District Eight’s exclusive distributor in Singapore, Journey East Store, is a company that was founded over 20 years ago. Journey East Store’s relationship to Vietnam began during those early years, with trips to the Southeast Asian country to find antique French Art Deco furniture pieces. Today, the company is one of Singapore’s favorite furniture stores. Their evolving tastes have seen them turn their focus to stocking modern-industrial furniture alongside eco-friendly teak wood items, and their own collection, PLAYplay, that has received international media attention since its launch in 2015.
On a recent stopover in the Lion City, we met with Anita Sam Journey East Store’s Founder, at her company’s 800-square-meter Tiong Bahru showroom to learn how the company first connected to District Eight, and how her perspective of Vietnam, witnessed through the lense of one of the country’s core industries, manufacturing, has evolved.
How would you describe what you do?
I would say we are one of Singapore’s first-choice destinations for unique furniture pieces and accessories. Journey East Store opened our first location in 1995, in an area of Singapore that at the time received little attention, Dempsey Hill. We were selling vintage pieces, retro collectibles, and antique pieces. Today, that’s evolved. Now we sell reclaimed teak wood pieces, industrial furnishings made from combinations of materials like iron and wood—the kind of pieces District Eight manufacture. And we have our own range that’s been receiving lots of attention from publications like The Guardian and Wallpaper.
We’ve also changed location, as you can see. This charming old building, called Tan Boon Liat, is the center of what has become Singapore’s unofficial furniture hub, accessible from Outram or Tiong Bahru MRT stations.
What were your first impressions of Vietnam?
Journey East Store was founded in 1995, shortly after we made our first visit to Vietnam. We would pay visits to buy French Art Deco furniture sending the pieces back to Singapore for restoration. Once we’d made the connection to District Eight, we paid many more visits. Of course, we’ve witnessed an amazing amount of change—in the lifestyle, and of course in the number of motorbikes. Is it possible to squeeze any more onto the roads?
How do District Eight compare to other brands in your portfolio?
Within our retail portfolio, District Eight have one of the most impressive setups. Because of that, I think it’s the one we have the most inquiries about. There are buyers from all around the world. The designs are sleek and modern while incorporating a brutalist style with sleek geometric lines. Their pieces can be heavy at the base, with tempered glass at the top—an interesting juxtaposition of materials. The customers that buy District Eight appreciate the fine detailing of each piece, from the brass accents to the joinery.
Do people ever wonder why Journey East Store is collaborating with a Vietnamese company?
District Eight have an interesting story. And the brand has achieved cult status in Singapore. Singaporeans are interested in design with architectural and historical influences. Our customers appreciate these sort of references, which occur often in District Eight’s designs. In fact, many of our customers are asking for more videos that showcase the brand’s story. They are interested in the company’s inspirations, craftsmanship, and materials.
Currently, how positively do Singaporeans perceive Vietnamese products?
Lots of furniture is manufactured in Vietnam, but very few companies both design and produce furniture there. I feel many brands avoid saying their products are made in Vietnam. After all, furniture manufactured there can vary—from the cheapest to the high-end. District Eight occupies a new segment—high-end Vietnamese furniture. And perceptions are changing quite quickly.
Right now, the general perception among Singaporeans is that Vietnam is an exciting place. It’s seen as a new frontier.
Who have been District Eight’s most enthusiastic or unexpected customers in Singapore?
Cicheti, an Italian restaurant right off Bugis MRT, is probably the most visible public customer in Singapore. Besides Cicheti, most of Journey East Store’s customers are buying for their new homes. And so our space offers an eclectic mix of retail furniture in a variety of styles serving customers with very different needs. I would say that our customer base stands at a mix of 70% locals to 30% expatriates.
What are some of the best sellers at Journey East Store?
The Theo and Distrikt collections are the best-selling District Eight items. Among all our partner brands that we stock, District Eight are one of the most popular. You’ll realize that very quickly coming into our showroom; their pieces are placed in the prime location at the entrance of our shop.
Who should we speak to next?
One designer to watch out for, who was trained at District Eight, is Vu Hoang Anh. He helped to develop a number of their products—a much celebrated young Vietnamese designer groomed the District Eight way. He’s since launched his own studio in Ho Chi Minh City to focus on personal projects.