Categories
Local News Singapore

What Does The Substation’s Closure Mean For Artists?

TheHomeGround Asia spoke to members of the local arts community to hear their views about Singapore’s first independent arts centre’s impending closure, and to share their memories of the space.

The Substation
The Substation

Artists across Singapore questioned, mourned and lamented the Substation’s “difficult decision” to close permanently. This followed news that it would no longer be able to occupy the entire building at 45 Armenian Street, but only have the option to return as a co-tenant after renovations are complete.

The announcement has left Singapore’s arts community reeling, as they prepare to bid farewell to a central part of Singapore’s arts scene.

The Substation’s decision to close was attributed to key factors, such as the National Arts Council’s (NAC) decision to convert 45 Armenian Street into a centre for various arts groups, the Substation’s financial circumstances, and the loss of revenue from venue hire.  

A statement released today (5 March) in response to NAC’s 2 March media statement aims to clarify some of the agency’s claims. For instance, one of these states that the Substation sought autonomy over the whole centre at Armenian Street so that it could “generate income from venue hire”, which the Board says is “incomplete”. Drawing a comparison between the Substation and Esplanade, the board emphasised that the Substation’s physical spaces are dedicated “primarily to arts usage”, and that the autonomy over these spaces enable them to have greater freedom over selecting artists who wish to use the space, which results in a “community effect” that is “over and beyond their revenue contribution”. They added that these spaces were leased out for commercial users and arts groups at “non-commercial, highly subsidised” rates.  

 

The Substation
The Substation/Facebook

A rich history

The Substation is Singapore’s first independent contemporary arts centre, and was founded by the late playwright, director and arts powerhouse Kuo Pao Kun, who was also deeply involved in arts activism. Its premises was a former disused power station, and has been home to The Substation since 1990, where it has become renowned as an experimental arts space, incubating some 98 Associate Artists or Artists-in-Residence.

Over the course of its 30 years at Armenian Street, it has also helped to develop 10 President’s Young Talents Award winners and 20 Young Artist Award recipients, and is associated with 13 Cultural Medallion winners.

An essential space for artists

The Substation has helped to kickstart the careers of many prominent figures in the community and has been a key space in experimental art; the announcement of its impending closure thus came as a shock to some.

Michelle J.N. Lim, artist and editor of Plural Art Mag, recalls her first time exhibiting at the Substation in 2014 as part of Minimart 5.0, a group exhibition initiated by artists Vincent Chow and Kelvin Atmadibrata. This involved an open call to artists to convert a 1m x 1m x 3m space into a piece of contemporary art. As a fresh graduate, her application to exhibit a participatory art piece was accepted without the need for an extensive proposal, and she remembers being struck by the unconventionality of the project, and the variety of approaches artists brought to the open call.

The Substation was also a central part of her arts experience, as she gained friends from the show who remain some of the artists she respects deeply.

hose Who Can't, Teach (1990) - TNS Archives
Those Who Can’t, Teach (1990)/ The Necessary Stage Archives

For Alvin Tan, founder of local theatre company The Necessary Stage (TNS), the Substation was home to countless performances over the years – and became a space that grew with his company. He says that the Substation was a much-needed arts hub accepting “works that took risks from both emerging artists and veterans pushing the envelope where concepts were concerned. Interdisciplinary and intercultural works were all housed comfortably at the Substation.”

TNS opened at the Substation with the play Those Who Can’t, Teach, and was a seminal in redefining conventional ways of staging a play. Another noteworthy play was Still Building, which eventually had 19 runs at the Substation.

“It was ground-breaking to have such a long run and to be able to create work that was personal, social, national and international/universal, staged in such an intimate space that encouraged theatrical experimentation,” Alvin shares.

For others, the Substation will be remembered for its people. 

Guo Feng, Artistic Director of Sigma Dance, looks back on his time with the Substation fondly: “I will definitely miss the building, with its structural charms and most of all, Mdm Chua, the caretaker, who has become a friend over the years.” The Substation was home to Sigma Dance over five to six years, as their rehearsals and contemporary dance classes were held in the dance studio.

nights ago when I felt blue
Theo Chen, nights ago when I felt blue/Andre Rodrigues

Artist and performer Theo Chen remembers the Substation as a space that showcases “art which is on the margins”. His recent performance, a one-on-one show titled nights ago when I felt blue, was held there.

Citing the arts centre as the only one in Singapore that gave him the “space, time, and support to present” his own art, he shares,  “[It has] nurtured me as an emerging artist, giving me the confidence to continue developing my work sensitively and with detail.”

He attributes his growth as an artist and a person to the Substation, adding that it was essential in inspiring him and showing him that “there is space in Singaporean civil society for dreams to become reality.”

What’s in the future?

Artistic Co-director Woon Tien Wei expresses concerns over the decreasing number of independent arts spaces, citing the closure as a signal of the “shrinking of self-organising spaces within our arts ecosystem.”

Theo shares similar sentiments on the impact of the Substation’s closure on new artists.

“Who will accommodate me and the other artists I know who rely on independent and autonomous spaces like the Substation to help them when they are just starting out?,” he asks. 

“It’s worrying to me what kind of pathways are being set up and cemented by its closure and the slow erosion of independent and autonomous arts spaces in Singapore. What ways of practicing as an artist are supported and what ways are not?”

Alvin still holds hope for the Substation – that the community will galvanise to speak up in response to the closure.

“Perhaps it is time for something new to emerge from this crisis. A time to reflect on what’s gone wrong, how to keep the integrity of its vision and then like the phoenix rising from the ashes, we have to rise stronger,” he says. “With our collective imaginative effort and faith, I am sure we will be able to make something good out of its closure.”

He adds that funding a space like the Substation is “an investment in the artist”, one that is essential to innovation, which “requires freedom and involves waste”.

