The word “explorer” usually conjures up images of vast wilderness, exotic destinations, and cross-continental expeditions. Yet modernity has also created its own breed of thrill-seekers, individuals who have repeatedly taken risks, who have found ways and means of tapping into the city’s unknown potential, and who have continuously risen to the challenge.
These urban explorers might be masters in extremely varying fields, but they all have a several traits in common — resilience, creativity, and reliability being three that unsurprisingly also inspired Bell & Ross’ latest timepiece, the BR05.
As a brand which has successfully redefined aviation and military watches over the past two decades, it’s refreshing to see the French manufacturer taking on a different type of adventure without compromising on its DNA.
Specifically crafted with the urban explorer in mind, the BR05 is an urban instrument crafted for professionals in the concrete jungle. The iconic brand might have retained its iconic “round in a square” look, but its suitably sleeker silhouette now comes courtesy of softer angles and an integrated case. Other recognisable design codes are also implemented — the stylised Arabic numerals and rounded baton markers lend legibility to this luxury sports watch.
The classic steel models from the BR05 collection see satin-finished surfaces and polished bevels that add finesse to any ensemble, regardless of the event or time of day. Being constantly on the go means that these three urban explorers require an instrument just as sturdy as their resolve. We speak to local entrepreneurs Vijay Mudaliar, Bryan Tay, and Joseph Lor on how they’ve managed to rise above trials and tribulations to become the city’s trailblazers today.
Vijay Mudaliar, co-founder and head bartender of Native
Native might only be three years old but it’s managed what plenty of older bars in the vicinity — or around the world, for that matter — haven’t. Even with a nondescript entrance that leads to the second floor of a shophouse along Amoy Street, the small bar still manages to garner a remarkable crowd that ranges from discerning cocktail enthusiasts to merry-goers simply seeking a good tipple.
This year, he also flew the Singapore flag high at the World’s 50 Best Bars awards in London, where the establishment bagged 12th position amongst a lauded list of other world-famous names. In an industry that thrives on flamboyance and gimmicks, Vijay is surprisingly down-to-earth in personality and creations — a trait that has actually helped him stand out from the pack.
While others look across the globe for inspiration, the Singaporean bartender draws inspiration from the local and regional landscape instead. His concoctions often incorporate personally foraged ingredients and genuine handcrafted spirits from regional distillers instead of recognisable big name ones. His passion for the art, however, is most evident up in the bar’s attic, where where a scientific lab of sorts has taken over for him to experiment with distillation and preservation, giving him a platform to showcase Singapore’s best.
You’ve helmed the bar for three years now, what are some of your most memorable career highlights?
Just being able to open the bar with my good friends — even though we’re a small team — I think has been the biggest accomplishment for me. We’re so lucky to be able to grow as a team. This year, we made it to London for the World’s 50 Best Bars awards, where we not only made twelfth position, but also won the sustainability award due to our composting and waste-minimising efforts. To be recognised globally for what we believe in is truly rewarding.
Why is sustainability so important for you?
Being in the food and beverage industry, I think it’s very important for us to think about sustainability as we’re one of the biggest contributors of food waste. It just made sense that if we start here, then we can sort of influence our customers to do the same as well. We also use solar energy to power our fridges, lights and equipment.
What has been your biggest accomplishment so far?
I think I’m not the kind of person who only looks at a certain peak, I’m the sort who believes in being consistent; coming to work on a daily basis and trying to achieve different goals every day, so I guess over the last 12 years, just opening the bar with my good friends has been the biggest accomplishment to me. It’s all about being a reliable teammate, and I can trust that the BR05 will too be a steadfast companion throughout my career.
What’s been the most challenging aspect of your career and how have you overcome it?
Running a business is not easy. The bar is run by me and a few good childhood friends, so our capital wasn’t big to begin with. We started really small, and we’re always growing. We’re trying to be business-minded, but also to be creative as well so that’s the biggest challenge for us.
I like to take these challenges as they come, and I often look to people whom I trust and look up to for advice. Taking time to exercise also keeps me calm and level-headed.
Tell us about your foraging activities.
I started urban foraging about three and a half to four years ago. After reading several foraging books, I was really curious as to whether Singapore offered these ingredients too, so I went by myself and actually managed to find a few.
Eventually, I also found a group of people who did the same, so we went out together and found that there are actually a lot of ingredients growing in the wild here, thanks to our perfect conditions by the equator line. We’ve since found jackfruits, wild durians, starfruits, and pepper leaves, which we later incorporate into our cocktails.
What’s your ultimate goal as a bartender?
My ultimate goal is to eventually be able to create many different styles of drinks, to open up people’s minds when it comes to cocktail ingredients, and for them to understand local produce more. I’d also love to work more with our farmers and craftsmen in creating these cocktails.
Bryan Tay, co-Founder of BoOm Singapore
The insurgence of boxing gyms today is testament to Singapore’s growing interest in fitness, but BoOm Singapore stands out for many reasons. Conveniently located in Singapore’s Central Business District on Cecil Street, the boxing-meets-HIIT gym has cultivated its own legion of avid followers thanks to its standout programs.
The man behind the gym, Bryan Tay — alongside his wife and gym’s co-founder, Victoria Martin-Tay — have been at the forefront since its inception, carefully honing their crafts as fitness trainers right in the heart of the city.
