The General Store: Of Hype & Hipsters

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The General Store is anything but well, a general store.

“If I throw a stone at someone, that person will have a Baggu or Toms. Why would people still buy overrated and overhyped brands when the guy next to you is wearing the same stuff?” said Muhammad Fauzi Anuwar, one half of the duo who owns The General Store, a painfully chic independent multi-label store selling accessories, apparel and designer items that would fit right in a loft or studio apartment.

And the brutal observation of people wearing the same set of stuff sets the premise for Fauzi and his girlfriend/business partner, Nur Athirah Norris, to open The General Store. Materialising from clicks to bricks within 3 spanking years, they pride themselves on being the exclusive resellers of unique (read: hipster) international brands such as Hype and Macbeth and much raved about indie brands such as State Bags, Mibo Cosits sandals, and Cheapo watches.

In fact, they started in October 2012 as Hello Plus Minus with an online presence on Facebook, which was trendy then. After 3 months, they extended their presence on Instagram after a wave of ‘insta-shops’ caught on.

Attracting a large audience from secondary school kids to young adults, The General Store soon figured out that they needed to impress their customers with a more professional branding – starting with the name.

“[We are] very attached to Hello Plus Minus, but at the same time we didn’t want to be so ‘blogshoppy’,” Athirah said with a grimace. To strengthen their brand recall with customers, Hello Plus Minus is now their major brand and The General Store, a sub-brand.

 

The Second Leap of Faith

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Located in Arab Street, the 23-year-old lovebirds behind The General Store reveal that they almost gave up on ever owning a brick-and-mortar store. From Cineleisure Orchard to Haji Lane, it was a shocking discovery that rental for choice spots are exuberant for its allocated space, until they came across the fateful vacant spot in the hustle and bustle of Kampong Glam.

“Since we already started out being different, why not start something different for the [physical] store as well? It’s still a risky move. I mean, Arab Street is so out of place!” Fauzi said in exasperation as he described the various nearby stores.

“There’s a shop selling carpets just next to us and opposite us is a fishing shop. It’s a risk, but we stand out,” he nods, seemingly assuring himself.

 

The General Concept

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What Fauzi and Athirah had discovered over time is the need for a physical presence so customers can try and feel their products – something that has been highly requested since they started.

In the past 3 years, they dabbled with opening pop-up stores in places like Alcoholiday and TANGS, and the successes of sold-out sales further fuelled their dream of having a store of their own.

To strike a distinctive balance between online and physical, The General Store has made some brands exclusive to either platform whilst still keeping their visual flair.

Unabashedly expressing her disdain for photos with white backgrounds, Athirah finds these photos “don’t really show much of what the product is really about”.

In order to set The General Store apart from the garden variety, their photos have a creative spin by showcasing more of the products’ usability, which offers a better perspective of what each brand has to offer.

After working in the original multi-label store Rockstar by Soon Lee for about a year, Athirah, a Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA) graduate; shares that her working experience greatly influences the concept of The General Store.

“There is a culture behind them, of how they work, and I think it’s something that not many people know. The things that they do, the photo shoots that they take, there’s a meaning behind everything that they do,” explains Athirah. “Actually working in Rockstar has incited me into wanting to open my own shop.”

Having gone through National Service, Fauzi shares his favourite quote by one of his sergeants: “Do what you love, and love what you do.”

He explains: “When you do what you love, it’s freedom. And loving what you do is a bonus; it’s like a privilege. To be honest, I don’t feel like it’s a job. It’s more like a hobby and it’s fun. I get to interact with customers and meet new people, find out new brands. Now I know more brands besides Cotton On!”

 

Hype Up for Hype

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“To be honest, I just bring in things that I like myself, or feel that people would respond to. We like to keep a variety of things. I told many people that we’re a mix of street wear, boutique designers and we also support independent artists and illustrators, so we’re very open to the brands that we bring in,” Athirah revealed.

However, they also acknowledge that they couldn’t run their business simply based on their personal opinions. “There were certain things that we don’t like, but our customers really like them.”