“The arts community must now be the third actor to appear in the scene to break the impasse between the Substation and the NAC, as its closure means that we have failed to appreciate the need to invest in nurturing innovation.”

Similarly, Guo Feng believes that Singapore needs a “blend of community-funded and state-funded arts spaces for all types of art to have a voice.”

But it is “pity” that Michelle feels about the Substation’s impending closure – that a place of such significance to the art community is “closing without a fight.”

She questions the role of the arts community in influencing the fate of the Substation.

“In the past few days I’ve seen so many touching eulogies. In a different reality, might these people have issued calls to action to save the Substation instead?” she questions. 

“Or maybe, the very fact that there are no such calls to action shows that there is a lack of community will to keep the Substation alive.”

Theo also believes in the importance of engaging the arts community: “I know this moment is a time for the arts community to engage in deep dialogue with stakeholders to voice our concerns, preserve what we feel is important, and pivot or reimagine if necessary. 

“I have tremendous faith and hope that I ought not to despair. The Substation’s existence and history has, after all, taught me to hope for better, and work hard to get there,” he says.

A townhall will be held on 6 March for those who wish to share their views, or who have questions for the board. The Substation’s last event, SeptFest 2021, will run till 28 March.

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

Categories
Local News Singapore

The Ethics of Scalping (or Lack Of)

Scalpers in Singapore have been around for years, marking up prices of concert tickets, gaming consoles, and even mahjong tiles to make exorbitant profits. TheHomeGround explores the ethics and legality behind such practices, and how consumers can avoid falling victim to scalpers. 

What is the most you would pay for a highly coveted limited edition item? Perhaps a premium of 10 per cent? Maybe 20 per cent? Or perhaps you would even pay double the price? 

Will you, however, be willing to part with an amount that is almost 400 per cent that of its retail price? 

Well, some resellers on Carousell, an online marketplace, believe so, as they are listing the limited edition Singapore Airlines mahjong tiles for up to S$1,300, a 380 per cent premium on the S$338 set. 

 A Carousell listing for the SIA limited edition mahjong set

It is not just mahjong tiles either. Anything flies, from concert tickets to sneakers, and bizarrely, badminton court bookings.

When it comes to the practice of scalping, anything is fair game, as long as there is money to be made. 

What exactly is scalping?

No, we are not talking about ripping off your scalp or stock scalping. Rather, it refers to the practice of purchasing items that are in high demand and low supply, and reselling them for (often an exorbitant) profit.

There is a distinction between scalping and mere reselling. While no universal definition exists, redditor u/CrinerBoyz provides a fairly clear explanation for the two.

According to u/CrinerBoyz, reselling is “a blanket term for anything that’s sold again after the original purchase from retail.” This can come in various forms, including selling off used items that are no longer needed, selling off stock purchased from elsewhere, and so on. Meanwhile, scalping is a subset of this larger phenomenon. 

More specifically, scalping (as defined by u/CrinerBoyz) refers to the behaviour of purchasing “high-demand, low-supply [items] with the sole intention of taking advantage of this market deficiency to make a profit.” 

Essentially, scalpers capitalise on product shortages to drive up prices, banking on consumers who deeply desire an item and will be inclined to fork out a larger sum for an item they may otherwise have no means of getting.

Scalpers on Carousell reselling the PS5

We have often seen examples of this in Singapore and across the world, whether it is for gaming consoles, like the PlayStation 5 when it was first released, SIA mahjong tiles, concert tickets, or even bubble tea when the Circuit Breaker forced bubble tea shops to shut in Singapore. 

Seems like simple market economics? On the surface it is, but scalping is generally seen as unethical, and scalpers have drawn much flak over the years. 

Why is scalping unethical?

Purchasing an item and selling it for profit on its own is not unethical, but it is the way scalpers approach this that is questionable.

Take concert tickets. When popular Korean boy band BTS was slated to come to Singapore for their Love Yourself concert in 2018, the 50,000 tickets available were snapped up in under four hours. While this might have been indicative of the idol group’s popularity, the hours after revealed a larger problem at hand. 

Scalpers who purchased copious amounts of BTS Love Yourself tickets
Scalpers who purchased large amounts of BTS Love Yourself Concert tickets. minajoons/Twitter

Tickets to the Love Yourself concert started appearing on ticket exchange sites like StubHub, but with outrageous price tags of up to S$12,888, when the retail price for CAT 1 ticket was only S$348. That is a whopping 37x increase on the original price! 

Pictures also began to surface online of scalpers who have secured whole stacks of tickets for the sole purpose of reselling them for profit. 

These bulk purchases artificially bolster demand for a product, causing prices to skyrocket for sincere fans who wish to attend these concerts. Moreover, the extra profit only benefits the scalpers. The organisers, artists, or anyone involved in the production of the concert do not receive a cut. 

To make matters worse, many of these scalpers pull off such bulk purchases through the use of bots, which enable them to enter online queues thousands of times, preventing customers who are serious about attending these concerts from getting their hands on tickets. 

Scalping and price gouging during a pandemic

The practice of scalping is not so different from that of price gouging, defined by the Harvard Business School as a practice whereby companies “raise prices to unfair levels.” 

According to Harvard Business School, price gouging typically happens when there is a spike in demand for a good or service, usually during a natural disaster or an emergency.

Kelly Sikkema/Unsplash

Sounds familiar? Well, price gouging and scalping practices both came to light during the COVID-19 pandemic. As Singapore struggled to secure personal care products, such as face masks, thermometers, and hand sanitisers, retailers and online resellers leveraged on the desperation of consumers and shortage in the supply chain to increase prices exponentially.

Understandably, the Government did not stand for such practices when it comes at the expense of public health. 

During the initial months of the pandemic before supply for personal care products stabilised, the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) stepped in under the Price Control Act to monitor and moderate the prices of these products. 

Is scalping illegal then?

