Rodent Stock

This Lunar New Year, brands are scampering to take your money for ratty fashion


ChinatownCNY 2020This year’s Eu Tong Sen-facing street decoration in Chinatown

By Mao Shan Wang

Rats! This year will soon arrive. I don’t know about you, but I am, in real life, not a fan of rats. Not one bit, these muroids, with their dirty-brown hair and pesky tails, and their love for gnawing and scavenging. I can deal with cockroaches, however many, but rats just sickens me, even just one. There, I’ve said it. I don’t deny that my distaste for them borders on disgust.

Despite their icky appearance, the Chinese zodiac has a special love for them, placing the rat ahead of the pack. The current CNY decoration in Chinatown best illustrates this. According to my mom, the rat is very smart, ingenious even, so much so that it’s able to outsmart and kick the cat out the race to be right ahead of the 12-animal conga line. That sounds pretty smart to me. But, according to Chinese Zodiac myth, the rat actually hitched a ride on the ox and jumped off the beast to propel him to the front! Talk about stepping stones!

Apart from the rat’s intelligence, the creature is, according to the ancients, also blessed with other anthropomorphic traits: charm(!), quick-wit, diligence, and practicality. I’m not sure what that would make (a good husband?), but I think that many would find such a character attractive, if not endearing. Which may explain why, in the cartoon world, so many lovable characters are based on rats.

Mickey X MangoMickey Mouse at Mango

The shu nian, like many years of the different animals before it, is opportunity for fashion brands to sell merchandise sporting the star creature. They could choose from so many of them, be they from books or screen animations, but they narrowed their choice to one—many chose predictable and bland Mickey Mouse, which, conversely, have been described as, among other qualities, handsome and heroic. I suppose abdominous Mickey is convenient and identifiable. Using him requires no starting from scratch. Why bother with a new delineation when Disney will readily licence a very white black mouse for any use, even for a largely Asian audience? And he’s available in so many forms—old and new.

If they really wanted handsome and heroic—appreciable modern rarities, there’s Remy from Ratatouille or Jerry of Tom & Jerry (to be sure, Etude House used them) or Minute of Courageous Cat and Minute Mouse (too old?). Or, if muscles are the prerogative, Mighty Mouse (the cartoon character, not Apple’s input device from 2005!). Or, if literary associations vital, Stuart Little. Or, if a female is preferred (in a post-Wonder Woman world, they are), Miss Bianca from The Rescuers. Or, if gender-fluidity is a must, Coney from the wildly popular Line characters. Or, if racial inclusiveness the most crucial, my all-time fave, Speedy Gonzales. No, they prefer same-old and sure-safe Mickey Mouse.

Gucci jeans & track top SS 2020Gucci track top and denim jeansDsneyDisney’s own Mickey Mouse merchandise with local expressionsH&M X Disney SS 2020H&M sweatshirt featuring a 3-D Mickey MouseDisney X Aldo sneakers SS 2020Disney X Aldo sneakers

Mickey appearing on Uniqlo or H&M tees is understandable—expected, even, but as a mascot for a luxury brand such as Gucci? To me, it’s jejune and unimaginative and too convenient. Mickey Mouse is there for the taking, so take it. That’s what it says to me. After all, the brand had already collaborated with Disney; they’ve produced a USD4,500(!), 3-D printed plastic handbag in the shape of Mickey’s head to mark the mouse’s 90th anniversary in 2018. No sweat if Disney’s beloved character is used. Again.

