Interview: Irwin Lim of The General Company

Managing a wide range of talented craftsmen, artisans, designers and builders, The General Company hosts regular workshops for people from all walks of life to learn from these professionals; from leather crafting workshops where you learn to fashion and stitch your own business card holder, to creating your very own terrarium, make snazzy little shoes for your baby, and of course, their ever popular floral arrangement classes that are always sold out.

I got to know The General Company’s bossman Irwin Lim at an event earlier this year, and was very impressed by the serial entrepreneur’s genuine drive and passion about elevating local craft and wanting to share experiences. Not just a businessman, Irwin is also quite the artist (you’ll know what I mean when you see his self portrait in our interview later).

The RI boy who came from humble beginnings, shared that the grand vision for The General Company was for it to be a supportive platform for young emerging crafters and makers to present their wares via pop-ups and installations here in Singapore. Also, The General Company took great pride of themselves as “purveyors of the traditional artisan movement”.


The passionate foundering partners of The General Company: Ming, Colin and Irwin.


I call Irwin Lim a serial entrepreneur and mean it in a very good way; the enterprising Singaporean is an unstoppable force with his capable hands in retail chain store Cumulus & Nimbus, as well as, popular grill bar The Refinery… and another exciting regional project coming up in the next quarter, with its flagship store in Raffles City.

“Do you have a cloning machine or something?” I asked Irwin as we tucked into our roast duck siobak rice on a rare afternoon where both our schedules worked out for us to grab a quick lunch together. “Seriously, what’s your secret?”

“A time machine,” came the glib reply from the Star Wars fan, along with a sly gleam in his eye… which made me glower and purposely pick the sliver of meat Irwin was reaching out for with his chopsticks.

Yes, I’m quite sure Irwin’s MBA at Murdoch University and Arts Management education at Lasalle-SIA College of the Arts had nothing to do with it too. Uh-huh. Or his time doing business in Mongolia (a story for another time).

A dedicated family man, I was truly impressed with Irwin’s dedication towards a healthy work-life balance. As a Libra girl, this is something I’d always struggled with before, when I was a full-time escape artist/ illusionist who had a schedule of a traveling gypsy. Putting family first, Irwin had squeezed an overseas trip to Bangkok in just a day – flying in during the wee hours of the morning and then catching an evening flight out – so that he could accompany his elder son for a birthday party the next day, because he promised.

Irwin with his son Luke (yes, the man is a big Star Wars fan) at his retail store, Cumulus & Nimbus

Now, I don’t work for the man, but methinks any dude who is such a Super Dad, must have a special intrinsic chip in there when it comes to caring about people and human relationships!

To be honest, I’d initially assumed that The General Company only dealt with leather craft workshops but Irwin was quick to educate me that they went beyond that; they also conduct workshops by professionals on printmaking, bookbinding, letterpress printing, woodwork, concrete-casting and whisky-appreciation. Very nice!

…He asked if I was keen on doing magic workshops at The General Company for laypeople, like sales people who want to use magic as ice-breakers perhaps. It’s a good idea, something to think about I guess 😉 What an honour!


“So are hipsters your target audience for TGC?” I asked Irwin, who had very gentlemanly allowed me that piece of roast meat I’d unceremoniously snatched from him and was now chewing.

“You know, I wouldn’t say that,” Irwin thoughtfully laced his pale slender fingers together. “Our typical customer is a global citizen. Someone who constantly seeks new discoveries and knowledge of the world we live in. They appreciate the finer things in life, pay attention to the little details and values heritage and tradition.”

I think that’s pretty cool, not blindly chasing hipster fads that would only fade in time.

Besides organizing workshops, The General Company also has an online shop retailing interesting local goods by local artisans… like this uber cute Ang Ku Kueh Girl wristlet bag by Singaporean designer Sheryl Wong (so cute right!?!).

“The General Company was never meant to be a retail store,” Irwin confided thoughtfully, while we waited for our lunch bill. “We have always imagined ourselves as a creative space that trades education revolving around craftsmanship and good design, on top of being a showroom for designers, artists and makers. We started the workshop trend in Singapore because we wanted to raise the general level of awareness and appreciation for craft here. By engaging artists to conduct workshops over weekends, we are allowing the public to gain insight to the intricate and laborious processes that goes into a crafted good. This allows them to better appreciate artisanal crafts and handmade goods.”

Check out my Scribble Project interview with the expeditious and deep Irwin Lim who got me with “Jesus doesn’t care how many Bible verses you have memorized. He cares about how you treat people.” (yes I think it’s wonderful when you can actually get chummy enough to discuss about different religions and philosophies!).

I daresay we can definitely expect more from this intelligent, well-spoken Singapore entrepreneur…

Interview Page 1

Interview Page 2


PS: Exclusively for NingThing readers, click here now to find out how you can get 10% off all The General Company workshops this August 2015. HAPPY NATIONAL DAY! #SG50



TEL : +65 8444 5589


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Ning Cai is a Singapore Literature Prize nominated author, who was also long listed for the Epigram Books Fiction Prize in 2016. A bestselling writer, she is also recognised for her illusionist/ escapologist stage character Magic Babe Ning, and recognised by Channel News Asia as South East Asia's first professional female magician.

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