On its own, the simple answer is no.

But, the Government does have measures in place that allow it to step in when necessary, as they did during the pandemic. 

According to Singapore’s Price Control Act, the Government is able to, in certain situations, fix maximum prices or dictate the manner in which maximum prices are set of any good, secondhand or otherwise. 

When MTI stepped in during the pandemic, letters of demand were issued to retailers and e-commerce platforms requiring them to provide information on factors, such as cost price and profit margins. Those who failed to comply could have been fined up to S$10,000 for the first offence, and up to S$20,000 for the second and subsequent offences. 

MTI does not make it a habit to intervene in the free market when public health is not an emergent threat. 

A scalper reselling the IKEA Lego boxes (Retail price was $89.60)

Minister of Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing says that the Government should not prescribe profit margins for ticket resales: “The margin which resellers can command is freely determined between willing buyers and sellers. This means that the resale price can end up being higher or lower than the original price.” 

Still, ticket organisers do their part to prevent scalping by introducing terms and conditions that prohibit the reselling of tickets. For instance, they have been known to void tickets that were found to be on sale on platforms like Carousell, or even going as far as to permanently ban those who are found to be reselling tickets. 

Even so, trying to eliminate the practice of scalping without legal recourse is a tall order, and it seems that this practice might be here to stay. 

How to avoid and prevent scalping?

Rupixen.com/Unsplash

Ultimately, the market is driven by supply and demand. 

If demand for scalped tickets and products fall, scalpers will lose their incentive to purchase and resell these items for marked up prices as well. Over time, this will allow prices to moderate to more reasonable levels. The best way to prevent scalping behaviour is to simply stop purchasing from them. 

To avoid the pitfalls of scalpers online, be sure to carefully check any terms and conditions before making your purchase. If you suspect unfair trading practices or fraud, you can also approach the Consumers Association of Singapore for assistance.

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

Categories
Lifestyle Local Singapore Things to do

Things to Do: 5 Exciting Things To Do on 6 & 7 March 2021

Can you believe it’s March already? Roll in the first weekend of March with a bang – there’s just so much to do! 

1. 1-for-1 tickets for Wildlife Reserves Singapore

Wildlife Reserves Singapore/Facebook

From 3 to 7 March 2021, all Singapore residents can redeem two tickets for the price of one to either the Singapore Zoo, River Safari, Night Safari, or Jurong Bird Park! Spend your weekend in the company of majestic elephants, soaring eagles, dazzling leopards, and more. Tickets will be valid until 31st March, and are redeemable with the SingapoRediscovers Vouchers.

Tickets under this promotion are valid for the same park, as well as for same-day admission. There’s really no better time to plan a family outing! Do take note that the tickets for Singapore Zoo and Jurong Bird Park exclude the tram rides, which are optional and separately chargeable. Tickets for River Safari also exclude the Amazon Quest boat rides. 

Book your tickets here.

2. Sky High Hawker

CE LA VI Singapore/Facebook

What’s Singapore without its flourishing, yet nostalgic, hawker scene? Exclusive to this weekend, the event takes guests on a gastronomic adventure – a whopping 57 floors above the city. The best part? Each dish will only cost a mere $10!

Be spoilt for choice with dishes whipped up by some of Singapore’s most innovative chefs, such as James Wang from Hai Kee Soy Sauce Chicken Rice, Kurt Sombero from Meatsmith, Renee Tang Eyrn from Jelebu Dry Laksa, Ueda Tsuyoshi from Tsuta, and Manjit Kaur from Moghul Mahal. CE LA VI’S Executive Chef, Joey Sergentakis, will also be offering his exquisite bao-burgers, topped off with desserts by pastry chef Kelvin Chia, and delightful cocktails by mixologist Andrew Hyman. 

Entry to the event is complimentary; do make your reservations here

3. Singapore Art Book Fair

Singapore Art Book Fair/Facebook

Held at both NTU CCA Singapore and 72-13 from 5-7 March 2021, this highly-anticipated event is unfortunately fully booked. If, however, you’re one of the lucky ones who managed to snag a ticket, there’s plenty lying in store!

Held annually, the Singapore Art Book Fair is an independent multi-day event revolving around contemporary art books and zines. The event was cancelled last year but returns this year to much fanfare. Take your time to browse various zines, books, and catalogues, and open your eyes to a whole new world of independent designers, artists, and more. Each of the two venues will showcase different items and exhibitions, so do plan time to visit both.

4. Hello Kittty x Sakura Display at Gardens by the Bay

Gardens by the Bay/Facebook

Be transported to Japan at Gardens by the Bay’s new exhibit. Make your way through iconic orange torii gates, and feast your eyes on a dazzling display of cherry blossoms. And adding to the kawaii factor is the inclusion of the Hello Kitty character, which appears in various scenarios. Spot Hello Kitty having a hanami picnic, in front of two local rickshaws, and more!

Did we mention that the cherry blossom trees were brought here all the way from Japan? Visitors can also view and participate in various cultural activities, such as performances by a Japanese drum group. 

Pre-book your timed-entry tickets here; tickets are also redeemable with the SingapoRediscovers Vouchers. 

5. Sept Fest 2021

The Substation/Facebook

It has been a dark time for lovers of the arts here in Singapore. After more than 30 years of operation, The Substation will be shutting its doors for good come July 2021. Comprising an independent arts centre, The Substation has given many budding artists a much-welcomed boost, providing a safe haven where they can pursue their art. 

Don’t miss out Sept Fest 2021, one of the last few events that will be hosted at The Substation. Making a valiant comeback after a six-year hiatus, Sept Fest is a glorious celebration of the arts over four weekends in March. Named “In the Margins”, the festival offers two exhibitions and 11 productions – created by a total of 35 artists. Spend the weekend being swept away by music performances, film screenings, art exhibitions and more.

