This Third-Gen Entrepreneur Keeps S’pore’s Last Rattan Weaving Biz Alive

The art of rattan weaving has long passed its peak in Singapore.

Rattan is used for a variety of purposes, including furniture making, crafts, and as building materials or construction tools.

In the 1960s and 1970s, the rattan industry in Singapore reached its peak, driven by global trade and rapid national development.

However, by the time the 1990s rolled around, the rattan industry began to see a slow downward spiral as demand began to decline.

Today, rattan weaving is one of Singapore’s dying trades, and it is said that only one practicing artisan remains on the island.

Singapore’s last rattan weaver

Goh Kiok Seng, the founder of the rattan and bamboo company Hak Sheng & Co, is believed to be Singapore’s last rattan weaver.

The company was started in 1969 by Kiok Seng’s father, who operated out of a Lavender Street store.

This 80-year-old craftsman has been weaving since his twenties.

In an interview with the National Heritage Board, he shared that the 1970s was the peak period of the rattan industry and the family had even opened a factory in Chai Chee to meet the huge demand.

In 1975 they moved to a store in Kallang Bahru and have been working there ever since.

hak sheng & co in kallang bahru
Hak Sheng & Co in Kallang Bahru / Image Credit: Hak Sheng & Co

Hak Sheng & Co is currently run by Kok Sieng’s son, Patrick, who took the reins in 1994.

The youngest Goh had just left the Navy and was only 21, but he quickly learned the ropes.

Since taking over the store, he has helped diversify the business to include the import and export of bamboo products.

Some of its best sellers include satay bamboo skewers, bamboo leaves used to wrap the dumplings and otahand materials used for interior decoration.

Falling demand for hand-woven rattan products

hak sheng & co products
Some of the products available from Hak Sheng & Co. / Image Credit: Hak Sheng & Co.

Kok Sieng told the National Heritage Board that demand for hand-woven rattan products has declined dramatically.

This is in part due to the replacement of many household products with plastic and rubber, and construction companies have also switched to modern machinery.

In the past, bamboo products had a multitude of uses, from baskets used for marketing to trays for washing. ikan bilis, and even police shields.

The father-son duo shared that handmade rattan products are extremely durable and long lasting. In fact, some customers have used their products for “over 30 years”.

Hand-woven rattan products are extremely ‘durable and traditional’, and Patrick says it’s a ‘shame’ that people tend to opt for more modern products these days.

Place of rattan in modern society

Even though Patrick took over the business activities of Hak Sheng & Co, he did not learn the art of rattan weaving from his father.

He said rattan weaving is considered an “outdated skill” and the craft is likely to disappear as members of his family have shown no interest in learning the skill.

However, the Goh are receiving order requests that show how rattan perhaps has a place in modern society.

Last year, Kok Sieng wove a rattan cornucopia that was perhaps the “largest rattan horn ever made in Singapore and around the world.”

rattan cornucopia hak sheng & co
A hand-woven rattan cornucopia by Goh Kiok Seng / Image Credit: Beverly’s Blooms

The Horn of Plenty was featured in the Floral Fantasy Dome at Gardens by the Bay for their fall exhibit last year.

From designing bespoke rattan accessories to importing and exporting bamboo and rattan, Hak Sheng & Co’s ability to stay nimble and diversify is what helps keep the business afloat. .

In a separate interview with Beverly’s Blooms, Kok Sieng said how Patrick chooses to further develop the business is up to him.

“This case is not about dollars and cents. As long as everyone is happy, let’s stay that way and work as a family, ”said Patrick.

Featured Image Credit: Beverly’s Blooms

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Jothi Venkat

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