Afzal Imram
Afzal Imram graduated in 2014 and is the Co-Founder of Proper People together with Lin Ruiyin

Why “Proper People”? What is the reasoning behind the name?
When both Ruiyin (my co-founder) and I were starting out there were lots of concerns about us starting a business, mainly because we’ve both never held full-time jobs in the design industry, having only just graduated.
She had also just graduated?
Yes, she graduated from Central Saint Martins in London. The name took us very long to decide on. But the gist of it is that we wanted to tell our families, who wanted us to find proper employment, that we were working somewhere legitimate. So we thought, let’s call ourselves “Proper People”.
So like, proper people with proper jobs.
Yes and at a proper studio with proper work to do!
So you guys are as proper as it gets. In Proper People you do different kinds of work, right? There is jewellery, consultancy, etc., so what is Proper People?
Yes, we are setting ourselves up to be a multidisciplinary design studio that handles anything from jewellery to objects to branding and things like that. We provide bespoke jewellery and design consulting services. We have also launched a label of jewellery and objects.
How was it to start up?
It is not like the starting phase is over for us but now it’s more of getting used to this feeling of constantly moving uphill. The learning curve has been extremely steep. But I find comfort when we meet other start-ups because I feel like everyone’s fighting the same battle – fighting against time and exhaustion, for a slice of the market amongst other things.
What is the best project you’ve worked on?
It would have to be the label we’ve just launched, State Property. It’s not a project that is anywhere near completion. In fact, I would say it has barely begun. Here we create pieces of jewellery and objects that tell stories and convey concepts or ideas we are obsessed about. It is something we have wanted to do from the very beginning – being a literal take on the overlap of Ruiyin’s jewellery design background and my NUS DID training. And we see the potential here to create something a lot larger than ourselves. We spent about three months coming up with the name, though, haha. We just couldn’t figure it out! Then one day we found ourselves parked outside an abandoned building figuring out a name for the brand and I saw the sign “state property”.
“Hmm… what about ‘State Property’.”
Exactly! And then we found the word “proper” in “state property” and like—
It’s a sign! What has been the worst point so far?
Actually the feeling that bugged me the most was when all my friends started having jobs—I saw them settling into a life where they could afford to be all adult and independent whilst I was still living like a student ‘cos I’m on a start-up budget... But then again, I’m doing what I enjoy and this is a long-game, man, so that didn’t really matter.
I notice that you don’t have any jewellery on yourself.
Haha, I never used to wear any so I’m still trying to figure out what to put on myself, haha. Sometimes I wear these beads and I’m like, “yeah, that’s enough”. Maybe next time I’ll be saying, “oh I’m wearing a toe ring,” or something. Who knows.
What is characteristic of your work?
Most of the time, we try to convey a concept or narrative through our work. For State Property’s first collection, the concept we were going with was highlighting where jewellery normally exists, both on the body and off. It’s important for me that a product has some depth. To me products are like people – if they’re shallow, they can’t retain your attention; but if there’s more to them than what you get at the first glance, that’s when it gets interesting.
What is the question you ask yourself most when you design?
“Is it good enough?”
But is it ever good enough?
No, haha.
How then?
The business mind has to step in and say, “Yeah, it’s good enough for the budget we are working with.” I think coming out from school everyone is a little idealistic, so you have to learn how to stop yourself after a certain point. There is no way to sustain a business if you don’t do that.
If this is not already your dream job, what would be your dream job?
I’ve never really had a dream job other than designing cars but I don’t think it’s really a dream of mine anymore. But I’ve always wanted to work in the central business district. I’ve always wanted to be one of those people I see, who go to work at the CBD in the morning on the train – wearing some G2000 outfit, carrying a briefcase, listening to music and looking very sleepy. I really don’t understand why though. This imaginary self would probably be annoyed at the overpriced food in town, have a gym membership, workout during lunch, head home at 6pm or so. My friends think I’m crazy for thinking this but I think what it is is that I’m craving for a fixed routine.
What, you like routine?
Maybe I’ve never really had a very fixed routine so I’ve always wanted it. My life has been poisoned by this disease they call spontaneity. Haha.
I came across the Industrial Design programme when I was checking out Architecture’s pamphlet at my JC library, which had information about DID inside. I had no clue what it was but something about industrial design compelled me to apply so I applied to both DID and NTU’s School of Art, Design and Media (ADM). But when I went for the ADM Tea Party, an ADM Year 3 or 2 student told me to go to NUS, haha! That sealed the deal for me, because at that point I really didn’t understand what to look out for. When I applied I was still very clueless. I didn’t know what I was interested in learning and how to differentiate design curriculums. But now I’m very glad I went for that tea party.
In DID what was your best and most-loved asset?
My friends.