Celeste Chong – The Butter Factory

Celeste Chong – The Butter Factory

“Decide that you want it more than you’re afraid of it.”
- Bill Cosby

Celeste Chong
Co-Founder/Marketing Director, The Butter Factory
Email: celeste@thebutterfactory.com
Website: http://www.thebutterfactory.com/

The Butter Factory was founded 8 years ago, by Celeste Chong, Tay Eu-Yen, Bobby Luo & Ritz Lim. Since then, they have established themselves an imaginative, groundbreaking party blend, offering popular and alternative music, as well as memorable experiences for her customers. Today, The Butter Factory has ventured into various F&B industries, with projects like Sauce @ Esplanade and Overeasy.

Celeste started The Butter Factory when she saw the gap in the market, for a place with Hip Hop music catering to the young working professionals. She started out hosting her own hip hop parties before being offered a Marketing position at a small club back in 2005. After a 1.5 year stint there, she ventured out to create The Butter Factory, redefining the Singapore Night Life.

What do you and your team do besides managing The Butter Factory?

Everything! Yen & Zong also oversee Sauce, whereas Bobby & myself focus mainly on the club. We’ve also co-produced a short film “Sex Violence Family Values” that was banned in 2012. We filmed three short films, it made its rounds through many international short film festivals and picked up quite a number of ribbons. We decided to put the 3 short films together into a 45 minute film and Cathay liked it and offered us a 1 week run. We did the premiere, and then the next day we were issued with a ban. That’s because when the trailer came out, the people who watched the trailer thought that it was racist, but they did not get the whole context of the movie. All they heard was one line from the trailer, and they jumped to their own conclusions. We appealed, and it was later reclassified as R21.

We never started Butter Factory to just be a club. At least for me, I saw it as building a brand that would eventually lead us to our other interests, which is anything to do with lifestyle and entertainment. Be it music, art, design, fashion – between the founders and our current directors, these are all areas that we enjoy. As long as it’s something we’re passionate about and we see an opportunity in there, we won’t say no.

Years back I remember always saying, “There’s no entertainment in Singapore, everything is so boring here.” When we first started Butter Factory we wanted to change that, to keep bringing new and interesting entertainment into Singapore. We created interesting art, design and fashion related clubbing events.

So, what’s been the most challenging part about all of this?

I think definitely at the start. I mean, I was only in my twenties when we started this and it was quite overwhelming I suppose, dealing with contractors, electricians – half the time I’ve no idea what I’m looking at – it’s a lot of learning as you go and it’s like, oh shit, I can’t turn back so I just have to make as much sense as I can of this. And then having to deal with authorities and issues like licensing and capacity issues. A lot of things people didn’t realize was that the legal capacity of most places are- the way that they calculate it, it’s such that the club will look empty. All these very serious issues were thrown at us and we had to feel our way around and find a solution because you’re already operating. These are really the real life challenges, I think those were really the toughest part.

That’s many years ago and we’ve moved past that. But with nightlife there will always be new challenges, new problems and setbacks. But I think for me and I can say for most of us- I don’t know if I could’ve done this alone, and having that very tight kin really really helps. It’s not just the five of us; even the senior management and down to the management team, we’re a very tight team and we work like family. Because of that, everyone comes together and you don’t feel like, oh my god I’m left alone, how am I supposed to deal with this? You get what I mean? So when you have everyone there and brainstorming, I guess it’ll be fine cause there’s everyone so of course we’re gonna be able to find a solution – I mean, we have to, right? So yeah, I think that helped along the way.

What do you think is the differentiating factor that separates The Butter Factory from other clubs or club brands?

I would say it’s all about The Butter Factory experience that you don’t get anywhere else. Be it being the first club to really bring art and design and fashion into the parties that we created. Or today, where we have a elements of surprise that occurs through the night. Like I said, we’ve never seen it as just a club with four walls and a disco wall and tadah! It has always been about bringing elements of design, fashion, and putting them into a club setting. It’s probably also because our creative director is very, very talented. When The Butter Factory first open at Robertson Quay, Bobby started this project called the design warrior art project where he wrote to many artists around the world to ask them to contribute a character. To this date many people still remember all the different characters and eventually 300 artists replied, but we couldn’t even use all three hundred cause the club wasn’t big enough. So we started with a hundred plus, and these were from artists all over the world!

Bringing the idea of- when you go into a club, it’s just a room right? What we tried to do was to have the gallery space element so you’re looking at something interesting and at the same time we’re doing our part at educating people and exposing them to different kinds of art.

So the club becomes a kind of youth culture representation thing?

Yeah! In a sense. We try to bring in all these different interesting elements into the club space, like we’ve done some events in conjunction with the Singapore Design festival. We flew in Jon Bugerman to Butter Factory and we erected these white walls in the club, and for the next four days he just doodled on the whole wall. The event was called Colour Butter, and we open our doors in the afternoon for students – under 18 – to come in and colour the walls. But past 7pm, it was an over 18 party, we served, there’s a DJ playing music, while people continued to color in the wall. Usually club events are just club events and arts and design events are just arts and design events, but we wanted to merge the two together. So it was really nice- people could come in, grab a beer, colour, and then there’s a DJ; that’s one example of merging all these elements together.

