In Search of Authenticity
In their book, “Authenticity: What Consumers Really Want”, Pine and Gilmore illustrate the consumer’s search for authenticity in products that they buy, and in the experiences that they consume (Check out Joseph Pine’s TED video here if you don’t want to read the book).
In today’s day and age, we no longer trust companies as much as a generation before. We are cynical and tired of mainstream advertising messages. We feel betrayed by Big Corporations after that whole hoo-hah back in 2007 that still affects us now.
Increasingly, consumers look to friends and Internet reviews for information before they buy anything. In this climate, Seth Godin opined in “All Marketers Are Liars” that being authentic is the best marketing of all. We all instinctively gravitate towards experiences that we sense are earnest and true rather than believe in advertising messages that we all know have a certain propensity for exaggeration.
Singaporeans are similarly looking for authentic experiences in our lives in the face of increasing globalisation.
There is a rise of neighbourhood enclaves that celebrate the spirit of what Singapore means to the true local. From Haji Lane, to pre-war HDB blocks of Tiong Bahru, it is evident that we are searching for something that we feel has been lost in the unceasing march in the name of progress. This trend coupled with the pessimistic job market has encouraged Singaporeans to start out on their own to make a name for themselves.
Creating Your Own World
There is an increasing gap between what companies sell, and what consumers seek in their products. Millenials who are tired of endless consumerism are also increasingly stepping out to start businesses that they would personally buy from.
Pretty Frivolous, the stationery store I co-founded, was created out of the lack of meaningful and real cards that we would want to give to our friends. We wanted to offer our customers the ability to customize their cards in the long run. (Watch out for that in the coming months!)
Local social media agency GOODSTUPH has also picked up on the trend and launched THE DAMN GOOD SHOP selling toys and knick-knacks from the 90’s, cashing in on the nostalgia that people feel. With the tagline, “MADE IN SIN”, the shop stocks quirky items that represents a piece of Singapore, or of what Singapore used to be. Consumers are increasingly eschewing the big brands for smaller but well-designed products that means something to them at a deeper level.
Another example would be Barber and Hair Tattooist, Mervyn aka Muffyn Liuliu, from Heist. He stepped out on his own to create a whole trend that did not exist in Singapore at the time, because he saw the gap in services that hair saloons were offering in Singapore.
The experience you have when cutting your hair with Mervyn is something totally unlike your typical hair saloon because you interact with his whole personality and feel his passion for what he does. Even simply following him on Twitter would give you a sense of that.
Case Study: Lola’s Cafe
What then, can be more authentic than your very own cafe?
Situated at Simon Road, the vintage-themed Lola’s Cafe is a started by two young entrepreneurs, Choo Kiat and June. They dreamt of creating a cafe experience that is one of a kind for its customers, and decided to join forces to make a world of their own. Lola, by the way, is June’s pet name.
When I entered Lola’s Cafe, I was immediately hit by welcomes by the service staff. While it might seem like a standard in all cafes, the crew were unusually happy and enthusiastic at Lola’s, on a Sunday night at 11pm. Most would be tired out by the long day they had, but these people were beaming. I was impressed.
The first thing I noticed was the wall of frames that lined the feature wall of the small cafe and the dominant view for most of the place. The whole cafe was a throwback to a time before our own.
Old sewing machines served as tables. Old chairs lined the little bar top at the corner, where one could sit to people watch. There was also a comfy corner for you to relax at if you did not want to sit at the tables, replete with a vintage canary yellow cane saucer chair and a gramophone.
Going further into the cafe, you would see shelves with more vintage goodness – an awesome magnetic calendar (which I think is a great idea), and a vintage polaroid camera together other assorted items.
Of course, there are the hand-crafted beers that Lola’s Cafe recently brought in from all around the world.
Because of the late hour of our arrival, we did not order any main courses at the cafe but opted for desserts and drinks instead.
Let’s start with the coffee.
The beans are sourced from Brazil, El Salvador and Ethiopia, and roasted locally to ensure strong aroma and smooth taste. Importantly, all coffees are artfully prepared and served by Choo Kiat with coffee-art!
I tried out a Mocha while I was there. To be honest, it was not the best coffee I have had, being a coffee lover. I believe though, that the standards will only increase since the owners continually ask for feedback on how the food tastes and how they can make it better.
Personally, the tarts were the highlight for me. We had a Lemon Meringue Tart and a Caramelized Banana Earl Grey Tart with Pistachio Toppings.
The Earl Grey Tart is an absolute must-try! Never quite had something like that before anywhere else. The Earl Grey worked surprisingly well with the bananas to create a sweet and fragrant taste. All tarts are lovingly baked by June.
We were told that the new beers that were brought in were must-tries, so we tried some too…
I tried out the Westmalle Trippel, Trappist Golden Ale, which had a full body and was perfect for sipping and chatting with friends. The girlfriend had an Op & Top, which was a Dutch beer that is lighter to the taste. The perfect girl-beer.
It is clear that the owners believe very strongly in personally serving the customer and establishing a rapport with them. The beer was poured out for us meticulously and slowly so that the froth does not get too much.
The authenticity of the place comes not from the fact that it is loaded with vintage furniture from a bygone age, but from the effort that Choo Kiat and June put to tending to it and making sure that it is the best cafe there is.
Despite the late hour, the two young bosses sat down with my girlfriend and I for a quick beer and talked a bit about the new menu that they came up with. They even had a little friendly competition where they got us to vote on whether the tart was better or the coffee. It’s hard to find such a strong personal touch at any cafe nowadays, even the hipster ones in Yong Siak or Ann Siang.
Visiting the cafe really reinforced my belief that a new generation of entrepreneurs are rising to create businesses that are based on strong values, and how they think the world should be. If that’s the case, the world would be a better place.
Lola’s Cafe is situated at 5 Simon Road, Singapore 545893.
Opening hours: 11am to 12mn daily.
Call them at 6343 1808 for reservations!