71 Sultan Gate, Singapore 198496
Get Directions

Batik for All


Name of business:

Kiah’s Gallery

Business location:

71 Sultan Gate, Singapore 198496

Business type:





Founded by Mdm Yati Hairi in 2011, Kiah’s Gallery was named after her mother. The store was born out of Yati’s desire to promote batik as a piece of everyday clothing. Having always loved batik, Yati and her family hope to change the public’s perceptions towards it through her inventive creations.

The grounds of Sultan Gate are paved with Malay history. The road ends to reveal the former palace, Istana Kampong Gelam, which exudes an aura of quiet dignity. Once the royal seat of Malay sultans in Singapore, this national monument now houses the Malay Heritage Centre, a museum and cultural centre for the Malay community. To its right, a row of one-storey buildings that are smaller and cosier than the shophouses that populate Kampong Gelam flanks the road. One of these buildings is Kiah’s Gallery, a small but distinctive Malay family business that specialises in batik clothing.

Named after her mother, Kiah’s Gallery was founded by Mdm Yati Hairi in 2011. This business began from her desire to promote batik as a piece of everyday clothing. Mdm Yati and her family have always loved the batik design and wanted to subvert existing assumptions surrounding batik. “People are always thinking, ‘Oh, it’s a traditional look’,” Mdm Yati’s husband, who helps Mdm Yati with marketing and customer service, explains. “We want to change their mindsets. Batik can be adapted to the times and is actually meant for everyone.”

The shop is a boutique for custom, handmade batik design and it also doubles up as a batik art gallery. With glass panels serving as the storefront, Mdm Yati’s works are displayed in clear view; donned by mannequins, hung evenly on clothes racks, and folded in neat stacks on shelves and tables. The store provides a space for Mdm Yati to showcase batik as individualised art pieces, in the hopes that it will catch the eye of curious visitors and encourage them to appreciate the exquisite designs. Further inside the store sits a wooden worktable, covered in fabric and a grid that demarcates guidelines on cutting and measuring fabric.

Each batik piece is carefully and meticulously handmade by Mdm Yati, the sole tailor and designer of the business. When she carries out the process of batik dyeing, she applies wax on the fabric to create detailed patterns. Though her cloth is sourced from Indonesia, many of her designs are customised. Mdm Yati puts a modern spin on the batik design and weaves in other influences such as Chinese, Indian, and Japanese styles. Learning to sew batik clothing on her own, she strived to undo the stereotypes associated with batik and show the versatility of batik designs. Conventional batik designs tend to be darker in colour and are typically worn as one-piece garments such as the shawl. Mdm Yati moves beyond this convention by using bright and vivid colours, as well as by repurposing the batik as shirts, dresses, and pants. She even created cloth masks utilising the excess batik during the pandemic, when mask-wearing became a new norm.

To find new sources of inspiration, Mdm Yati and her husband travel to different regions of Indonesia. Each region is unique, with their own signature batik motifs that vary according to their culture and preferences. Mdm Yati and her husband then consolidate their findings and tweak their designs in ways that they think will best appeal to their customers in Singapore.

As such, Mdm Yati fuses cultures together seamlessly in her garments. Her best creations include Cheongsams and Kimonos adorned with the batik pattern. She also applies the Shibori technique to the process of creating batik. Shibori is a Japanese dyeing technique in which the fabric is first folded, tied or stitched before being dyed. Parallels can be drawn between Shibori and batik. Both textiles are made by resist-dyeing—a method that uses materials to prevent dye from reaching the cloth, which creates patterns in the process. The combination of both techniques creates even more intricate patterns. Mdm Yati incorporates the use of eco prints as well, using real leaves in the dyeing process to create leaf patterns as part of the batik. With each design she creates, Mdm Yati takes great care and consideration to ensure that each one blossoms into a unique work of art. At times, the work may be challenging and Mdm Yati has an ever-increasing backlog as she takes one and a half months to finish a piece. However, Mdm Yati does not mind; in fact, she is always delighted when customers feel comfortable and satisfied with their batik clothing.

Kampong Gelam, which is described as an “art village” by Mdm Yati, is precisely where Kiah’s Gallery is meant to be. “Because it’s an artwork. When you wear it, you’re like, ‘Wah’. Batik is something that needs to be treasured,” Mdm Yati says. Kiah’s Gallery carries a charm of its own, with its beautiful batik designs, warm shop owners, and its resident cat – Kopi. Addressed jokingly as a model and an icon for Kiah’s Gallery, the 8-year-old feline easily wins the hearts of any passer-by, enticing them to linger in the store for a little longer. Mdm Yati always welcomes visitors to her store, regardless of whether they come to coo at her cat or to ask about her batik designs. For Mdm Yati, nothing gives her more pleasure than when visitors leave with a newfound appreciation for batik.

Interviewed by May Hui, Koh Kai Yee, and Ng Wee Liang on 23 May 2022.