, which are steadily gaining traction on account of their ability to act as carbon sinks.

As the name implies, these biofabrics tap on a group of photosynthetic autotrophs that belong to the Protista kingdom. To wit, algae.

Harnessing technology to propel the fashion industry forward, a number of designers and scientists are working hand-in-hand to forge groundbreaking materials that lend new meaning to the term ‘organic’. Among these innovations are an algal bioplastic devised by interdisciplinary designer Charlotte McCurdy; a sheer, gauze-like ‘biogarment’ created by Canadian-Iranian designer Roya Aghighi in collaboration with the University of British Columbia; and a living textile coating comprised of algae and cyanobacteria, pioneered by Dian-Jen Lin and Hannes Hulstaert of biotechnology start-up Post Carbon Lab.

Unveiled at the recent Paris Fashion Week, this algae-infused bomber jacket is the fruit of a three-way collaboration between Post Carbon Lab, DS Automobiles and EgonLab. (Source: @dsfrance / Instagram)

How are algae fabrics made?

Most of the designers have kept the specifics under wraps (with good reason, as the majority of us laymen would be unable to comprehend the necessary methodologies).

What Ms McCurdy has disclosed is that, in order to construct her version of bioplastic, marine macro-algae are first exposed to and bound by heat, then poured into custom-made moulds and left to solidify, and finally, overlaid with plant-based wax to improve its resistance to water. Meanwhile, Ms Aghighi has revealed that biogarmentry entails spinning chlamydomonas reinhardtii (a type of unicellular green algae) with nano polymers, and Ms Lin has explained that applying an algal coating to an item of clothing involves embedding microorganisms into porous fibres to render a living layer over the desired textile.

Why are algae fabrics considered sustainable?

As mentioned above, textiles integrated with algae can help purify the air and slash greenhouse gas emissions – when exposed to sunlight, algae sequesters carbon via photosynthesis, an endothermic reaction through which carbon dioxide is absorbed and oxygen is released.

Ms Aghighi also believes biogarmentry can act as a catalyst in transforming our relationship with fashion from one of neglectful consumption to one of empathetic connection, thereby helping to address existing issues of hyperconsumerism. “By making textiles alive, users will develop emotional attachments to their garments,” she told Dezeen. “Since the life cycle of the living photosynthetic textile is directly dependent on how it is taken care of, caring for clothes would regain ascendance as a crucial part of the system.”

Where can you find algae fabrics?

Ms McCurdy’s bioplastic raincoat and Ms Aghighi’s biogarments are currently at the proof-of-concept stage, but the Canadian-Iranian designer has said that she hopes to launch her inventions on the market within the next five to seven years. Likewise, although Post Carbon Lab unveiled a four-piece capsule of unisex apparel during Paris Fashion Week in March, the fruit of a three-way collaboration with French marques DS Automobiles and EgonLab, it appears there are no plans to mass-produce the collection, as it is simply a demonstration of the possibilities offered by algae bio-textiles.

For the time being, your best bet would probably be algae accessories. Together with outdoor apparel label So ILL, Aquaman star Jason Momoa introduced a couple of limited-edition, eco-friendly sneakers back in February (still in stock!), which feature BLOOM algae resin in the insoles as an alternative to petrochemical ethylene-vinyl acetate foam. Kanye West’s Yeezy also incorporates algae-based foam in its futuristic Foam Runner silhouette, if your tastes lean more towards the hypebeast aesthetic.

Jason Momoa shows off his So ILL sneakers in lavender and purple, which include an algae-based foam in the insoles. (Source: @prideofgypsies / Instagram)

AIR-INK

Yes, technically, AIR-INK is not a textile. But since it is used on fabrics, it should count too, right? Besides, it is far too interesting to ignore.

Struck by a bolt of inspiration during a conference in India, Graviky Labs’ co-founder Anirudh Sharma began working on the idea of upcycling pollution into printing ink, while he was still a graduate student at MIT. And so, AIR-INK was born.

How is AIR-INK made?

Equipped with Graviky Labs’ trademark KAALINK technology, a retrofit tool is attached to the exhaust pipe of a vehicle, gradually stockpiling soot (and harmful particulate pollutants such as PM 2.5) emitted by the diesel-burning engine as the car is driven around. Once the KAALINK is saturated, the particulates are transferred into carbon banks, passed through a filtration process that removes heavy metals and carcinogens, ground into an ultra-fine powder, and then mixed with solvents to form a certified-safe AIR-INK pigment that can be used in ink, dye or paint as a replacement for petroleum-derived carbon black.

Why is AIR-INK considered sustainable?

Graviky Labs estimates that utilising AIR-INK in lieu of traditional carbon black will lower its ecological footprint by between 50 to 150 per cent – each kilogramme of AIR-INK can mitigate 800 grams of carbon dioxide.

Naomi Campbell models Pangaia loungewear that is printed with Graviky Labs’ AIR-INK. (Source: @thepangaia / Instagram)

Where can you find AIR-INK?

Celebrity-loved, sustainable label Pangaia just dropped a capsule of luxe loungewear designed by Jenke Ahmed Tailly (stylist to stars like Beyoncé and Kim Kardashian), featuring AIR-INK prints on the label’s signature recycled cotton t-shirts, hoodies and trackpants.

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