There aren’t many of us who could not only work with our siblings, and also create a hugely successful, cutting-edge company, but that’s exactly what Deborah Ng did. Along with sister Melissa, they make up SPONGE&SPIKE (called so after a family nickname, but more on that later) an online jewellery website catering for those of us hankering after something a little more unique and interesting (i.e. all of us at Sassy!)
We caught up with Deborah to talk sibling rivalry, starting out on your own, and all things jewellery.
Fill us in on your background and where you grew up
I was born and grew up here in Singapore, but moved to Australia for my pre-tertiary and tertiary education after finishing my secondary school studies. I graduated with a degree in Communications before moving back to Singapore two years ago. My family is small and besides my parents, I only have one older sister, Melissa, with whom I started SPONGE & SPIKE.
How would you describe your personal style?
My style is really dependent on my environment. I think I’m at that age where most girls don’t quite have a strictly defined personal style. It’s really about playing around with different looks and experimenting with what works for me. Before I went to study in Melbourne, I loved cleanly tailored clothes with really great cuts – I still do, but living in Australia has taught me to mix it up a bit. Nowadays, I would say it’s relaxed, smart casual: lots of classic staples, easy lightweight sweaters, printed skirts, and I’m always partial to a pop of colour in my outfit. I’m a bit obsessive when it comes to my jewellery and don’t change it around often, so my earrings, rings, necklaces, are mostly understated with a lot of focus on detail.
Tell us about the journey that led to Sponge&Spike
When my sister and I lived in Australia, we would go crazy with the vast selection of well-made jewellery that was so readily accessible – not only by local designers, but also by lesser known, emerging brands and designers from around the world. After moving back to Singapore, we noticed that it wasn’t as easy to find unique accessories with strong, distinct concepts or brand aesthetic. We also didn’t want pieces that loads of other people on the street are wearing as we really believe that accessories are an expression of individual style and personality, and we wanted well-made, affordable jewellery that could do that for the wearer.
Tell us a bit more about Sponge&Spike
SPONGE & SPIKE is an online retailer for independent jewellery designers and brands from all over the world. Almost all of our jewellery is hand made. We’re very passionate about making jewellery a personal experience – from the designer and creator to the wearer, a lot of thought goes into the whole process, and we want to preserve that.
Every designer has a story behind each piece they create – the designers behind phenomena collection from Japan for example, have interesting messages and concepts behind each and every piece of jewellery they create.
We also believe that jewellery is not just an accessory to an outfit, it should also be an expression of the wearer’s personality. I have a ring by Odette NY that I wear almost everyday, stacked with other rings, to work or to a dinner party – it’s become part of my style and who I am.
The SPONGE & SPIKE woman is someone who isn’t afraid of wearing something a little more interesting and unique, but she’s also looking for something that is beautiful and classy – something that she’ll be able to wear through and past whatever fashion or personal seasons.
Do you think it’s easier owning a business with your sister or does being so close sometimes make it hard?
It’s definitely a bit of both. It’s easier because we’re free to speak our minds and be very honest with each other, but doing that can also result in misunderstandings. In the end I think I wouldn’t have it any other way because as sisters, we know we can trust each other until the end of the world. We’re in it together no matter what.
Inevitably there will be creative differences, how do you resolve them?
We argue it out. Sometimes if one of us feels really strongly about something, the other will compromise. The good thing about our relationship is that we try not to take anything too personally and get over the argument quickly. So far, we haven’t had any huge blowouts about the big decisions.
How many designers do you have on the site and how do you go about choosing them?
Currently we have eight or so designers that we carry. General aesthetic is the first thing we look at. Are the designs something we’ve never seen before? Are the collections or pieces cohesive? There are so many costume jewellery offerings available, and a lot of designs are extremely similar to each other so this is a big priority for us. Then we look at how well the pieces or collections are made, and what materials the designers work with. We love the stories behind each design, so we’re huge on designers that create a world or thought around their pieces.
The actual name SPONGE&SPIKE has an interesting history doesn’t it?
Sponge and spike is actually a nickname our mother gave to us when we were younger. She was inspired by the characters Aunt Sponge and Aunt Spiker from Roald Dahl’s James and The Giant Peach. While we don’t quite look like the characters anymore, we’re still fond of the nicknames and decided to name the store as such.
Can you share 3 top tips for choosing jewellery with us?
- Choose a design that is interesting, yet classic enough to wear for years to come.
- If you’re going to want to wear it for years, find out what material the piece is made of. Plated jewellery may be much more affordable, but the finish will wear out with constant wear. There’s nothing more upsetting than having to stop wearing your favourite pieces because it’s worn out.
- If you’re looking for a statement piece, but don’t want to go down the bling route, look for pieces with interesting shapes, textures and details. It doesn’t have to be big or loud to make a statement.
Where in Singapore do you like to shop?
Since I work full-time in addition to running SPONGE & SPIKE, I really don’t get out to the stores as much as I’d like to. Most of my shopping is done online nowadays – I love Australian labels like sass & bide and the up and coming cameo and Finders Keepers. A Singapore fashion label I have my eye on is Stolen.
And to relax?
I’m quite a homebody, so for me the best place to relax is in my own bedroom after a body scrub and hair treatment in my steaming hot shower. I also enjoy getting my hair done at Japanese hair salon, CLEO at Clarke Quay Central.
Where are your favourite restaurants and bars in Singapore?
Vida Vino along Keong Saik Street for amazing Spanish tapas and great service.
I love anything Japanese – Sushi Kuu at Palais Renaissance is pretty good, or The Sushi Bar at Far East Plaza for really fresh sushi and sashimi at affordable prices – go early or be prepared to queue!
Uncle Leong Seafood at Toa Payoh for crab beehoon
Patisserie G for the best cakes and pastries – my favourite’s “The G Spot”
For bars, I haven’t found one that I truly love and would go back to again and again. My friend, Steph, claims Jigger & Pony is one of her top three favourite bars in Singapore. She makes it a point to try out new bars all the time, so I definitely trust her taste.
Finally, as young entrepreneurs, do you have any advice for those wanting to follow in your footsteps?
Don’t be too quick to quit your day job until you’re very sure of the direction you want to take. Never stop thinking of greater and better ideas. Learn from other entrepreneurs, business mentors, and listen to what they have to say. Everything around us changes so quickly, so it’s important that your ideas don’t get outdated or outdone by other people. Stick to your core principles and values. Always have integrity in every decision you make.
To see more from SPONGE&SPIKE, visit their website http://www.spongeandspike.com
Thanks so much Deborah and of course, thanks to the wonderful Gunilla from Sugar Light Photography for the wonderful pics.