Get your tickets here – this festival might very well mark the end of an era.

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

Categories
Environment Lifestyle Style

When Green Isn’t the New Black: The Rise of Greenwashing in Fashion

Forget bold shoulders, midriff floss and disco-ball sequins – the hottest trend in fashion nowadays is less of a look and more of a lifestyle. To wit, sustainability. Buzzwords such as “ethical”, “conscious”, “upcycled”, “carbon-neutral” and “transparent” have exploded in popularity in recent seasons, spreading like wildfire over social media and across runways from London to Lagos. Which is great, isn’t it? Well, yes and no.

The pursuit of sustainability is, ostensibly, a noble one. After all, according to renowned naturalist Sir David Attenborough, the climate crisis is the “biggest threat to security that modern humans have ever faced”. And given that fashion makes a sizeable contribution to climate change – to cite just one eye-opening statistic, the industry’s annual rate of greenhouse gas emissions is roughly equivalent to that of the entire economies of Germany, France and the United Kingdom combined – having designers and brands take proactive steps to mitigate and minimise the industry’s environmental impact should be a boon. In theory, anyway. Because while there’s no doubt that a handful of fashion houses are truly dedicated to the cause, it seems a good many are merely paying lip service to sustainability.

Tom Fisk / Pexels

The sins of greenwashing

Enter the problem of greenwashing. Coined by American environmentalist Jay Westerveld in the 1980s (although the phenomenon dates back even further), the term “greenwashing” describes a company that capitalises on the increasing public interest in sustainability by making unsubstantiated, exaggerated claims about the environmental and/or ethical benefits of its practices and products. Often, a company that engages in greenwashing spends more time, energy and money on marketing itself as sustainable than on actually undertaking the hard work to advance sustainability.

Greenwashing comes in many different guises but almost all of its forms are rooted in the so-called Seven Sins of Greenwashing, namely:

1. Sin of the Hidden Trade-Off

Advertising a product as sustainable based on a narrow set of attributes while ignoring other important socio-ecological issues. For example, a shirt made of recycled polyester may require less energy to manufacture than one made of virgin polyester, but it would still release microfibres into the environment, thus, in effect, exacerbating the scourge of plastic pollution.

2. Sin of No Proof

Making a claim that is not backed up by readily accessible evidence (e.g. on the garment label or on the brand’s website) and/or a reliable third-party certification.

3. Sin of Vagueness

Employing terms that are too broad or too poorly defined to be properly understood in marketing a product, such as “all-natural”, “eco-friendly” and “non-toxic”.

4. Sin of Irrelevance

Emphasising a claim that is technically true, but is unimportant and/or unrelated to the product in question.

5. Sin of Worshipping False Labels

Using misleading words and images to imply that a product has a third-party endorsement when in reality no such thing exists. For example, touting a product as “vegan approved” instead of obtaining an official certification by PETA.

6. Sin of Lesser of Two Evils

Declaring that a product is greener than others in its category, when the category as a whole may be unsustainable. For example, highlighting that a bag is crafted from eco-leather (i.e. animals skins that are tanned and dyed with vegetable matter and plant extracts rather than chromium and other chemicals), when the use of leather in general has a detrimental impact on the environment, whether it’s real leather, faux leather or eco-leather.

7. The Sin of Fibbing

Promoting a claim that is blatantly false.

The drivers of greenwashing

There are a number of forces at work behind this troubling trend. For starters, the very concept of sustainability lacks a clear, quantifiable definition, leaving a gaping loophole wherein companies cannot and are not held accountable for their actions (or non-actions) by the law. A dearth of empirical data and government-funded research on the impact of fashion on people and planet only adds to the ambiguity surrounding sustainability.

At the same time, scarce public awareness around and insufficient education on what really goes on behind-the-scenes in the fashion industry means not only that consumers are easily deceived by the smoke and mirrors of greenwashing, but also that companies can disseminate fake news without having to worry about getting cancelled or called out.

Ready Made / Pexels

Moreover, as the idea of sustainable fashion continues to gain traction, brands are now all too eager to jump on the bandwagon and, quite literally, bank on this rapidly growing interest and demand. A 2015 Nielsen poll demonstrated that 66 per cent of global consumers would be willing to spend more on a product that’s sustainable, while fashion shopping platform Lyst reported a 37 per cent spike in searches for sustainability-related keywords amid the pandemic, with average monthly searches rising from 27,000 in 2019 to over 32,000 in 2020.

However, sustainability isn’t something that can be achieved overnight. Time, effort and resources are needed to integrate a sustainable approach into every aspect of a business, and the bigger the brand, the more challenging it is to effect positive change. As such, it’s understandable but deplorable that companies should take the easy way out and go for the quick fix of painting a “green sheen” rather than bringing about a real transformation.

On top of that, there exist deeper, structural reasons as to why many of the industry’s claims regarding sustainability sound hollow. Between brands and manufacturers lie a vast distance and a complex supply chain comprising layers upon layers of contractors and subcontractors, and very few brands can actually trace the full journey of a design from raw material source to finished product. Which means that the majority of brands are, either intentionally or ignorantly, making claims based on conjecture and not facts.

The ramifications of greenwashing

But what’s the fuss over greenwashing? As the adage goes, what you don’t know can’t hurt you, right? Wrong. Greenwashing isn’t just an ill-advised PR strategy; it carries serious consequences, not only for the reputation of the company involved – which, in all honesty, we couldn’t care less about, because a brand that greenwashes ought to pay the price – but also for people and planet.

One of the key dangers of greenwashing is that it can mislead people with good intentions into harming, instead of helping, the environment. Imagine that you’re trying to lighten your ecological footprint, and so you choose to shop exclusively from supposedly sustainable brands. But if the green claims made by those brands turn out to be a bunch of baloney, then you’ve inadvertently aggravated the situation that you set out to ameliorate. That, in turn, could sow mistrust and cause you to lose faith in the sustainability movement altogether (because nobody likes to be lied to), thereby hampering and maybe even halting environmental progress.