Some other brands do try, with varying degrees of success (authenticity? That’s another point). There’s a blotch of a rat at CK Calvin Klein, accompanied by a message: “TO SEE WHAT OTHERS DO NOT SEE THAT IS TRUE VISION”. Yes, in full caps and WhatsApp-worthy lack of punctuation. That’s probably paraphrasing Jonathan Swift—“Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others”, but what the saying has to do with rats is anyone’s guess. Perhaps cuteness alone isn’t quite enough; you have to appear smart (isn’t that already a rat trait?), better still, literary.

cK Calvin Klein shirt SS 2020CK Calvin Klein shirt with message and mouseNudie Jeans jacket S 2020Nudie Jeans Vinny Year of the Rat denim jacket at The Denim Store, 313@OrchardBrooks Brothers SS 2020Brooks Brothers sweater and a dressed grey mouse20-01-23-01-36-34-390_decoNikelab’s rat pack for DSM. Photo: DSM

Elsewhere, a pointy-nosed Japanese-esque mouse is seen on a Nudie Jeans trucker. The creature is described as a “metal rat”. They got that right. A small appreciable detail. If CK Calvin Klein’s rat is a literary one, then Brooks Brothers’ affable-looking rodent is probably its sporty compatriot. Given a baseball cap with a pair of unmistakable double Bs, the nameless creature could be Yankee’s (Everyone’s Hero) avatar. To appeal to those who are partial to cyberpunk aesthetics and who care not to be auspicious, the Earn Chen-led (he who founded Surrender and Ambush, and now the guy behind Potato Head Folk)  Singaporean label, The Salvages, offers—at DSMS—a robotic rat with a menacing scowl and red eye. Even Starbucks isn’t leaving themselves out of the rat race, selling a coffee mug in the shape of a rather corpulent Rattus. Not all brands use solo rats. Also at DSMS, Nike’s special capsule features one T-shirts with a quintet of basketball-playing rats of the ’hood. But perhaps most fascinating is one by Doublet: there’s an embroidery of a rat on the chest. If you look closely,  you’d see a loose thread. I was told that if you pull it, the stitches will unravel, revealing an ox—a tee for two consecutive years!

It isn’t yet clear if the pick up rate for these ratty fashion will spike during the CNY shopping season. Frankly, I don’t really know the purpose of luxury brands getting into Chinese New Year symbolism other than to cash in. In fact, I don’t recall the wearing of clothes that feature the animal of the corresponding zodiac year to be common. It’s definitely not traditional! Come to think of it, I remember Marc Jacobs’s men’s wear used to have a mascot/logo featuring a rodent named Stinky Rat. Mr Jacobs had never deliberately released clothing bearing the creature during CNY. Does wearing one’s zodiac animal (or spirit animal?) make things a little more season-appropriate, a little more festive, a little more auspicious?

Ill will unintended, I don’t give a rat’s ass.

Editorial note: for convenience, I use ‘rat’ and ‘mouse’ interchangeably, probably to the annoyance of mammalogists, biologists, zoologists, and the like. Photos (unless indicated): Chin Boh Kay. 

Stojo X Starbucks Tumbler Is Back

The handiest multi-use rummer is available again. But not for long


Stojo X Starbucks cup 12.2019.jpg

By Jia Yao

They were once available in Starbucks, but I can’t remember how recently or how long ago. Just when I thought there was no chance of seeing them again, Starbucks just released the siren-stamped Stojo collapsible cups. This is possibly one of the niftiest re-usable coffee cup out there, and it beats every single Starbucks-branded beverage container—quite literally—flat!

It is, of course, the right (and, for better or worse, trendy) thing to do when you bring and use your own cup at any of your fave coffee places (I think I need not explain the no-no about single-use plastic ones). But unlike nearly every short or tall bottle, mug, glass, et al now available, including those from competitor Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, the Stojo can be flattened. Once capped (to prevent droplets or whatever remains, even ice, from leaking), the cup is no thicker than four slices of bread.

It is made of silicone that is LFGB-Certified (Lebensmittel-und Futtermittelgesetzbuch, the German abbreviation for the Food and Commodities Act, which is a mark of food safety). The polymer is of considerable thickness and is sturdy to hold, whether the content is cold or hot. While the collapsible design makes it truly appealing, it may require some practice to flatten the cup to its ideal flatness, neatly.

