Monday, February 05, 2018

Rattan furniture industry in Singapore: past and present

Exploring the HDB estate opposite Queensway Shopping Centre, i came across a Rattan furniture shop , Chun Mee Lee Rattan Furniture. It is not often you find a shop in Singapore that sells furniture solely made by rattan and indeed it was a pleasant and nostalgic surprise to encounter.The shop was filled to the brim with rattan furniture and ware, but what was more surprising for me, was to see a lady working on re-upholstering a chair with rattan trimmings. This indicates to me that not all the rattan ware was exported from either Indonesia and Malaysia, some were still done locally.
Chun Mee Lee Rattan Furniture(directions here

Rattan furniture stacked to the ceiling 

Worker reupholstering a chair with rattan trimmings

Fast forward a few weeks, this time in Joo Chiat, i came across another shop called Teong Theng Co ( directions here ) which although wasn't filled to the brim with rattan furniture (there were other types of wood furniture as well), it reminded me of Chun Mee Lee Rattan Furniture.

Theong Theng Co (directions here

Evolution of rattan furniture industry
A 1928 advertisement of rattan furniture by John Little & Co. perked my interest further to read up on how this industry came about and its eventual decline. Skimming through various articles, i can see that rattan furniture shops in the 30's  were clustered around Victoria Street area and attracted many local buyers as well as being exported to overseas.

Advertisement from John Little (source: NewspaperSG) 
source: National Archives 



Basket weaver from cane shop in Arab Street (source: Archives)

Source: National Archives 

Decline
In 1986, Indonesia which supplies 80% of the world rattan banned the export of raw and semi-processed rattan exports to encourage its own rattan furniture industry. This lead to the local industry to seek alternative sources or to go into partnership with Indonesian firms which allowed export of rattan furniture. This was not the first time this ban was enforced as i read of a similar ban in 1952. During the 80's countries like Singapore and Malaysia started to move towards capital and skill intensive industries which are added factors in the decline of the rattan industry in Singapore.




References
Advertisement. (1928, March 22). The Singapore Free Press.
Singapore's Rattan Furniture industry. (1938, November 20). The Straits Times
Rattan ban prompts joint venture talks. (1988, July 9). The Straits Times


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