Sixty years ago, neon signs were used to brighten the streets of Poland during the bleak Cold War era. Today, they’re cheering up Instagram and Pinterest feeds, as well as Singapore’s eateries, nightlife, retail outlets, chic co-working spaces, and most recently, homes.
It’s a contrast from just two years ago, when the only neon signs you would see in the country were placed on the exterior of corporate buildings. Since then, two start-ups have begun to sell customised neon signs and offer the rental of neon signs in Singapore, allowing certain pockets in the country to undergo a “glow-up”.
One of these two start-ups was founded in 2016 by Taiwan-born entrepreneur Sarah Chen. Confetti Dreams was the answer to her frustrations over the absence of a neon sign supplier in Singapore when she was looking for them for a number of events she was organising for some friends.
What was meant to be an events company turned into a neon signs boutique, which she operates on her own and out of her three-bedroom HDB flat in Telok Blangah. Chen, who is a permanent resident, started the business after being married to a Singaporean.
“I was fortunate to have started the business at the beginning of a neon signs boom in Singapore. I was seeing a growth in demand in 2017 and at the same time experiencing a steep learning curve,” Chen told Yahoo Lifestyle Singapore during a recent chat at her humble abode, which had been illuminated by fun and quirky neon signs – unicorn, rainbow, etc. – from the entrance of the house.
Speaking in a kiwi accent, Chen, who grew up in New Zealand after moving to the country when she was 6, has sold neon signs to local tattoo parlours, cafes, fashion retailers and even alcohol brand Martell.
“I’ve had to learn to fix neon signs on my own too. The glass neon signs are really fragile and tend to crack after they’re shipped to Singapore,” said Chen, who works with up to five different neon sign manufacturers based in China, where the cost is low.
Fortunately, she doesn’t have to deal with the original glass neon signs all the time since many of her clients are just as comfortable with the fake ones.
“They’re actually LED lights in plastic flexible tubes and are much more durable,” said Chen, who would normally advise her clients to opt for this instead. “It also lasts longer and doesn’t heat up, which makes it safe for touching and for kids.”
But if you’re a purist and prefer the original glass neon signs, it’s best to get an acrylic cover to protect them.
Flexi-neon signs cost less and can be priced from $170 while glass neon signs of a similar size without a case can be priced from $320. You can pre-order the items from Confetti Dreams.
Positive quotes and graphics in pink and white are some of the popular neon signs requested by her clients in Singapore. It takes up to four weeks for a neon sign order to be ready and delivered.
According to Chen, many of them would send images of neon signs they’ve seen on social media before asking her to replicate them.
Chen admits that there are times when she wouldn’t be able to fulfil her customer’s neon design wishes, not due to a lack of skill, but because some of these images may have been doctored.
“For example, there are images on social media of neon signs that reads something, but when you see it in the mirror, it says something else,” said Chen. “I’ve tried wrapping my brain around it but I just don’t see how this word could be manipulated to say this other word when it’s reflected.”
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