With its ethical boutique, refill station and a social enterprise nail salon on the way, The Social Space is so much more than just a beautiful new cafe
There’s a very cool scene growing in Singapore where socially conscious businesses are doing things right, ethical fashion, accessories and homewares are becoming more covetable than their mainstream counterparts, and more of us know that we don’t want to be part of the culture of waste. The time is right for The Social Space: a good-vibes cafe, eco friendly and social enterprise boutique and soon-to-be nail salon on Kreta Ayer St – and we could stay here all day…
The Social Space is the baby of Cheryl Ou and her husband Daniel – you might recognise Cheryl from her work with The Nail Social – a Haji Lane favourite which trains and employs underprivileged women to help them forge secure careers as manicurists. The Social Space was Cheryl’s vision to provide more career opportunities for men and women who have a higher barrier to employment (“Not everyone wants to be a manicurist,” she says.) This means providing vocational training, and jobs in the context of a cafe and retail space – which can be transformative.
Cheryl’s big dream? For this concept to become big enough to expand to more branches, so that even more opportunities can be provided and sustainable careers can be built.
Right here, right now, this little spot on Kreta Ayer is already a gorgeous place to hang out. The decor, with its long rustic wood table and rattan furniture, gives us instant Bali vibes – not to mention the killer smoothie bowls you’d expect to be slurping in Seminyak. It all comes from Cheryl and Daniel’s days living in Bali. But beyond the aesthetic, the couple brought home a determination to open a social enterprise in Singapore. They’d seen first-hand how socially conscious businesses in Indonesia made a real change in the community, and also the day-to-day damage of living with little regard for the environment.
The retail aspect of The Social Space showcases beautiful pieces by businesses with an ethical or environmental purpose, and social enterprises Cheryl has been moved by. Take the ceramic ‘ear mugs’ by The Ketumu Project, which provides therapeutic art programs for people living with schizophrenia. It was a group of artists from the Ketumu Project that painted the mural (pictured above right) that greets you as you walk into The Social Space.
The entire collection of hand-picked designs here is, frankly, fantastic. There are ikat fabric purses by Frankitas and earrings by Fugee-lah, made by brave children seeking refuge in Malaysia, and talented women from marginalised Malaysian communities.
There are reusable takeaway coffee cups by Perky, made from bamboo fibre (because you know how we feel about waste); and beautiful, colourful coasters by Bope in Chiang Mai – made from recycled plastic. “The items have to speak for themselves,” says Cheryl. Heads up: you will be tempted to take a lot of goodies home.
One thing zero waste advocates will particularly love about The Social Space? The ‘Refillery’: bring your own containers to fill from the dispensers of castile soaps, shampoo and cleaning products, produced with natural and environmentally friendly ingredients. Hallelujah.
As for the food, they’re keeping the menu simple and honestly good: there are the aforementioned smoothie bowls from $8 (fancy a Pink Flamingo with dragon fruit?), and loaded toasts from $7 (roasted mushroom and cheese for something comforting; salmon and cream cheese for something light; smashed avocado, of course; and peanut butter, coconut and grilled banana for a mind-blowing breakfast).
Cake your thing? Grab a slice of one of the beauties on display. They come from Flour Power, a local bakery that trains people with special needs to create delicious bakes and empower them with a skill that leads to employment and independence.
My coffee, served in a perfectly imperfect handmade mug by Center Pottery (yes, you can pick one up for yourself), is a spot-on soy latte. Cheryl shares that specialty teas are their thing, to encourage us all to take some time out. But what really made me swoon? The stainless steel straws provided for customers: hallelujah for businesses breaking up with plastic.
It’s amazing what Cheryl and Daniel have achieved: and this cafe is still finding its feet. Look out for workshops, and a little sister salon to The Nail Social that will use only non-toxic and cruelty-free products. Find yourself a table here, browse through beautiful things and be part of its runaway success.
The Social Space; 333 Kreta Ayer Rd, #01-14, Singapore 080 333
Photography: Selina Altomonte
Like this story? Check these out:
Why our Style Editor is trying to quit shopping
Join Fashion Revolution and start asking: ‘Who made my clothes?’
How to break up with single-use plastic
Get to know Singapore’s ethical fashion brands
And read our interview with Stephanie Dickson, founder of Green is the New Black