We love shining the spotlight on local businesses with an interesting backstory. Here we speak to Indonesian twin sisters and trained architects SANTHI and SARI, the founders and designers of the online store Binary Style. The locally-based brand is popular for its Singapore-inspired cotton and silk scarves, which make great gifts for visiting friends and family!
What’s the story behind Binary Style?
Binary Style was born out of creative itch. We grew up doing a lot of art, from sketches and paintings to watercolour drawings. Our bedroom walls in Bandung, Indonesia were covered with “murals” – to the chagrin of our parents and landlord. However, after high school we went to architecture schools instead of art school because our parents encouraged us to take a more “sensible” degree. Architecture seemed to be a compromise, so we went for it; but we told each other that one day we would do something in art together.
After obtaining our degrees, we got busy with life. The idea was placed on the back-burner. I went on to be a practising architect and lived in Bali for a while, working on several hospitality projects, while Sari became a junior lecturer in an architecture school in Indonesia. Not long after, we flew to Belgium to pursue further studies. There I met my future husband, a fellow Indonesian student. I followed him to Singapore when he found a job as a university lecturer here in 2002. After living in Barcelona, Denhaag and Delft to pursue her PHD and work, Sari stayed in Europe until 2013. She eventually came to Singapore after she secured a job in a think-tank group under NUS.
In 2014, Sari found herself in between jobs and started to make a series of artworks inspired by her life here. She’s an avid walker and runner, and likes to explore Singapore’s forested areas and nature parks; naturally, this is reflected in her artwork. When she showed me the artworks, it was an “aha” moment. We were suddenly reminded 0f our long-delayed dream. After exploring several ideas on what to do with the artworks, we decided to turn them into wearable art – scarves.
What makes your scarves special?
Binary Style scarves are special because they tell Singapore’s stories. The designs are inspired by everything Singaporean, but somehow they also reflect our own cultural heritage.
Some people mention that the scarves’ aesthetic reminds them of batik even though it’s not something we deliberately do or try to achieve. We don’t emulate batik motifs in our design; in fact our designs are quite modern. Growing up in Indonesia where batik is a big part of life somehow informed our design decisions. For example, we are subconsciously attracted to certain colour schemes that most people associate with batik. But most importantly, our scarves are also storytelling fabrics. So, yes, our designs are influenced by batik but not in an obvious way.
How do you come up with the designs?
Inspirations come every moment and everywhere. We’re inspired by our daily life, things we see and experience in Singapore, and often by things we read in the local newspaper or books. And we’re inspired in particular by nature, the multiculturalism and cultural heritage of Singapore.
Where are the scarves made?
We partner with a small-sized, women-led silk factory in Suzhou to produce our scarves. Suzhou has been producing silk for more than 4000 years; it’s the silk capital of China.
If you had to choose one favourite print, which would it be?
The Tiong Bahru print – it’s one of our first designs that we still sell today. The design features the beautiful architecture of the district, which we were drawn to as architects. But it’s not just that. This particular scarf design tells a multi-layered story of Tiong Bahru; about its community, gentrified neighbourhood and even local luminaries. For us, this is what Binary Style is about. It’s about telling stories through our eyes.
What do you enjoy most about running the business?
Meeting new people and sharing with them our brand stories. If they are expats or tourists, we love that they can learn something new about Singapore through our scarves. If they are locals, we really like that regardless of our origin, we have a shared knowledge about Singapore. Binary Style enables us to connect with different groups of people at different levels.
What’s coming up for the brand?
We are super excited to launch our first in-house designed apparel collection this November. After getting so many requests by our customers to put our signature bold prints on clothes, we finally are doing it. For this collection, we’re working with 100 percent cotton to create a tropical-appropriate collection. This will be added to our latest collection of cotton scarves, which have been very well received.
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