After years of rapid economic growth and westernization, Southeast Asia is seeing a surge of brands promoting local pride.
In Malaysia, Kedai Bikin (kedai means store and bikin means to make) is reviving mid-century designs of rubber string chairs and other locally made furniture, aimed at filling the gap between Ikea at one end and imported designer furniture at the other.
But don’t call it a throwback. “This is the complete opposite of nostalgia,” says Farah Azizan, who co-founded Kedai Bikin as an offshoot of her architectural practice, Studio Bikin. “We are trying to remake and give it a modern take. The process is traditional but the product is new.”
Part of this speaks to a hankering for a simpler, bygone era in societies that have gone through rapid change in the last two or three decades. But it’s also about elevating the local and the commonplace with better design and materials, and, in many cases, new interpretations.
“We are very supportive of local craft, but there has been no evolution in the design of these products,” Azizan tells the Innovation Group.
Kedai Bikin is best known for taking a circular-frame chair design, popular in the 1960s and still sold cheaply in night markets, and reimagining it to be “less tippy.” The brand has renamed it the Merdeka (independence) chair and it costs from 295 ringgit to 580 ringgit, or US$75 to US$146.
The store, located in a Kuala Lumpur suburb, also sells designs by emerging brands such as BendangStudio, which creates handmade ceramic tableware in muted tones.
The same trend is evident in neighboring Singapore, where cult lifestyle retailer Naiise—a popular spelling of the word “nice” in Singapore—now has six outlets. Located in malls, the stores sell furniture, decor, clothing and accessories, with many of the locally sourced items emphasizing local culture and heritage.
Products include Indie Mama’s Good Morning Towel drawstring bag (S$24 or US$18), sewn from the white and red face towels commonly seen in Singapore, and cushions by Nom Nom Plush in the shape of local snacks, such as curry puffs (S$29.90) and pineapple tarts (S$32.90).
Taking a gamble that local pride could travel, Naiise opened a pop-up store at the Old Truman Brewery in London in October 2017 and recently launched an outlet in the Zhongshan Building, an emerging arts hub in Kuala Lumpur.