A Curious Cat is snuggled in a sleepy hideaway on the third floor of Bras Basah Complex. Within the glass doors and the softly lit interiors, is a world of its own. Play with the colourful array of tin toys – robots, soldiers, planes and more - iconic playmates of a distant childhood. Browse designer notebooks, designer bags, T-shirts, unique gift items and an eclectic assortment of knick-knacks. Thumb through Chinese books on design, movies and fiction. Listen to the background music of colourful underground bands from China. And just when you think you’ve seen it all, step into a cosy café, tucked in a discreet corner, where a few quiet folks enjoy a quiet afternoon reading books while sipping cups of tea.
That was my introduction to Cat Socrates, brainchild of Shanghainese couple Helen and Brett, and named after their well-loved pet cat in Shanghai. This lifestyle store with an intoxicating blend of books, music, gifts and café has been gathering buzz, as seen from the newspaper articles displayed through the glass windows. Yet, the place retains a whimsical charm, an unhurried air of serenity and ease.
Letting the cat out of the bag…
Some people dream of doing what they love. Helen and Brett love doing what they dream.
Soft-spoken Helen came to Singapore with her husband 5 years ago. Brett is studying for a PHD at National University of Singapore, while Helen used to be a fashion merchandiser. Bored with a mundane job and looking to combine what she and her husband loves, with work, they took the plunge to set up Cat Socrates, their first foray into business. They loved books and always wanted to set up a café and bookstore. That was the initial idea. But getting mostly English educated Singaporeans to take on Chinese books readily was not a viable option. Studying the local youth and young adults culture, Helen and Brett decided to introduce designer gift items and toys, many sourced from designers in Shanghai, Beijing and other Chinese cities, and add music to complete the final mix. This experiment gave birth to an interesting lifestyle concept store that drew both students and young adults.
The YOLO Spirit
In conversation with Helen, don’t expect to hear a slew of business talk. She talks about the joy of realising her dream to share what she loves with the people who walk through the doors, about offering alternative music, books, designer items not easily found elsewhere in Singapore. The cat-loving couple also added many cat-inspired designs among the offerings. From renovation, to operations, to sourcing, the couple does it all. Helen also brews each cuppa in the in-house café. Everything about Cat Socrates is imbued with a personal touch, which sets it apart from the rest of the big boys. Like its namesake, Cat Socrates is proud of its character, and strong streak of independence.
Cat Socrates also runs events, from flea markets to small movie screenings. It even held an unplugged concert recently (because, according to Helen, ‘there’s a guitar lying in a corner’) to photo exhibitions that welcomes contributions from the public. This little store is surely thinking way out of the box.
Helen is equally enthusiastic about sharing the things she love, as she is about making new friends through the business, and genuinely welcomes customer feedback. Cat Socrates has built up a lively web community. It shares information and gathers feedback through its blog and forum. Helen talks excitedly about an upcoming photo project that got its inspiration partly from the online feedback to its previous projects. No glitzy advertisements, No fancy marketing gimmicks. Nonetheless, Cat Socrates is reaching out to a growing niche of young people who appreciates quality design, books and music, and enjoys being part of an interactive community whose ideas are part of the creative process.
YOLO @ Cat Socrates
YOLO identifies with Cat Socates’ gungho spirit of enterprise, and Helen & Brett’s passion in what they do!
Check out YOLO’s range of limited edition designer T-shirts and Keep The Dream Alive journals on sale at Cat Socrates. For updates on new YOLO merchandise available, watch out for this space! Let’s YOLO!