The gym has come a long way since its opening, but Bryan feels most accomplished knowing that he and his wife have helped inspire people to get off the couch and into the gym.
What inspired you to start BoOm Singapore with your wife?
It was about two years ago when we first decided that we wanted to start something for ourselves. I was a swimmer for the Singapore team for many years and I used to train pretty much my whole life. My wife, Victoria, never actually worked out before college, and it was when she was in university that she started exercising. She eventually got into spinning and I too started teaching at a separate spin studio, and that was our first foray into being fitness instructors.
To be honest, spin wasn’t really my favourite workout as I preferred high-intensity strength work, so that’s when we decided to venture out to do something for ourselves. We wanted a workout that both genders could do and enjoy together, so we came up with a fun concept that incorporated strength training — and that’s the idea behind BoOm and BoOmbox. We flew to the United States and London to try out different workouts, but also made an effort to ensure the resulting program was uniquely ours.
We also used our spinning background to incorporate musicality in our classes to make it more engaging and exciting. As a space, we wanted BoOm to be welcoming and bright even though we’re in the basement, instead of the usual grungy, underground feel the other gyms have.
What has been your proudest moment since opening the gym?
When we first opened the studio, a lot of ladies would complain about the strength aspect of our program as they were more interested in cardio and boxing. However, it was just last week when a lady asked if we could incorporate more strength training, which was really rewarding to hear.
I’m glad that people are changing their mindset when it comes to strength training, and understanding the importance of getting stronger functionally. We want to empower women and help them take on day-to-day activities confidently.
What’s been the most challenging part of your career?
It’d be making sure that we created the best product we possibly could. We didn’t have much experience as this was our first business, so just building the brand and training instructors were not easy. There are at least six other boxing studios around, and that was on our minds when we first opened.
But the thing that I kept telling myself is that if you prove your product is good, people will come, which is why we’ve put so much focus on our product — our instructors, program, and space. When we first started, many people were still relatively new to boxing so we made the effort to make it easy to understand. Now that everyone has advanced in terms of skill, we’ve had to evolve and grow as well.
It’s the same principle with the BR05, which marries quality and resilience to make for the perfect city watch. Bell & Ross has come a long way since it’s beginnings as an instrument watch manufacturer, so it’s nice to see it take risks to create a timepiece as sleek and versatile as this one.
What’s your ultimate goal as a fitness instructor?
I’d love to open a couple more branches. We opened our second one [at Core Collective] two months ago and it’s been going well. Exercise to me is like an escape; it’s not just a physical release but also a mental one. If I can help just one person become better, stronger and healthier — both mentally and physically — that’s good enough for me. My wife and I do this because we are passionate and that we can be that change, and that’s the reason why we started BoOm.
Joseph Lor, Chief Executive Officer of Tocco Toscano, founder of Faire Leather Co.
Managing one of Singapore’s most well-known leather bag and accessories brand isn’t exactly a walk in the park, but Joseph Lor clearly knows what he’s doing, so much so that he’s even launched his own along the way. Now 34, the tattooed entrepreneur has both his hands full with Tocco Toscano — a family business — and his own venture Faire Leather Co.
Having grown up with and around the business, Joseph has accumulated a fair bit of knowledge about leather making. Despite entering the industry with a plan of leaving eventually, Joseph’s dedication would eventually see him stay for the long haul.
His acute business instincts has meant that he’s not only successfully reinvigorated a legacy brand for a younger audience, but also introduced the idea of functional luxury with his new one. Today, Faire Leather Co. has set records as the most funded local Kickstarter to date, an achievement that many others have struggled to achieve.
What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced?
Human resource is really one of the biggest challenges. Just finding good teammates who are as dedicated and committed in driving the business together has been hard, but I’m very lucky to have found people like this.
Another is the fact that we’re in Singapore, where retail is notoriously difficult. Typically for any retail brand, your biggest market — especially at the start — is your local one. But the Singapore market is small. When we first launched Faire Leather Co., we really wanted to target the US and UK market, so we launched it on kickstarter and got quite a few orders from these regions. However, the margins were minimal so we had to relook our strategy instead.
How have you tried to make both companies stand out amidst so much competition?
We want to stand out with the product we provide. Our direction now for product design is functional luxury. We want to offer quality products that are on the same level as the bigger international brands, but at a fraction of the price. As for the functional aspect, we try to design our products more intelligently, so they not only look good but are also practical upgrades for our users.
What have been some of your most memorable career highlights?
For Faire, it’s the fact that we’re the most funded project from Singapore on Kickstarter, when we topped the list of 700 projects then. We didn’t have an online presence before that at all, so it was a steep learning curve for us; we had to set up a vastly different infrastructure really quickly and we’re grateful it worked.
That, plus the fact that we hit a million in sales in under 10 months for Faire. I wouldn’t call these achievements just yet because we’re still on our way to becoming a truly successful brand, but these affirmations are nice to have along the way.
What’s your ultimate goal as a leather craftsmen?
My goal for both brands is to of course to nurture them into internationally known brands, but beyond that to also show that fashion doesn’t have to come at the cost of function. What I want to do is to be able to combine both aesthetics and practicality, so your bag helps you in your everyday life, no matter where you go. The BR05 is a shining example of these qualities, which make it perfect for an entrepreneur like me.
Find out more about the BR05 Collection here.