We’ve also brought in the Fashion element into club events where we flew in this duo from New York and we did this event called Style War. We got about 10 design students to participate, so 2 by 2 they’ll go on stage and then say I give them an umbrella, for 5 minutes, the duo DIY. They do it on the spot and the models have to do the catwalk – it’s like a fashion battle. So things like that. For us it’s not just limited to one guest DJ and that’s that. This is what makes Butter Factory stands out.

But personally, why do you think you decided to open a club?

I mean, I’ve been clubbing since forever. Prior to Butter Factory, I was doing marketing at a smaller club, but before that I was doing one-off parties. I guess ever since I was young, I’ve always liked the nightlife, but why we decided to start something, I actually really have no idea. It just came up over drinks and I was talking to Yen who I’ve known since we went to school together. And we were just like, oh we should do something on our own, and that’s how it all started.

What do you think is the most meaningful part about what you’re doing?

I think in a way we have already started changing the entertainment scene in Singapore. We’ve definitely brought more colour into Singapore’s nightlife. We’re 8 this year, so I can safely say that we have tried changing people’s mindsets of what a clubbing experience should be.

What has the club meant to you personally?

To me, well, Singaporeans are very fond of complaining, aiya, don’t like this, don’t like that. So Butter Factory has given me that platform to stop just complaining, and to be the person that changes things and start something more interesting when no one is doing it. And that’s definitely what I feel makes me happy. I feel happy when I’ve this idea, and then it’s like, can this be done? How can we go about doing it? Then we make it happen, and it’s like, oh yeah.

You could keep complaining forever and you’ll probably be nothing, or you could try to be that person and kickstart something! And I think Singapore now is way more- definitely a lot more- it’s bubbling a lot more than how it was before. I’m looking at some of the works done by local artists and stuff like that and I’m like, oh wow. Years back, you don’t hear or see much. But suddenly I am starting to see lots of new upcoming talent.

What inspires you?

The feeling I get when I envision something in my head and then making and seeing that happening, standing back and watching the crowd react to it…for me, that’s the feeling I’m always chasing. It’s like you’re preparing for a performance on stage, all the performers know they’re gonna perform, and they get this ‘stage-high’; for me it’s when I’m creating this whole picture and I see people react to what I’ve created – that’s my motivating factor.

What was something that you did not expect when you first started?

Honestly, at the point when we started the ButterFactory, it was: let’s see where this goes. I don’t think we ever stopped to think what happens if we fail because we’ll think of that when we get there; what’s the point of thinking about failing at the start? So let’s just see where it goes! I don’t think any of us were prepared, or expected, all the work and whatever that came along with it cause at that point, you don’t really know until you start doing it. And you know how with every business plan there’s an exit strategy? I never knew how to fill that part up. I’ve always been one of those who was, ya lah, fail fail then face it when I get there. What’s the worst thing that can happen? If I fail then I’ll just have to reassess my options because at least for me personally, everything I’ve done I’ve worked for it, everything is done by my own two hands. Which means no matter what happens, even if this doesn’t work out, it’s just a matter of putting something together again and doing it.

But the good thing is we also didn’t realize that eight years later, we are still around and we’ve built a pretty good name for ourselves; a brand name that people recognize not just in Singapore – we’ve managed to break past not just Southeast Asia, but I’m sure people overseas have also heard of Butter Factory. And when you’ve been around longer, more doors are open to you, for example better future collaborations.

I think sometimes in life, you can’t over plan. You kinda have to throw yourself in there and do it because you never know who you might suddenly meet one day, and you start a conversation, and then bam you have this idea that you’ve never thought of before.

Any advice for the young people out there?

I always say this, if you feel passionate about something and you’re excited about an idea, don’t wait too long. To me, I think two weeks tops. It’s been tried and tested. Anything more than two weeks, I lose interest and I start to doubt myself. The moment the self-doubt comes, forget it. It’s very hard to get past that because there’re just too many questions.

Looking back, I think that’s one reason why Butter Factory started. From the day we had the idea, within two weeks I had the business plan drafted, and before I could start regretting, too late! I already quit my job and everything was already moving and you have no choice. And the weird thing is, I spoke to Wilin (Lawyer-turned-chef, founder of Wild Rocket), and he said the same thing. He quit his job as a lawyer, went into F&B and just became a chef. And he was like, “Yeah, if I had thought it through, I don’t think it’d have happened. But I quit my job – shit – no money, I better make it work”. If I’d thought it through, it’d have seem too hard and too daunting a task. When you’re all fired up and you’re doing it at such breakneck speed, you don’t even have time to regret so the doubt hasn’t sunk in. By the time you start questioning, you have to make it happen because you’ve already committed to it. So I always think that when you have that window period, you have to grab it.

– Profiled by Natalee Ho. Written by Amanda Chan & Lim Zi Song