Singapore Management University ex-classmates Stuart Ong and James Low in their eco concept store, CHOOSE.
Stuart Ong and James Low had a dream to open Singapore’s first ever eco store in 2008, but with other concepts playing on their minds, they set out on a trip to the United States to determine which direction to best take their business in.
Meeting as classmates in Singapore Management University while pursuing a bachelor in Economics and Finance served as the start of an exciting journey for Stuart, 26, and James, 27. It was an interest that turned into a passion for both.
While they registered Olive Ventures in late 2008, it wasn’t till August 2009 that CHOOSE, the retail arm of their business, opened its doors to the public in Chinatown. It was in these nine months that the pair carefully researched and deliberated over how they would structure the business to meet all their personal objectives, and even made a special trip to the West Coast of the United States to get a feel of unique developments taking place in universities, as well as businesses big and small run from backyards of enterprising Americans.
Stocking items from babies’ toys and clothing, upcycled handbags, detergents, bamboo cutting boards, to wind/solar-powered chargers, CHOOSE has a wide array of lifestyle products.
For them, providing an environmentally-friendly alternative is what CHOOSE is all about.
“Telling people the environmental benefits will not change anything,” James shares, adding that the easiest thing for them to do is to switch their purchasing habits. “It must replace something that we use.”
Also, while creating an online store alone would have been a more economical choice, they felt that having a physical space for consumers to experience the products would reach out more to them because as James knows, “People understand retail.”
Olive Ventures is not just about retail though. The shop also houses a bike park, where cyclists can stow their bikes on the premises for a fee, and in return, are given a locker space and access to shower facilities. In addition, they run programmes such as Freecycle, where people are encouraged to give a second life to their unwanted goods by either giving it away or through recycling. Workshops are also in the pipeline to ensure that the message of sustainability gets across to the public.
On top of this, the duo run a sustainability consultancy arm called ACT, and the research and development side of the business is aptly called THINK. As part of ACT, Olive Ventures provides consulting services to both individuals and businesses, and uses a blog as one of their communication platform. THINK focuses on developing environmentally-sustainable products, systems and services, and ranges anywhere from clean energy generation to waste reduction/management systems.
Eventually, Stuart and James wish to have a bigger store in 5 years, one which houses everything under one roof on a grand scale. “Like green depot,” says Stuart, with an air of optimism.