The way forward from greenwashing

All of which begs the question: What can be done to slay the multi-headed beast that is greenwashing?

Implementing and enforcing regulation would be a solid starting point. In Norway, for instance, the government came down hard on Hennes & Mauritz (aka H&M) and insisted the fast fashion giant issue a public apology after an investigation by the Norwegian Consumer Authority in 2019 revealed that the chain’s much-hyped Conscious Collection violated the country’s marketing laws by misrepresenting its “sustainability credentials” through “symbols, statements and colours”.

Meanwhile, in the United States, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) imposed civil penalties on big retailers like Amazon, Nordstrom, Sears and Macy’s in 2013 and 2015 for deceptively labelling and marketing rayon apparel as environmentally-friendly bamboo. The FTC also laid out an exhaustive set of rules in its Green Guides that stipulates how companies should and should not incorporate environmental claims in their advertising.

H&M / Instagram

Coordinated policy action from the top down could therefore prove efficacious in curbing the proliferation of greenwashing in the industry, be it appointing a fashion czar to oversee sustainability efforts, establishing binding legal obligations on eco-labelling, encouraging the adoption of sustainability-related standards (e.g. those in the ISO 14000 family), developing universal green certifications similar to that used in the organic food sector, introducing a punishment mechanism for breaches of ethics and more.

On their part, brands need to recognise that embracing sustainability is an unshirkable responsibility that should be borne by any 21st-century business, and also that it’s nowhere near good enough to merely dip a toe in the waters and then go back to business-as-usual. True commitment to sustainability calls for a full-on plunge – a holistic, inclusive approach that encompasses everything from material innovation and improved recycling processes to fair wages and workers’ rights, with the requisite accountability and traceability to boot. Yes, undoubtedly, it is a considerable investment that upends the low cost, high volume model that countless companies (particularly in fast fashion) rely on, but there is a lot at stake here, like, you know, the fate of future generations. On the flip side, brands that aren’t yet ready to go the whole nine yards ought to own up to it instead of hiding behind a façade of hypocritical respectability.

Markus Spiske / Pexels

Of course, we ourselves play an important role in the conversation around sustainability and greenwashing. Some things are beyond our control, but as ethically- and environmentally-minded consumers, we can nevertheless educate ourselves on the issues at hand. Knowledge is power and the more we understand, the more forceful we can be in demanding change.

Do your research before you make a purchase – we suggest the Good On You platform and the Ecolabel Index – and when in doubt, never feel embarrassed to message a brand for clarification on your concerns. Don’t just boycott the brands you know are guilty of greenwashing, either. Use your voice and spread the word in your community or call them out on social media (please, though, no trolling). You can also sign petitions to help hold fashion brands accountable, like this Pay Up one.

Probably the smartest thing you can do, however, would be to switch up your own wardrobe habits. Singaporeans love a good bargain, and the appeal of cheap clothing by brands like Zara and H&M is undeniable, but fast fashion chains are among the biggest culprits of greenwashing, not to mention waste, pollution and labour exploitation. So, where possible, try to buy vintage or secondhand, and when you do buy new, opt for independent, local labels with a proven track record in sustainability. Above all, buy less, and remember that your clothes are an investment, not a disposable commodity.

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

Categories
Esports Sports

The Boom of Esports: THG Interviews ONE Esports CEO, Carlos Alimurung

Gaming today is no longer just a leisure activity, it’s a billion dollar industry. 

Think of gamers today and a social recluse no longer comes to mind; instead, gamers can now command millions of followers as streamers on Twitch or YouTube, or even garner international recognition as renowned esports athletes. 

By 2023, the global esports market is expected to surpass US$1.5 billion dollars. In the same year, total esports viewership is expected to rise to 646 million, up from 454 million in 2019. 

But what sparked this change and propelled esports to the stratosphere? 

TheHomeGround Asia spoke with CEO of ONE Esports, Carlos Alimurung, to find out. 

Check out the full video above for insights from Carlos on the appeal of esports, the potential of the local esports industry, and how ONE esports works to develop and nurture local esports talents. Do stay tuned to the end as Carlos goes on to dispense valuable advice for aspiring esports athletes!

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

Categories
Japan News Singapore Sports Uncategorized

Grace Fu Seeks Gender Equality; Tokyo Olympic Committee Adds 12 Women to its Board

Minister for Sustainability and the Environment Grace Fu says more needs to be done to further gender equality, even as more women are taking part in economic activities.

In her address during the International Women’s Day 2021 Conference last Sunday (28 February 2021), Ms Fu said that the “growing number of women holding leadership positions in family businesses reflect the evolution of gender relations in our society”, and that Singapore has witnessed “positive changes on this front, with more balanced gender ratios in senior management in family businesses”.

Ms Fu also stressed the necessity of encouraging conversations on gender equality, calling for more men to be involved in these conversations to enable them to gain a deeper understanding of the challenges that the women around them encounter, to “help to bring about positive change”.

Female leaders are still a minority in Singapore, most notably in the field of sports. For instance, only four out of 19 members (21 per cent) of the Singapore Table Tennis Association’s management committee are female. Five of its 13 members are female for the Singapore Bowling Federation Council. For the Football Association of Singapore Council, only two of its 16 members are female – neither of whom hold major leadership positions within the council.

It’s notable that more conversations about women in sports have been surfacing; these include the upcoming What Women Want webinar, which is part of the Singapore National Olympic Council (SNOC)’s Women in Sport Webinar series, which aims to explore and address women’s safety in the field of sports.

A major turnaround in Tokyo

Meanwhile, news reports say that 12 women are expected to be added to the board of Tokyo Olympic Organising Committee. This comes after Seiko Hashimoto, who heads the Tokyo 2020 organising committee, said that the committee’s goal was to have female members comprise 40 per cent of the board.

