36 Arab Street, Singapore 199735
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The Close-Knit Knot of Kampong Gelam


Name of business:

Kin Soon Pte Ltd - House of Ribbons

Other names of business:


Business location:

36 Arab Street, Singapore 199735

Business type:





Kin Soon Pte Ltd - House of Ribbons specialises in ribbons and custom ribbon printing. It was founded in 1975 by Mr Seah Seow Hor, and is now run by his daughters, Ms Terina Seah and Ms Tracy Seah. Reputed for its high-quality satin ribbons, Kin Soon has witnessed many changes in the industry and understand the importance of adapting to keep up with the times.

Kin Soon Pte Ltd - House of Ribbons stands as a business where familial ties rise to the fore. For those familiar with the businesses at Kampong Gelam’s Arab Street, the name might be reminiscent of another shop called Kin Lee & Company, which is owned by Ms Terina Seah’s cousin. As the story goes, Ms Terina’s great-grandfather had come to Singapore from Swatow (Shantou), a coastal city in Guangdong, China. He eventually settled in Kampong Gelam, where he set up a shop called Soon Lee. When her grandfather took over, it became Kin Lee, and subsequently when her father started his own business, he took half of each of the names; thus, forming Kin Soon.  

The business started out selling decorative ribbons and exporting products to Malaysia and Indonesia. They even have their own in-house brand, Minton Ribbons, which became reputed for its high-quality satin ribbons. As more businesses in China entered the market, Kin Soon was forced to differentiate themselves from the competition. Hence, they pivoted towards selling ribbons for more functional purposes and diversified their products to include other types of packaging materials. In contrast to the mass-produced products sold on e-commerce websites, Kin Soon prides itself on the quality of its ribbons as well as its custom printing services. Today, their main business activity is supplying products wholesale to companies in the hospitality and food & beverage industries.

Surviving in a competitive market, unstable economic climate, and global pandemic, Kin Soon’s resilience can be attributed to Ms Terina’s readiness to make changes. One instance is her readiness to use technology to streamline operations: “Everything is on the inventory system. I have everything down to the colours, the sizes.” With this system in place, the business can respond quickly to their customers’ requests and have a more efficient process to take stock of their inventory.

Over the years, Ms Terina understands the importance of adapting to survive. But she also acknowledges the difficulty of keeping up with the tireless progression of digital communication; “Previously, I just need to manage - maybe the fax line, then after the fax line, I had the fax line and the email; now I have…fax line, email, Facebook, Instagram, then WhatsApp. It’s like never-ending.”

Although the next natural step is transitioning online, the human aspect of the brick-and-mortar shop is irreplaceable. Ms Terina ponders, “I do have a customer who is so intrigued how we can survive having this kind of shop,” she says, “They're keen to learn more. They just want to know our story.” But the instantaneous online transactions expected by customers eliminate any chance to hear the personal stories of businesses like Kin Soon. Moreover, the online shopping experience could never match the transportive nature of walking into the shop and experiencing its environment. Ms Terina shares that many of their customers enjoy the experience of visiting their shop; “because they see so many colours, it feels like a child going into a candy shop”.

The ties that bind Ms Terina’s family to Kin Soon is as tight as the one that connects them to Kampong Gelam. She points to Ming Sing Flowers at 98 Arab Street, whom they do business with, and shares her family’s relationship with the nearby Town Clinic on Beach Road: “Apparently, they’ve seen my grandfather, my uncle and even my cousins. I go there now also because I’ve been working here and it’s more convenient.” The family’s long relationship with the medical clinic is representative of the tight-knit relationships that have formed between the older businesses in the area.

These close relationships cement the bond that these older businesses have with Kampong Gelam. “To a certain extent, I do feel that the company’s identity is tied to this street; there is a sense of heritage,” says Ms Terina, “but it’s hard and tough; and not just for my business.” She wistfully recalls the rattan maker who once occupied the shop next door, and the blacksmiths who used to line the street at Sultan Gate.

Despite witnessing many changes, Ms Terina remains hopeful about the future of Kin Soon: “I’m confident that we’ll still be around in five years’ time, but I just don’t know how, and in what format.” Her plan is to further digitise the business and draw out the local elements of the Minton brand. The next big challenge will be meeting new standards of sustainability in the industry, but like previous stormy waters she has sailed through, it is her positive and adaptable attitude that will continue to keep Kin Soon afloat.

Interviewed by Annisa Fajriani, Victoria See, and Monalisa Barai on 14 May 2022.