101 Arab Street, Singapore 199797
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Taking Things as They Come


Name of business:

Basharahil Bros Batik

Business location:

101 Arab Street, Singapore 199797

Business type:





Basharahil Bros Batik has been selling handmade batik for more than 80 years. Currently run by third-generation owner Ms Warda Abd. Basharahil, she recounts how the business has adapted and remained resilient over the years. . Basharahil Bros Batik has since made a name for itself in Arab Street, known for its friendly service and intricately designed garments.

Hung at a central spot on the back wall of the shop, a half portrait of an elegantly dressed Peranakan lady in traditional sarong kebaya steals your attention from the array of colourful batik fabrics displayed and stacked on shelves and racks. Her portrait, painted by an Indonesian artist from the 1950s, serves as an important identifier for the shop, says Warda Abd. Basharahil, current and third-generation owner. There was an occasion when the painting was removed and it resulted in customers walking past, unaware that they had missed their destination. “I was sitting [at the shop], and I saw them walk past muttering, ‘No, no, not this one ah’, and I’m running out and calling, ‘Hey auntie, [number] 101 is here!’ They really remembered that portrait. So, we hung it back again lah,” she laughs.

Established in 1939 by Warda’s grandfather, Basharahil Bros Batik is more than a decade older than the shop’s iconic portrait. Their first place of business was at Change Alley – they did not have a physical shop back then, only a table displaying batik pieces. They subsequently moved to their current address in the mid-1940s. As Warda’s grandfather died young, her father took over the business, which primarily sold batik sarong kain to Peranakan customers. From there, the business grew and it even had a thriving wholesale business which was supported by a team of sales executives. Its wholesale business sold products to major department stores and exported them to Malaysia, Thailand and to a lesser extent, Japan. Other clientele included boutiques which bought batik to make cheongsams.

Warda can never forget how her uncle helped introduce batik to the Japanese market in the 1960s. “One very enterprising Japanese man came by. He was just walking here, and he saw these batiks, and he said it was a good opportunity to sell them in Japan. Together with him, we introduced the batik there; we held an exhibition.” The Japanese received the exhibition well, garnering a newfound appreciation for batik. It was a fruitful collaboration for Basharahil Bros Batik and their Japanese business partner.

Strong retail business and tourist spending complemented income from the wholesale business. Basharahil Bros Batik gets its batik supplies from Indonesia’s batik-making region in Pekalongan, Central Java. This arrangement was initiated by Warda’s late father in the early 1960s. Over the years, the business has lost its wholesale edge as Indonesia became more accessible and customers are able to purchase directly from the source. Demand for batik sarong and traditional garb from major department stores also dwindled, as the new generation of store owners decided to turn their attention away from the fabric. To help offset the decline in the wholesale business, Warda turned to ready-made garments – men’s shirts, women’s dresses, and tablecloths. However, what has stayed the same is the business’ focus of handmade batik, regardless of whether it is hand-drawn or hand-blocked from cottage industries. It also sells the less expensive printed variety, which is produced by Indonesian factories.

To sustain the business, Basharahil Bros Batik has adapted to face the changes in the industry. With the rapid development of technology in the past few decades, customers have drastically changed the way they shop. Although Warda has been trying to pivot to online platforms with a company website and social media presence, she did not have the expertise to create visuals and content to entice online shoppers. It is also difficult to sell batik online because of its detailed patterns. A photograph would not be able to accurately capture the colour shades of the fabric.

Hence, Warda looks for other ways to boost her business. For instance, she embraces the transformation of Arab Street as the new cafes and restaurants have brought more foot traffic to the area.  For traditional businesses like Basharahil Bros Batik, more visitors are always a welcome because they are potential customers for the shops. To catch the eye of passers-by, Warda displays her wares openly at the entrance of the shop. “I put all the small, small items, like batik pouches out in front, or some small boy’s batik shirts. When people come, they will see, and they will buy.” Sure enough, visitors who wander around Arab Street find little treasures at Basharahil Bros Batik that they can buy and bring home.

Warda intends to stay in Kampong Gelam and carry on with the business for at least the next 10 years. Her best memories of Kampong Gelam are of the customers, bustling wholesale businesses with traders from the region coming to trade and busloads of tourists shopping in the precinct. Though much has changed with the times, she wants customers to always remember that Basharahil Bros Batik is all about great service. When interested buyers want to have a better look at the batik, they are welcome to unfold the entire stretch of the batik fabric and take their time to choose what patterns they prefer. She explains, “We always tell customers, ‘Don’t worry. If you open [up the fabric], if you don’t buy, it’s okay. We’re not going to push you and the next time you’ll be so scared to come in… We don't want you to leave the shop feeling regret that you bought this because they pushed.’ So, we want the customers to remember that they’re feeling comfortable.” Although it requires tremendous patience to attend to every customer’s preference, Warda finds that it pays off—the shop receives many returning customers, with some even recommending the business to friends. Warda hopes that business can always continue like this, with happy customers and fulfilling days of selling batik. She will do what she can to sustain Basharahil Bros Batik for the years to come.

Interviewed by Annisa Fajriani, Victoria See, and Monalisa Barai on 17 May 2022.