Cover The Suvarnabumi range from Ong Shunmugam now includes furniture and home accessories handcrafted in rattan

Homegrown womenswear brand Ong Shunmugam makes further headway into the realm of home design with its colourful array of rattan furniture and homeware, launched as part of its Suvarnabumi collection. We offer the first look.

While many of us had mixed results at making the most of our time indoors, homegrown fashion designer Priscilla Shunmugam was remarkably productive; the founder of fashion brand Ong Shunmugam designed her brand new rattan collection while in London during the Covid-19 lockdown period earlier this year.

Launched on Sept 19, it’s also the first-ever furniture range by the brand. Comprising 13 pieces of furniture and home accessories, the collection includes armchairs, a dining table, decorative screen, baskets, trays and planters; all items will be available for pre-order on the Ong Shunmugam website.

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Crafted as a continuation of the Suvarnabumi home collection, these handmade rattan pieces are true to the designer’s eclectic style, celebrating both the beauty of the material and her love of patterns; Shunmugam had previously debuted her 11-piece tableware range last December.

“We tried our best to take a different path by ignoring the common references of rattan furniture and upping the design value and differentiation quotient in a way that feels instinctual to us,” says Shunmugam, of the new collection.

“Most of our pieces had no template to build upon, meaning we had to draw from scratch and the craftsmen had to build from our drawings. We also introduced the use of foreign elements like jacquard fabrics and batik in particular, and challenged the craftsmen with technically demanding requests to merge materials and structures together in ways that hadn’t been attempted before.”

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For this collection, the woven material is derived from the Rotan Manau, Rotan Mantang and Rotan Sega species from trees in Malaysia to create the rattan structure of each piece, while the striped binding sported on the armrests of the chairs are made with synthetic rattan from Indonesia.

The vibrant designs featured on the armchairs include traditional motifs inspired by batik prints as well as jacquard fabrics with floral patterns. The tactile mix of textiles also creates an original look that conveys the brand’s multicultural ethos.

The variety of rattan planters look almost certain to be a hit; available as freestanding units and hanging pots, which also taps onto the continuing popularity of indoor gardening here in Singapore.

It was significant for Shunmugum to utilise rattan as the primary material for this collection, particularly due to its artisanal heritage in Southeast Asia.

“Our rattan pieces are made in Malaysia, from locally grown rattan—this was a conscious decision because Malaysia-harvested rattan is of a better grade than what you might get in Vietnam, China, or the Philippines,” she says. “While labour costs are of course higher, having a staff currently stranded in Malaysia meant that we could monitor the production from start to end; it also allowed us to document bits of the process to hopefully enhance understanding and appreciation for a largely undervalued craft.”

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Ultimately, Shunmugam hopes to celebrate the richness of the rattan-making artisanal tradition, while offering a creative take on the material.

“We spent some months trying to understand the many strands of the full picture—the cultivation of rattan, the manufacturing challenges but also the social importance of rattan to some of the most marginalised people of Southeast Asia. A combination of forest clearing and Western conservation practices are changing the industry on multiple levels, and it feels like we’re looking at both imminent biological and cultural loss; we felt that was potential for us to come in and contribute our design values to the industry.”

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