You will often hear that Singapore is a shopper’s paradise—and that’s because retail therapy in the city goes far beyond big brands and flagship stores. Take the time in the various enclaves to scratch beneath the surface and you’ll be rewarded with exciting shops and boutiques, from the cutting-edge to the traditional, where you can score many surprising finds.
The Joo Chiat/Katong neighbourhood is a beloved gem in the East, and it’s easy to see why. The heady mix of old and new draws you in as you spot traditional shophouses alongside chic yoga studios and traditional coffee shops beside hip cafés that crank out cold-brewed coffees.
At every turn, you’ll be met with a unique take on local heritage. Visit Peranakan* shop Rumah Bebe to pick up rich fabrics and embroidered pouches, and then head over to Cat Socrates. This charming shop, founded by Hellen Jiang, specialises in Singaporean literature and quirky local-inspired bric-a-brac—think cushions that resemble kueh tutu (steamed cakes with crushed peanut or grated coconut filling), terrariums, feline-related merchandise and Singlish (a colloquial form of English) postcards.
*The term is an Indonesian/Malay word that means “local born”, which generally refers to people of Chinese and Malay/Indonesian heritage.
Although there are fleets of international designer labels and high-street brands such as Chanel, Abercrombie & Fitch and Zara on this iconic stretch, there are also many local brands that call this premier shopping belt home.
Take, for instance, Design Orchard, a hub for home-grown brands that houses a trove of wares, created by local artisans and designers. There’s also Beyond The Vines at Mandarin Gallery, a contemporary women’s wear label that boasts a range of chic, timeless dresses.
The vibrant sights and sounds of Little India are gifts in themselves: the rich fragrance of curries, the colours of hanging garlands, the sounds of prayer chants filling the air.
But what if you want to bring home a memento that’s more tangible? Other than the gorgeous textiles and addictive snacks—murukku (savoury crackers) comes to mind—make a stop at Mustafa Centre, a secret among local night owls and bargain hunters. This mega-mall is open round-the-clock, and sells over 300,000 items that include beauty products, jewellery, groceries and electronics.
Take time to wander around the touristy bits of Chinatown’s bustling markets, and you’ll be duly rewarded with unexpected finds. For every Merlion keychain, there is an exquisite calligraphy painting; for every fridge magnet of the city skyline, you’ll find perfume and make-up at jaw-droppingly low prices.
If it is quality traditional garb you are after, look out for this name: Golden Scissor Cheongsam. There are no ill-fitting off-the-rack finds here. The shop offers custom-made cheongsam (traditional Chinese dress), tailored to every curve of your silhouette and designed in your choice of modern or traditional fabrics, patterns and trims.
Be lured by the charms of hipster haven Haji Lane, where beautifully curated boutiques and an eclectic mix of bars and cafés await.
If you want a whiff of the area’s rich heritage, pop by Sifr Aromatics, which deals in handmade scents, candles and balms that combine modern techniques and old-world ingredients. For a truly special keepsake, customise your own bespoke scent after consulting with the store’s professionals.