At present, women account for seven out of 34 places – which translates to approximately 20 per cent – on the board, and the addition of 12 women to the board would take their share above 40 per cent.

Ms Hashimoto replaced Yoshiro Mori last month as head of the Committee, following the resignation of the 83-year-old former prime minister after a furore over sexist remarks he made. Mr Mori caused public outrage after saying that women talked too much in meetings.

The Tokyo Olympics is scheduled to start on 23 July.

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

Categories
Events Singapore Sports Uncategorized

How Singapore Ran a Tennis Tournament During COVID-19

As it would be said in the vernacular of youth: Singapore is having a hot minute.

While the world continues battling the rapid contagious nature of COVID-19, Singapore has managed to bring the wildfire down to a smouldering pit for the foreseeable future. While we’re far from being COVID-free, our situation remains far more desirable compared to the conditions our neighbours continue to experience. We’re even starting to see large-scale events happen again, like the Association of Tennis Professionals’ Singapore Tennis Open.

Singapore’s status as a go-to Asian location for just about any event, from Formula One racing, to esports tournaments, is not new.

For the better part of the last two decades, Singapore has been the host to many a concert, convention, and conference, serving as the regional hub for Asia Pacific, and even the world. But the status quo of past years would mean little today if not for Singapore’s quickly, and still, improving COVID-19 situation.

After all, other nations which have had the privilege of serving as international stages to global events have seen cancellations and withdrawals of said events, with Singapore being positioned as an appropriate replacement host. Even the recent Mobile Legends: Bang Bang M2 World Championship, originally scheduled to occur in the Indonesian capital city of Jakarta, was relocated to Singapore due to the former’s continued struggle with containing the pandemic.

Although there were some complications encountered even after the shift, such as three players from the Brazilian team testing positive for the virus, the week-long tournament at Shangri-La Hotel was an otherwise smooth sail.

With confidence in Singapore’s management of both the pandemic and the ability to proceed with a semblance of pre-COVID life only increasing in the eyes of the global audience, more international events are heading towards our modest island-city.

How are we doing it so well?

Set just a week after the Australian Open (in Australia), the ATP’s Singapore Tennis Open launched with great success and little trouble. Held on a single-year license at the OCBC Arena located in the Singapore Sports Hub, the usually packed 3,000 capacity stadium only permitted 250 fans each day, and only for the semi-finals and finals held over the 27 and 28 February. The tournament itself, however, began on 22 February, playing out the preceding rounds before allowing spectators in.

news_tennisopen_1
Polymer Solutions

With 28 singles players and 16 doubles teams, local tournament officials were faced with the challenge of providing for the players’ and their teams’ comfort while also ensuring safety standards and protocols were strictly followed. All players were isolated in individual team “bubbles” along with their team members and were not allowed to have close or prolonged interactions with other players. All involved were masked at all times with only players being allowed to unmask during matches and practice sessions.

Tournament staff, from security personnel to food handlers, were equipped with full personal protective equipment (PPE). This precautionary measure applied to all on-ground staff, even racket stringers. Ball kids were equipped with a lighter fare, wearing face shields, masks, and gloves while on court and in need to interact with tennis balls. Even the opening of new cans of tournament balls were done by officials geared in full PPE.

Common areas were sanitised hourly by dedicated cleaning personnel, and officials and participants were contained within partitioned spaces along with their “bubble” members.

A significant departure from past tournaments was the lack of physical interaction between local officials and the travelling guests. Liaison officers who would usually meet players upon their arrival at the airport communicated virtually instead. With the players’ movements strictly controlled and governed, limited to only their official hotel and the stadium, liaison officers were their source of assistance, from ordering food to booking practice sessions, and even shopping.

While all tournament staff were expectedly subject to daily antigen rapid tests and only allowed to proceed if tested negative, the strict measures also applied to the 250 audience members during the semi-finals and finals days. Following a 20 to 30 minute wait for the results, those who tested negative for the virus would be allowed entry but with a successful temperature check and SafeEntry check-in via TraceTogether. Spectators also had to wear their masks throughout the tournament period, and were disallowed from changing seats or interacting with other groups.

Despite all the strict measures, the Singapore Open proved to be a success, especially for Singles winner Alexei Popyrin of Australia, and Doubles champions Sander Gillé and Joran Vliegen of Belgium.

news_tennisopen_2.jpg
Yong Teck Lim/Getty Images for Sport Singapore

For many, the truly significant takeaway from the tournament is the light at the end of the eventless tunnel it represents. From sporting events to musical concerts, the live performance sector has been badly hit by the pandemic.

With Singapore’s continued success in gradually re-opening doors to theatres, esports tournaments, and now a tennis open, the hope for a return to the old normal is strong. After all, the show must go on… if you’re ready to take a swab test for it.

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

Categories
Uncategorized

Safe for Infants? Cell-Based Breast Milk Makes its Case

As a mother would know, you’ll never have to watch your food as carefully as you’ll need to when you have a baby. The tiny tummies of babies have yet to grow, and so, their ability to digest complex foods is practically non-existent. Foods that we deem healthy and even ‘organic’ in our adulthood, like honey and cow’s milk, are big no-nos for babies, since they lack the nutrition necessary, and are indigestible by babies. 

news_cellhumanmilk_1
Medela

Among nature’s many life-giving miracles, a mother’s breast milk is able to do just that, providing the exact nourishment that babies need while being easily digestible. Enter cell-based breast milk, shattering the conventional, all-natural image of breast milk. According to Biomilq and TurtleTree, who are making this cell-based breast milk, it’s no different from real human breast milk. 

First things first, why do we need cell-based breast milk?

