EXCLUSIVE: The Original Artbox Thailand Story, from the Founders

Everyone’s been talking about Artbox Singapore – but not many know how Artbox became such a phenomenon around the region.

It all began in Bangkok, barely three years ago. ShopJJ caught up with the founders of Artbox Thailand: Nuy, Yo and Eve (pictured above, from left to right). They are three passionate Thai entrepreneurs who have been working tirelessly behind the scenes every day.

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Yo and Nuy escape the sun as they prepare for Artbox’s debut in Singapore

The Spirit of Artbox

The spirit of Artbox is supporting creativity, not profit.

“We love what we’re doing. To us this is not work at all,” says Yo, the founder of Artbox Thailand. “If you want to be a part of Artbox, you cannot think about the money,” pipes in Nuy. She’s the de-facto head of operations for Artbox Thailand.

Indeed, the very spirit of Artbox is about supporting creativity, not profit. It prides itself on being an accomodating space for independent and gifted designers, artists, chefs and performers to share their art with the world. In Thailand, Yo and her team happily give massive discounts and even free booths to vendors who are full of creative fire, but may be extinguished in funds.

They do this, because they too were once creatives without the means to sell their work. Indeed, this was how Artbox began.

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How Artbox Began

Artbox Founder Yo on the ground at Artbox Singapore

“I just wanted a place to sell my (self-designed) bags!” says an exasperated Yo. Nurturing entrepreneurial fires since their days in university, Yo first designed and sold bags under her own brand, “Guarantee Original”.

But the malls in Bangkok were too expensive, and the flea markets then had little to no room for ‘small-time vendors’.

If there was no good space to sell their original creations, they’ll make an original space of their own.

“There wasn’t much (room for) creativity in the Bangkok markets back then. Everyone was just selling the same old things,” explains Eve, a talented artist and co-founding partner of Artbox Thailand.

Fed-up with the lack of options, Yo and her friends took matters into their own hands. If there was no good space to sell their original creations, they’ll make an original space of their own.

Building a pop-up market from scratch is no easy task. The team worked with many stakeholders in Thailand – from landowners to vendors and even their families. “We have so many supporters for our (Artbox) idea,” remembers Yo. “When we needed something, we just ask, figure out a fair price, and we get going right away!”

Artbox’s debut in Bangkok at Makkasan, in June 2015 (Photo: Artbox Thailand)

In June 2015, the first Artbox opened its doors at Makkasan, Bangkok. It introduced live music, concerts, and “lots of chill-out spaces for people to enjoy the Art(istic creations) at Artbox” – the very first of its kind.

The team intentionally used shipping containers as shop booths, a trademark look that remains to this day. Put together, the market would resemble a port – a place for bustling trade. Like how ports are spaces enabling free trade from all over the world, they wanted Artbox to be a space allowing the free flow of ideas, shared through the unique goods that all their vendors sell. 

Since then, Artbox has set up containers and their signature fairy lights at various locations all over Bangkok. These include the prestigious Em District, and Chatuchak, where the world’s largest flea market is located. It grew phenomenally, and transformed the night market scene in Bangkok forever.

Artbox Singapore

Artbox Singapore is the team’s first overseas instalment

Nearly 80% of all foreign visitors to Artbox in Bangkok are from Singapore – so it made perfect sense for them to bring their Artbox concept here. But it was no easy task.

“In Thailand, it’s so easy to set up and (get things) going,” says Nuy. “But in Singapore, there are so many laws (to follow).”

Originally scheduled for May 2017, Yo and her team were forced to bring forward the event.

Artbox Thailand partnered with Invade, a Singaporean event organiser with local experience

From what we understand, space wasn’t available at the time, and only April was open. Not to mention the various licenses and clearances they needed to set up shop within the heart of Singapore. This is why they had to partner a local event organiser with intimate knowledge of how things work locally. Invade was that partner.

As time was of the essence, everything happened incredibly quickly in a matter of weeks. “It’s a bit too rushed, but we make do with what we have,” says Nuy. Indeed, it reminds them of the time when they set up their very first Artbox, so many of these hiccups were expected.

What they completely didn’t expect, however, was the passion and tenacity of the Singaporean crowd on day one. “130,000 people! Even with the rain!” That’s nearly three times what they had anticipated. 

Since then, the team have made changes to the Artbox Singapore layout and implemented better crowd control measures for its second and final weekend in Singapore.

You can sometimes see Yo manning her stalls at Guarantee Original or Artbox Cafe. Why is she always on the ground? “Because Yo gets super fierce with us during Artbox! So we tell her to just don’t worry, sell your bags, leave us alone!” jokes Nuy and Eve. “Don’t worry… We got this!”

Seeing Yo’s approving (and slightly embarrassed) smile, we know the real reason: she’s got the most dedicated team behind her, and she trusts them completely. 

What’s next for Artbox?

Artbox Singapore has been an incredible learning experience for the young team from Thailand. Naturally, they’re eager to keep growing and improving the Artbox experience for all their fans.

“We want to make everything perfect,” exclaims Yo. “Next time it will be much better!”

The Artbox Thailand team can’t wait for their next instalment!

The team plans to share the Artbox experience around the region, and Singapore was just their first stop. While they want to bring many Thai vendors abroad, they understand that the spirit of Artbox is more than that. It’s the idea that flea markets can be a bustling hive of creativity, art and community – regardless of city, nationality and society.

That passion for fostering fellow budding creatives is the core of their Artbox brand – one that many try to emulate, but can never replicate.

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