Santhi and Sari Tunas create stunning textiles that project Singapore for their Binary Style label
My cousin bought two scarves before she left for her new home in Canada. Homesickness for Singapore gets worse during the dark winter months. The scarves she bought from Binary Style include a cotton silk ‘Winged Friends in the Foliage’ (Singapore birds in nature), and ‘Let’s Play’ (HDB scene of leisure things). If it’s Singapore you want, Binary Style scarves and textiles capture mood and scene perfectly.
The humour, colour and lines of the textile designs touch upon the personalities of the twin sisters who created them. The Singapore permanent residents from Indonesia left their careers as architects to pursue their love of graphic and textile design, and to set up their own label and enterprise. Binary Style is known for its quality scarves and head wraps that reflect Singapore traditions and narratives. One of my favourite designs is ‘All Things Vintage Series: Keep Cool’, which brings to mind satay parties and margaritas.
A chat with Santhi and Sari Tunas, architects turned textile designers and owners of Binary Style
1 Your beautiful designs are rich in colour and narrative and often with a sense of humour. Does all this come from your culture and personalities?
Santhi: Some people tell stories through written or spoken words. We tell stories through colours and patterns. A highly referred local fashion designer told us that our artworks are very ‘batik’. We were a bit taken aback by his comment at that moment. We are not trying to emulate batik; we felt that he was trying to box us into a category like cultural-stereotyping. It took us a while to digest his words. We finally understood it is not about the style per se, but the overall visuals. For some reason, our works evoke batik aesthetic. I think it is the combination of colours and compositions. I guess growing up in Indonesia where batik is a big part of our cultulre – rubbed off on us. It is not a bad thing, and we take it in our stride; it adds depth to our works. We sometimes infuse a sense of humour into our works because we think we should not take ourselves too seriously all the time.
2 As architects what vernacular Singapore buildings are close to your heart? And what would be your dream office space and flagship retail space in terms of design and architecture?
Santhi: I love Tiong Bahru conservation estate. The architecture is visually pleasing in its simplicity – not heavily ornamented. It is a great human-scaled estate, and I think that is why people love this area consciously or unconsciously. Scale and proportion are important ingredients in architecture and city planning.
Architecturally, our dream office space will be inspired by the black and white bungalows with high ceilings and plenty of natural light. It will reflect Singapore multi-cultural heritage and climate. The building materials will be sourced from the region. We are very visual people, so our working space must be visually appealing. We are not into bare industrial aesthetic as that feels very cold and detached from our Asian heritage.
Our flagship retail space will be like an extension of our working space. It needs to reflect our story. We like our customers to get personal with us and to know us better from the shop experience. Beyond aesthetic aspects, our dream working space should be a safe working environment, it should be supportive and inclusive.
3 Do you apply design elements from architecture to your graphic art and creations?
Sari: Yes, frequently. We like to include elements of iconic architecture in our scarf and textile designs. We have included facades and architectural details that are recognisable as well as those that are less known. Among many examples are those of Tiong Bahru, Chinatown, Little India and Joo Chiat. Although we also like to draw botanical elements, we have a tendency to keep coming back to our architectural roots.
4 Business has become a large part of your lives as designers and entrepreneurs. What top 3 lessons have you learned about business?
– Always give customers reasons to love your brand and keep them excited about your brand.
– Put yourself in your customers’ shoes, give your customers value for their money.
– Be personal. As business owners, we are the best spokes persons for our brand.
5 I would love to send my homesick friend in Paris a Binary Style bandana for her golden retriever. Would exclusive pet wear be on your project books?
Santhi: At the moment, we have no plans to add exclusive pet wear collection to our permanent offering but we are soon launching a limited-edition doggie bandana and matching ‘human’ scarf. This is in collaboration with Daniel Boey whose second book is out soon in July 2019. Daniel is a passionate supporter of adopt-don’t-shop principle when it comes to pet ownership. His new book is about responsible pet ownership.
6 How do you sketch your ideas?
We typically sketch ideas on paper, then later develop them on ipad and computer. We continue to explore newer technologies to visualise and develop our ideas. The possibilities now are endless and super exciting.
7 What Singapore food do you crave for after a hard day at work?
Santhi: I love fried fish soup (with milk). It is just so comforting.
Sari: Definitely char kway teow – it is so sinfully good. I like it smoky with lots of cockles.
8 If a young student wants to switch from architecture to graphic art and product design, and start a business the way you have, what advice would you give? Santhi: Don’t be afraid to try but make an informed decision, and don’t be shy to ask for help or advice. It is okay to make mistakes, but you have to learn from your mistakes.