The reality of breastfeeding is a bumpy ride for mothers. Often, breastfeeding doesn’t come naturally to mothers, and many are so exhausted from pregnancy that they are unable to produce breast milk. Other times, they may not have enough glandular tissue to support breastfeeding, or may even be dealing with pregnancy-induced insulin-resistance, stifling their ability to breastfeed. 

The Postpartum Stress Centre

And physical barriers aren’t even the half of it. Mothers may also face psychological, social, and even institutional hindrances to milk production. A lack of paid leave and other common problems make breastfeeding a difficult line to teeter tot on, by no fault of mothers. Mothers who have HIV or are on cancer medication also cannot breastfeed their babies. The situation is not at all uncommon, with 12 to 15 per cent of women experiencing disrupted lactation – that’s one in eight women. 

The devastating and unnecessary idea that breastfeeding is something that only “good parents” can do is one that has long been thrown out of the window. And so, breast milk that has been made in a lab can help to supplement a fundamental need for an increased supply of breast milk for babies’ consumption. It can also help take a lot of ‘toxic’ social pressure out of pregnancy and childbirth on mothers, who are prone to physical exhaustion and mental exhaustion. 

“Yes, we are pioneering next-generation lactation science. But, more than that, we’re offering support for new parents”, said Michelle Egger, CEO of Biomilq.

Studies have also found that women who aren’t breastfeeding have higher levels of depressive symptoms than women who are breastfeeding. With post-partum depression affecting 13 per cent to 19 per cent of women who have recently given birth, any effort to reduce the statistics are undoubtedly precious. Past-partum depression can result in life-threatening harm to both mothers and their infants. 

Cell-based breast milk is real human breast milk.

Turtletree from Singapore and Biomilq from the United States have created cell-based milk by using real human cells. Biomilq does this by using live mammary epithelial cells to coax the cells into multiplying in a bioreactor aided by a nutrient-dense liquid. 

The result contains the same nutritious values that human breast milk contains, including oligosaccharides, fats and carbohydrates. Personalisation is also apparently an option that is available. 

According to Biomilq, they can do this by allowing pregnant moms to take a biopsy of cells, allowing them to reproduce their milk to have a constant supply of milk for their babies. This way, mothers will not have to worry about their milk production shutting down from a lack of energy.

Biotechnology company TurtleTree in Singapore produces milk in a similar way, using cells to “nourish our people and protect our planet in the most sustainable way possible”. The company seeks to reinvent the way that food systems operate, and to grant more food security to parents. The company plans to start selling cell-based human milk this year, in 2021. 

The cellular similarity of cell-based human milk to real human milk also makes it a good alternative to formula milk. Not all formula milk may sit well with an infant’s tummy, and it can take a long and expensive process to find one that fits. 

“Many children have food sensitivities to the formulas as they are not the same as breast milk, so as cultured milk contains the two components of breast milk (lactose and casein), it looks promising,” said American obstetrician-gynaecologist Tara Scott, who also says that breastfeeding is one of the hardest things that she has done. 

There are some limitations.

For the most part, cell-based human milk contains the nutrition that babies need, and the same make-up of human breast milk. However, it would be unable to factor in the miraculous way that human milk changes by the day. Antibodies get passed from a mothers’ bodies to their baby, adapting to suit the needs of the child daily. 

“Breast milk is unique to each parent and baby. It changes from day to day to meet the child’s needs. Because of the ever-changing and specificity of breast milk for each day, it’s unlikely that any formula will truly replace breast milk,” said lactation expert Chrisie Rosenthal.

But where alternatives for parent are concerned, they are limited to formula milk and getting milk from other mothers. However, unlike the virus-screened milk at milk banks, sharing or buying milk in private interactions means the assessment of risk is upon parents.  

Due to the technologically-intensive stages cell-based breast milk go through, this milk might also be expensive until it is able to penetrate consumer markets and be produced at a much larger scale. 

TurtleTree hopes to gradually reduce its developmental costs in order to make the cell-based milk more affordable to mothers. According to TurtleTree, it’s a trend that has been observed with many cell-based products, and is a norm in the market. 

news_cellhumanmilk_3
Max Rye and Fengru Lim from TurtleTree Labs (TurtleTree Labs)

“Our early products could be at a more premium price point. However, as the technology matures and the ecosystem around the technology develops, we are confident the cost of production will drop considerably,” said Harith Bahren, a chemist and business analyst for TurtleTree.

The customisability of cell-based milk might also mean the possibility of the product becoming a cult-product, with premiums on fortified milk being excruciatingly high and available only to caretakers within a higher income bracket.

So, would you feed this to your baby?

As the consumer market opens up to cell-based products, some remain sceptical – this is fully expected given the delicate nature of infanthood. As more information becomes publicly available on cell-based milk, perhaps mothers and consumers will be more receptive. 

A mom of eight, Agnes Nemes-Chow often donates her breast milk to the Breastfeeding Mother’s Support Group in Singapore. 

“My first preference would be to use donor breast milk from other breastfeeding mothers. Formula and, in my understanding, cell-based breast milk too, don’t have antibodies and microbes that support the baby’s gut health the same way as real breast milk does. I would need to see more information about the safety and health impact of cell-based milk before I buy it,” said Nemes-Chow. 

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

Categories
Documentaries Local Reel Singapore Top Picks

Life After COVID – Esther the Fashion Designer

Follow the lives of eights artists in Singapore as they reveal how COVID-19 has affected them and how they adapted to it. This is the story of Esther the Fashion Designer.

Esther Choy was drawn to the world of fashion as a medium to showcase art without barriers. Her works are inspired by sturdy, cascading architecture with a strong emphasis on functionality. As a novice, she dreamt of designing grand wedding dresses, but over the years she identified the traits she desired in herself: confidence and poise – translating them into the clothes she designs. After graduating from Lasalle College of the Arts in 2016, she founded her own label, E S H, which marries masculinity and femininity into chic and bold outfits for the modern-day woman.