When probed further, Fauzi shares: “Initially, we found that Hype was not really what we stand for, but we tried to bring it in anyway and immediately, that was the only thing people were asking for!”

As the first to introduce the English label to our shores (not Topman, contrary to popular belief), it’s only right for The General Store to be given due credit for Hype’s roaring success here.

 

Feline Fervour

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The couple’s eyes lit up when we spoke about a particular feline friend.

“For every product that someone purchases from our cat section, 15% of the sales will go to the Cat Welfare Society. Anything that’s cat-related – even if a sock has a whisker of a cat,” admits Fauzi enthusiastically before exploding into laughter.

For the couple, they want to do more than just giving a fraction of their proceeds to the cats. Restating that nothing mentioned is concrete at the moment, they share their ambitious plan to have a “feed the stray” outing: a campaign that gathers cat lovers to go around Singapore feeding stray cats.

Athirah comments that while the campaign seems “weird”, she professes that it is the thought of helping these stray cats that motivate them.

Fauzi concurs: “They go to coffee shops (just like us) and sadly, become nuisances. With the recent cases of cat abuses, the cat welfare is truly overlooked. We just want to show to everyone that there are people who care. They’re still living creatures and they still need to eat, so instead of giving them leftovers, why not let it come from our hearts and buy them something to eat?”

 

What’s Next?

It’s apparent that the duo’s insatiable hunger for retail success is ever-increasing, with plans to launch their own products “sometime soon”, including dreams of opening a store in Kuala Lumpur next year.

Adhering to their motto of “all things design”, customers can find something of their fancy from The General Store, mainstream or hipster alike. And although they have been told that they do burn holes in customers’ pockets, Fauzi attests to that bluntly: “It’s a good burn”.

 

5 Essential Must-Haves From The General Store

  1. JuJu Footwear

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Confessing that she has 10 pairs of JuJu shoes, there’s really no reason why you should not fall head over heels into this brand as co-owner Athirah did. These jelly shoes are made using traditional manufacturing methods and are not just built to last – they’re also recyclable!

Check out their available products here.

Brand’s Website: http://www.jujufootwear.com

 

  1. Wall Clocks by Individual Designers

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Prettify every corner of your home with a beautifully designed collection of wall clocks from typography to animals and even patterned motifs.

Check out their available products here.

 

  1. Mister Accessories

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Accessorize with these stylish jewellery selections with an edgy touch. Made by designers all the way from San Francisco, each piece assures quality and comfort for the wearer.

Check out their available products here.

Brand’s Website: http://mrsfc.com

 

  1. Analog Watch Co

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Fuelled from their passion for nature, these watches are handcrafted out of wood to remind the wearer of the environment. They’re designed for all genders and 80% biodegradable.

Check out their available products here.

Brand’s Website: http://analogwatchco.com/

 

  1. Medium Rare Store

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Frolick around on these fun socks. Designed in Malaysia, the brand believes in an appearance that’s “juicy, moist and medium rare finish instead of a fully well done”. Um, we’re pretty sure we’re writing about socks here.

Check out their available products here.

 

Information:

Address: 38 Arab Street Singapore 199737

Opening Hours: Tuesdays – Sundays, 11am to 10pm

Email: info@thegeneralstore.sg

Facebook: www.facebook.com/helloplusminus

Website: http://thegeneralstore.sg

 

Love The General Store? What do you want us to feature next? Let us know in the comments section below!

About Stacey Lim

Consistently rolling her eyes to one-too-many associations with Fountains of Wayne hit single “Stacy’s Mom” *rolls eyes*, Stacey is cursed with subliminal apathy and a blithe disregard for the mainstream. Instead, she has a strong penchant for heavy metal, supplemented with other forms of furiously loud and rage-filled music. Stacey indulges in a one-man adventure to obscure places once in a while, and the sheer joy of self-discovery remains to be quite an indescribable euphoria. Besides abusing caffeine on a daily basis, Stacey has led all her life believing that food is completely overrated. It may be nearly impossible to prove her wrong. Just go ahead and try.