The cup comes with its own reusable silicone straw, which I usually do without since it is much easier to just drink from the cup. The straw is inserted into the circular straw opening on the cap, which is also where you sip your coffee if it’s served hot. This hole can be covered with an attached tab that also secures neatly on the opposite side. Included is the polypropylene (thermoplastic, also LFGB-Certified) heat sleeve that, when not used, fits neatly—inverted—under the flattened cup, acting like a stand too.

Stojo, calls it a “cup” (and Starbucks follows), but at 24oz (the size I prefer), it is too gargantuan to be a cup, which, to me, is a lot more petite. That is roughly equivalent to 710ml, which holds more java than a typical 250ml container that we would use at home. So, with this size, you can buy yourself a ‘venti’ iced latte or anything smaller (or taller, if we consider Starbucks’s naming for their sizes).

Bringing your own cup to a Starbucks here will get you fifty cents off the price of the beverage. But if you visit Malaysia often and hope to enjoy discounts (which, is only RM1) on your drinks served in a reusable cup that you brought, you’d need a Starbucks-branded one. They’re extremely strict about this.

While pricey, the Stojo is durable, sits beautifully next to your Surface Pro, and, more importantly, deny one more piece of the hideous clear plastic cup we’ve been using from an over-filled landfill.

Stojo X Starbucks collapsible cup, 24oz and 16oz, SGD39.90 and SGD29.90 respectively, is available in navy, red, olive, yellow, mint, and pastel blue at Starbucks stores. Photo: Jim Sim

FYI, according to, the world uses 500 billion disposable plastic cups a year. America alone, Jurrien Swarts, co-founder and CEO of Stojo told the media, uses 58 billion disposable cups annually

A Better Priced Moleskin

Get your 2020 planner at Starbucks


Starbucks X Moleskin 2020 planner

By Low Teck Mee

I know it’s odd and not quite sensible in the age of Google Calendar (or Apple) to suggest that a paper planner is a desirable thing to own. You see, I am still very much into paper (and the perfect partner of Pentel Energel pens). I like how it feels and how it smells. Coffee sellers sure know something about what seduces the nose, which could explain why Starbucks is in the business of selling paper planners. But these are no ordinary ones; they’re by the Milanese notebook manufacturer Moleskin.

Which means these are hard-back planners with binding similar to the best book on your shelves (I am assuming, of course, that you’re not a Kindle or Kobo die-hard). The cover of the planner feels good to the touch, and has the texture of kid leather. Only thing is, Moleskin is on the same path as—my fellow contributor Mao Shan Wang told me—Stella McCartney: no animal hide. So what you’re holding is in vegan leather (okay, that’s as oxymoronic as vegetarian bacon), which, given how the world is now, is probably a better choice anyway.


One little peeve I can’t ignore is the content of the weekly planner. Like smartphones with much disfavoured bloatware, the Starbucks X Moleskin contains significant pages that are best left out. Just after the double-page spread, following the personal info recto, that shows 2020 in a glance, there is another that lists, by month, the new Starbucks outlets opening in Asia in the coming year. And as intro to each month, a shout-out for the highlight stores of the region. The admittedly handsome Reserve store in Jewel at Changi Airport gets to preface June. Month after month, I shall be reminded that the entries I will make are on pages co-created by an American caffeine vendor.

And the undeniable plus: at the Moleskin store in ION Orchard, similar weekly planners are going for S$37.00. It’s at least a ten-bucks savings if you purchase yours at Starbucks (with a S$30 top-up of your Starbucks card, which you know you’ll use). Problem is, these are extremely popular, as their baristas have been telling or reminding me, which could mean that by the time you read this, you won’t be able to find one, even if only to caress the caressable cover.

Starbucks X Moleskin 2020 planner, SGD28.90 (with “reload”, as the store calls it, of SGD30 in the Starbucks Card), is available at all Starbucks stores. Photos: Jim Sim