During the day, she works at BHG department store as their first and only in-house fashion designer in 26 years. In charge of three womenswear brands, she has had to adapt her designs for the broader commercial market with different seasons and collections to prepare for. Working in a team with sales, marketing, buyers, and merchandisers provided Esther with invaluable experience in developing her own brand and label – until the pandemic hit.

Retail malls closed and she could no longer meet with customers for fittings. With no spaces to continue work, she converted her home into a makeshift studio with mannequins, fabric, samples, and outfits drawing an abstract picture around her house.

Find out how Esther adapted to the new restrictions and continues her passion for fashion in the final episode of Life After COVID.

Special thanks to

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

Categories
Local News Singapore

Latest News: 3 March 2021

1. Slightly hazy conditions in Singapore on Tuesday, 2 March, due to hotspot in Johor

On Tuesday (2 March) morning, parts of Singapore were faced with a slight haze and burning smell, with 1-hr PM2.5 concentration readings entering Band II (Elevated) between 6 and 7 a.m. in the east of Singapore. The readings later returned to Band I (Normal) at 8 a.m..

According to the National Environment Agency (NEA), this can be attributed to a hotspot detected in Johor in the late afternoon of Monday, 1 March. The smoke plume associated with the hot spot was blown by prevailing northeasterly winds towards Singapore, and subsequently dissipated in the evening. 

Slightly hazy conditions may still be expected over parts of Singapore in the next few days, as the NEA mentions that prevailing winds over Singapore are expected to continue blowing from north to northeast. NEA will continue to monitor the situation and provide updates when necessary. 

Members of the public deciding whether or not to go ahead with outdoor activities can refer to the 1-hr PM2.5 concentration readings available on www.haze.gov.sg, www.nea.gov.sg, and the myENV app. 

2. New initiatives to help Singapore firms go digital

Minister for Communications and Information S Iswaran announced a range of new initiatives on Tuesday, 2 March, as part of efforts to help Singapore firms go digital.

One such initiative was the new Chief Technology Officer (CTO)-as-a-Service scheme, a one-stop, self-help tool for small-and-medium enterprises (SMEs) to assess their digital needs and gaps. This service will come in the form of a web application accessible via computers or mobile devices.

All registered SMEs will have access to this, including home-based businesses which are sole proprietorships. 

The tool will allow SMEs access “customised recommendations on digital solutions based on the company profile, and information on Government support.” Should more in-depth advice be required, SMEs can reach out to a shared pool of CTO-equivalents or digital consultants with expertise in areas such as data analytics, cybersecurity, and artificial intelligence. 

Moreover, firms will be entitled to both digital consultancy and project management services to identify needs and solutions, as well as manage project implementation.

Besides the CTO-as-a-Service scheme, Mr Iswaran announced the Digital Leaders Programme on the same day, a programme managed by IMDA and Enterprise Singapore, as well as other economic agencies. 

This programme will “equip firms with the capabilities and talent to accelerate their digital transformation journey”, providing them with up to 70 per cent support on qualifying costs to help them build a core digital team to develop and execute their digital strategy. 

Through the programme, firms will be able to connect with tech partners to develop new digital products and services, empowering them to compete internationally. 

For a start, the Digital Leaders Programme will support up to 80 companies, starting with those more advanced in their digital journeys who already have management teams “committed to [driving] digital transformation for sustained growth.” 

The programme will be launched in April 2021, with participating firms undergoing a two-year pilot. These firms will receive funding support to help them build an in-house core digital team, and develop proof of concepts for new digital products and services. 

Additionally, the IMDA is launching the Better Data Driven Business (BDDB) programme, which will provide firms with free tools and guidance to improve on their data protection services, while helping them utilise data more effectively using data to remain competitive. 

Under BDDB, firms can access a free business intelligence tool that can help them visualise raw data to “aid business outcomes such as better sales and operational efficiencies”. It will also allow for more advanced data uses, such as for R&D and innovation, through curated resources such as case studies and videos. 

Finally, S$50 million will be invested in IMDA’s Open Innovation Platform – a crowd-sourcing platform that matches business challenges to technology solution providers –  to enhance its capabilities.

This grants more firms access to innovative solutions and accelerates the deployment of digital innovation at scale. IMDA will also co-fund the prototyping of matched challenges to help innovative tech companies expand their market base.

3. AirAsia’s food delivery service launches in Singapore with 80 restaurants on board

AirAsia has announced the launch of its food delivery service in Singapore, which will initially feature close to 80 restaurants, including renowned brands such as Swee Choon Tim Sum Restaurant and No Signboard Seafood. 300 other restaurants are in the process of being integrated into the platform. 

This comes as the aircraft carrier continues to pursue alternative sources of income. 

AirAsia said that 15 per cent commission per delivery will be charged to each restaurant, which is lower than GrabFood, Deliveroo and foodpanda. This would be passed on to customers in the form of lower charges. 

500 delivery riders have been recruited, and AirAsia said that it intends to double that number by the third quarter of 2021. 

Listed restaurants will be available for delivery to locations within 20km of the restaurant, and delivery fees will normally range from $2.99 to $20. 

Chief executive Tony Fernandes said that value and reduced costs were a priority for AirAsia’s food delivery platform.

“Just like (how) AirAsia doesn’t have all the frills of Singapore Airlines, AirAsia food, for instance, we don’t have maps. We don’t think you really need to know where your driver is because that costs us,” he said. 

AirAsia also said that all orders will be delivered within 60 minutes, which Mr Fernendes said would be shortened. Customers will be able to accumulate reward points, which may then be used for AirAsia flights. 

To raise awareness of its service, AirAsia food intends to offer unlimited free delivery services for a span of two weeks, between 2 March and 16 March, which will be applicable for deliveries within 8km of the restaurant. 

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