We chat to this month’s That Girl, the highly talented Carmen Low, co-founder of Afterglow and Lepark!
Trendy establishments come and go and very few have the long-term draw to captivate Singapore’s demanding and easily restless crowd. There is however, one two spots that belong to Carmen Low, that are brimming with originality and inspiration. Carmen showed us around her stomping grounds namely Afterglow and Lepark, and walked us through her creative vision, how being passionate about her country and staying true to herself helped her swim in the industry, and shared with us what she loves about the Lion City. Read on to find out what drives this dedicated lass and why the two loves of her life are more than just the latest hot spots in town – they’re here to stay.
Hi Carmen! Tell us more about yourself and your background.
I love unique experiences and really thrive in them, be it in the ocean (I try to make an epic dive trip at least once a year) or putting myself in uncomfortable situations that normally result in very fulfilling experiences. I am a typical Singaporean girl that grew up here, my family runs a traditional business in the heart of Chinatown. I went to an all girls school since I was six, did college in Melbourne and left Singapore at 23 to venture into the crazy world of China for work and opportunities.
Being in China forced me to step into very uncomfortable zones but I must say I had one of the best experiences of my life there until I came back to Singapore and set up three different companies with my partners in two years. I also enjoy being involved in my projects daily and believe that culture and the arts can truly change a society from inside out.
We’ve been huge fans of your resto, Afterglow for the longest time. And now with your latest venture, Lepark, we might have just found a brand new hangout spot. Can you tell us more about Lepark and its concept?
Afterglow is and will always be my baby because I truly believe in honest, healthy food and this is the way food trend is moving towards in this generation. In general, we feel that people are sick and tired of processed food and yearn for a more wholesome lifestyle. This is where Afterglow comes in.
Lepark is a totally different concept, which stems from the fact that people are looking for unique experiences and are no longer interested in cookie cutter concepts and going to the mall every weekend. It’s really an alternate social space at the rooftop of a car park right in the middle of Chinatown. We are the largest rooftop concept in town and serve Asian Tapas, thriving on modified Singaporean (Mod-Sin) food, we have one of the largest craft beer garden in town because we love explosive flavours and craft experiences.
We combined Getai Group (an Arts curation company that we set up and it’s the same team that organized Getai Electronica, Getai Ethnica and etc.) together with Lepark to provide an alternate platform for local original artists to be able to perform and showcase their talent. This enables Lepark to constantly create and support the local art scene that no other places in town have been able to do so. I guess it’s the combination of the unique space (outdoor and indoor), solid content from Getai Group’s curation and community, together with the fun, fast casual F&B concept of Lepark that gives it the winning formula. For example, we just organized the first ever crowd funded art party at Lepark called Saaappp!!! with the Good Times crew which involved the graffiti, DJ, music and visual installation communities.
How did you decide on the décor of Lepark?
The décor is very much the brainchild of one of my other partner, who is the creative behind many of our concepts. In general, we wanted to ride on the uniqueness of being on a roof top car park, its supposed to be a place that people can ‘lepak’ and not feel that they have to dress up, fulfill certain social etiquettes or put up a front. We wanted the space to be an extension of our characters – which is super real.
At the same time, we wanted the space to be all inclusive and to remind visitors that we are in the heart of Chinatown – hence we made a call for different artists to come up and place their art around Lepark. The décor is a showcase of the many different local talents we have in Singapore and this is something we hope to champion.
We’ve seen a couple of videos and stills of Lepark and the space shot for several footages in celebration of SG50. How does it feel like seeing Lepark being a huge part of our nation’s jubilee celebrations?
We work very closely with different art and culture communities in Singapore and hope that this spotlight on us will also channel the attention to the great deal of local talent that we have. We are very blessed to have such a sprawling and unobstructed view of the CBD at Lepark and this has attracted global brands, film makers and festival organizers to aspiring photographers and lifestyle influencers to use our site as their canvas. To me, I am genuinely appreciative of the attention and hope to pass it forward to the different communities that we work with and put Singapore talents on the international spot light.
What are the other projects that we can expect to see at Lepark?
We are going to focus on expanding our food menu and create more mod-Sin food, we think its time for Singapore food to shine internationally. Collaborations have always been the heart of what we do, hence we are looking to bring more unique experiences to Lepark, ranging from foreign film nights, graffiti and art showcase, experiential events and etc.
What’s a day in the life of Carmen Low like?
I have to start the day with a coffee, this was something I picked up when living in Melbourne. I will try to clear most of my emails in the morning before having internal team meetings or with the different collaborators we work with. The most exciting part of my job is meeting people and exploring lesser known spaces with them – we travel locally and internationally to search for unique experiences that we can bring to our projects.
I still do my work shifts at Afterglow and Lepark at least once a week, serving and cleaning up the restaurants because I think its important to always have a close connection with the people we work with and our customers. My day normally starts at 8 am and doesn’t end till after midnight due to work shift. Its very hectic but I wouldn’t ask for anything less. I wish that I could have more time to exercise and a social life, but I try to make up for this by going for short trips once every few months.
What are some of your favourite spots in Singapore?
Tiong Bahru and Hort Park!
Describe your perfect weekend in Singapore.
Having brunch at Afterglow and picking up a cold pressed juice and coffee after brunch. Talking and working closely with my team while executing another of Lepark’s Art/Cultural events. Catching up with visiting friends and bringing them to my favourite places in Singapore
What’s next on your travel hit-list?
I’m returning to Shanghai (where I lived for four years) to be the maid of honor for one of my best friend’s wedding. I am going to stay with her and have some fun before she gets married – I can’t wait to re-explore the place I once called home.
What else don’t we know about you?
I am actually one of the most introverted person I know, however, being in business I can’t really hide in my own world. This experience has forced me to come out of my shell.
Do you have any advice for young girls who’d like to start up their own business?
Do not start up business just because you think it’s a ‘lifestyle’ or because you want more flexibility and control of your own time. My suggestion is to either intern or work with a young entrepreneur and get to know all it takes to get a business running (operations, marketing, finance, accounting, admin work and etc) before jumping in. I find that most people fail because they expect starting a business to be extremely glamorous but do not see all the hard work and sleepless nights behind it. That being said, its one of the most fulfilling experience to see how the work that you do have a direct impact on people’s life; I wouldn’t trade this for anything else in the world.
What’s next for you and where do you dream you’ll be in five years time?
The last two years have seen us starting three different businesses, what we will be doing next is to stabilise the processes and workflow. Getai Group will be organizing one of the largest music events in Singapore in the next quarter so I will be extremely busy with that. In 5 years times, I want to be involved in more projects that will make a real difference to communities and people’s lives. I hope to still be doing what I am doing now but across different borders and countries.
My personal vision is to keep collecting experiences and blessing people, I hope to do this throughout my life and have loads of fun while at it!
Thanks so much for your insight Carmen! You’re a real inspiration to all us Sassy Girls! Special thanks to the vivacious Shamsydar Ani Photography for the awesome images of Carmen!