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Inside New Bahru: A fresh concept in Singapore’s retail landscape opens

New Bahru Singapore

The concept of New Bahru, a fresh project by Singapore hospitality firm The Lo & Behold Group, is set to redefine Singapore‘s retail landscape as it officially opens in phases, starting May 28.

New Bahru was conceived as a response to the challenges faced by local brands in Singapore. Despite the emergence of talent and creative entrepreneurship in the region, homegrown brands have struggled to gain wider recognition and exposure.

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Commercial malls are dominated by familiar chain stores, leaving limited space for local businesses to thrive. The Lo & Behold Group sought to create a cluster that would stand out from the rest, a place where the best of local creativity and talent could flourish.

In an interview with Rifeng Gao, chief operating officer and chief financial officer at The Lo & Behold Group, he shares the inspiration behind the project, the vision, and the significance of investing in a brick-and-mortar venture in the digital age.

New Bahru Singapore
The New Bahru development, pre-renovation. Source: New Bahru

‘Designed for discovery’

Housed in a refurbished school building, the project aims to offer an escape from the cookie-cutter malls and provide a space where people can wander aimlessly, leaving inspired by the community, products, and programming of New Bahru.

“We’ve seen an incredible amount of talent and creative entrepreneurship emerging from our shores and the region but we remain dwarfed by our international counterparts,” says Rifeng Gao.

“And the challenges remain: homegrown brands are dispersed, with many under the radar. And in commercial malls, prime locations are dominated by the same permutations of chains. We wanted to be able to build a cluster that we could call our own, a place that would sit differently from everything out there today. With New Bahru, we’re bringing together some of the best local creative talents and businesses to create a lifestyle destination designed for discovery.”

New Bahru Singapore
Source: New Bahru Singapore

Despite the digital landscape’s evolution, The Lo & Behold Group chose to invest heavily in a brick-and-mortar project, inspired by iconic neighbourhoods like King’s Cross in London, Daikanyama in Tokyo, and Songshan in Taipei.

“There is something especially satisfying in creating a product that people can experience with every sense. Similarly, a brick-and-mortar flagship store, especially one with an experiential component, can greatly enhance how consumers interact with a brand.

Beyond getting up close with the products and the people behind them, elements like scent, music, visual merchandising and workshops can help to bring the brand to life. Experiential retail also complements the reach and efficiency of e-commerce,” says Gao.

The tenant mix

The focus of New Bahru’s tenant mix is on unique concepts and a strong community. The project features a mix of F&B, retail, wellness, enrichment, craft, and hospitality, with each brand being a changemaker in their respective fields.

“Every brand intrinsically shares in our vision and actively contributes to the vibrancy of the enclave and the wider community. Some are bringing a new-to-market concept in Singapore, some creating immersive flagship experiences that peel back the curtain behind their craft, and others organising talks, workshops, or events with the community at the heart of it. All of this was layered with a sprinkling of everyday essentials to serve the direct neighbourhood,” Gao says. 

New Bahru Singapore
Left: Rifeng Gao, COO, The Lo & Behold Group. Right: Leon Foo, co-founder and CEO of Morning, a retail brand debuting its offline space at New Bahru.

Two notable brands making their debut at New Bahru are Omno and The Morning Concept Shop.

Omno, a sustainable personal care brand, is expanding from its online presence to offer in-store experiences such as workshops and events alongside its signature products, which span body and hair care, home accessories, and more.

We offer more than premium products. We hope to provide a holistic experience encompassing visual, sensorial, and tactile elements,” says Carmen Butt, brand ambassador at Omno. “A retail space is essential to showcase these aspects fully, demonstrating our serious commitment to physical presence alongside our digital offerings.”

The Morning Concept Shop, on the other hand, showcases specialty coffee capsules from around the world, aiming to provide customers with an offline touchpoint to discover and engage with their products.

Launched as a Kickstarter project in 2020, Morning has since moved into the omni-channel space, with a view of expanding to various markets in the near future.

New Bahru Singapore
Source: New Bahru Singapore

“Our mission is to enable access to specialty coffee roasters around the world. We have done that online through our marketplace and app, and now seek to bring this experience offline,” says Leon Foo, CEO and co-founder of Morning.

“As we continue to grow with our customers, we see the retail space as a physical touchpoint to increase that access where customers can speak with our retail assistants to discover their preferred specialty coffee flavour notes at our sampling bar, get to know us better through community events and understand the full value of our product. 

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Power in partnership

The Lo & Behold Group’s collaboration with partners such as Sunray Group Holdings, FARM, and Nice Projects has been instrumental in bringing the New Bahru vision to life.

Sunray Group Holdings, with its experience in iconic developments and conservation projects, shares the vision of preserving the heritage site of Nan Chiau High School.

FARM and Nice Projects have contributed their expertise in design, placemaking, and architectural aspects to create a space that breathes new life into the historic building.

“New Bahru is our biggest venture to date. The multifaceted nature of this project naturally required a diverse group of partners to bring its fullest potential to life,” Gao notes. “We were all brought together by the common goal of creating a space for local creative talents to thrive, something that could put our small but mighty city on the global cultural map.”