What I've Learnt: Earn Chen

Cultural Entrepreneur
Published: 4 December 2023

I LIKE TAKING the road less travelled. I used to fly to Tokyo a lot but now I want to check out other places. Southeast Asia is an area I’d like to visit more. I’d just flown in from Manila. It’s an amazing city. Great people, very strong energy, a lot of things happening there.

THE SALVAGES is a long-term endeavour. I don’t see it as, okay, we got to get to the next big thing. The Salvages is a brand that will outlast me. I don’t want it to be the coolest, hottest thing right now and then it’s gone the next season, I want it to be evergreen.

THE ’80S was when I grew up and the culture of that time is what I know best.

WHEN I WAS INTRODUCING CRUMPLER in Singapore, I had to bang down doors and hit the bike stores. But no one wanted to stock it. Singapore hasn’t cultivated a messenger bag culture yet. So, I pushed it to the fashion stores; I did a hip-hop party at Zouk to promote Crumpler; I was seeding the bags to friends. Word caught on and next thing you know, it became really big. And when Crumpler became popular, I began on my next journey.

MY FIRST STORE, Ambush, was small and niche. We sold T-shirts and toys from KAWS; cool stuff that friends from New York were making. You can say that we imported [street] culture to Singapore in the 90s.

SURRENDER is my second store and I did it with James [Lavelle] from Mo’ Wax. A good friend with whom I still keep in touch, James and I brought in Japanese brands like Neighborhood, visvim, Undercover. Back then those labels were not available outside of Japan. Maybe Hideout in London but generally, those brands were usually sold in Japan. We were the first store to bring in the Ura-Harajuku culture.

“BE AUTHENTIC to yourself, your tribe will find you.” That’s the best advice Nicolette [Earn’s partner] gave me.

PEOPLE DRAW ENERGY from possessions. You buy a piece of art or clothing and you draw inspiration from it. It feels good that you’ll want to share the experience with other people.

I WAS INTO records, toys, furniture, art, everything, you know. Now, I’m at a point where I prize the experience as well. Covid-19 kinda flipped the switch on my thinking.

YOU NEED to let go of things to be happier.

IT’S IMPORTANT to feel like an outsider. If you stick with your comfort zone, you’ll stagnate. You’ve got to keep moving, you’ve got to be continually inspired by what’s happening around you.

EVERYTHING is a learning process.

I GET A LOT OF JOY from designing a space. All my stores, I designed them. Creating new spaces is basically like creating your own little world.

IN THE ’80S, I was into post-punk and early Hip Hop. From 2004, I would progress to something else, like rock or whatever. Back then, Zouk played a lot of house music and I just didn’t get it. I was into Hip Hop. Fast-forward a decade or two and I’m understanding house music and disco. Turns out after all these years, I simply just enjoy good music.

I’VE MET MY HEROES my heroes and so far they have turned out to be really decent human beings.

LOLA, our West Highland White Terrier is eight and you’d be surprised by her personality. She just brings joy to us every day. Before Lola, I didn’t have much experience in taking care of a dog and I learnt so much from Lola.

DOGS ARE PURE; they love you unconditionally. We should learn how to love and receive love. That’s very important that Lola has taught us how to love.

I’M AFRAID of not doing enough. Unfinished projects, y’know?

I DO GET A LOT OF CREDIT—maybe more than I deserve—from people in the countries that I travelled to. They’d say, oh, your store inspired me to set up my own thing. I’m glad those people resonated with me and what I did.

I’D RATHER BE known as a guy who has done great things, instead of owning them.

WHY DO I NOT SMILE IN PHOTOS? Probably comes naturally to me. Or maybe I look better without smiling.

IF YOU’D ASKED ME pre-COVID if I would open another retail space, I’d be like, nah, I don’t wanna go backwards. But now, I think it’s time and soon.

THESE DAYS, I don’t want to explain about myself too much. People will understand.

Photography: Jaya Khidir
Photography Assistant: Natalie Sienna

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