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Brunei's maker businesses bring together the old and new
August 24, 2018
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These four Brunei maker businesses are bringing together the old and the new

There’s a certain beauty in watching things being done the ‘old school’ way by maker businesses. It could be pure nostalgia or a particular romanticism watching masters of their craft hard at work to create something from scratch.

What if we told you that there are companies in Brunei that do precisely that and more? In fact, these little companies are growing and creating their own niche market in a world where next to everything can be copied and mass produced.

We’ve managed to get in touch with three of these small companies to learn more about their business of selling handmade and homegrown products and services that are winning hearts all around Brunei by bringing back the old in a new way.

BenchLab- Reclaiming productive weekends

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BenchLab started in April 2018 as an educational platform for learning skill that isn’t immediately available anywhere in Brunei. Have you ever thought about lettering? Or making your own dress? Or learning how to use the espresso machine? Screenwriting? Drawing portrait? BenchLab has got you covered.

A big part of why this is possible is because BenchLab runs on collaboration: they connect people with the talent (the makers, creatives, artisans, and the skilled) to the people with the curiosity to discover their potential in learning new skills.

BenchLab founder, Wan Nurul Naszeerah Mohammed Zainal Abidin Ariff, says that the workshops are curated based on current trends.

“The young people in Brunei are more interested in making things from scratch, as opposed to buying ready-made items.”

The classes also foster a kinesthetic learning environment in a social setting, which is something that Wan Nurul Naszeerah replicated from her experience of being in the United States where she studied for six years.

“It’s about building a relationship between the instructors and students,” she said.

BenchLab classes are run in Anggerek Desa at the makerspace or at partner venues. Its really that simple. You just pay registration while BenchLab and their collaborators will provide all the equipment to run classes. It doesn’t get easier than that.


Chaps & Rebels- A new look with old-school cuts

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Chaps & Rebels started as a one-man show in 2013, but when the barbershop opened a few years later, it had a look that was distinctively vintage.

“I wanted to pay homage to the trade itself, hence the retro look,” says Jae Ahmad Khan, the quiet force behind Chaps & Rebels.

He wears the updated-traditional look well, mini badges creating an indiscernible map on his barber’s apron. But Jae didn’t just start for the sake of retro.

“There was a scarcity of speciality barbershops for men in Brunei. I knew this problem since 20 years ago and decided to do something about it,” said the self-taught barber.

Even after a few years in business, Jae remains humble about his achievements in starting a business from the ground up and building a reputation as one of the more well-known retro barbers in Brunei.

“I took it upon myself to learn to barber on my own, from others, took up courses and I’m still learning about it every day.”


Kyna Popsicles- Ice cream nostalgia on wheels

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The owners of Kyna Popsicles, Hj Muhd Khairul Yadiy Hj Damit and his wife, Nur Amalina Junaidi, literally trolleyed their way into public fame.

During Bandarku Ceria days in the capital, you will see the couple cycling their bubblegum blue pushcart, evoking memories of the friendly neighbourhood ice cream seller that seems to have a knack for appearing in the right places at the right time.

“We started with a retro theme and we knew that it would generate a lot of attention,” he said. It also helps that Yadiy looks the part with his newsboy cap and white shirt with the sleeves rolled up, naturally.
These days, the couple spend more time at their popsicle parlour at Kontena Park where they continue to excite customers with new flavours.

“Retro is in, but the real question is how can we progress? We have to bring something different and new.”

The popsicles have been such a hit that the couple has decided to protect their prized business by applying for a trademark to protect the bread and butter of their business.

“It’s a small business, now, but we have a bigger dream,” he said. And we believe them.


Pins & Needles Studio- Slow fashion for kids

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Rasyeedah Samid (also known as Bob) initially started making clothes for her nieces and nephews until everyone started messaging their requests.

Those were the early days that paved the way for what would become a full-blown clothing business. But not without a dash of inspiration of course.

During a honeymoon trip in Japan, Bob walked the streets of the Nishijin District in Kyoto – famed for its weaving – to catch a pop up of Chuzaburo Tanaka’s personal collection of Japanese Boro (a historical textile art). That experience got the ball rolling.

In 2016, she started Pins & Needles Studio, which prides itself on only using certified organic materials and ethically sourced fabrics. In other words, ‘slow fashion’ which demands care and attention when it comes to making clothes. Just like the good old times.

“We live in a world where kidswear is often made by other kids,” she said, echoing the need for greater transparency in the clothing industry.

“I think being progressive is about making conscious (buying) decisions knowing that it will have a positive impact on the world.”

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