Thriving Businesses That Rely on Upgrading Knowledge and Skills
By Morana LefilliatreFEATURE
Penang is a city of small businesses, and whatever living heritage George Town continues to exude relies heavily on craftsmen offering a surprising range of services and goods. The Covid-19 pandemic affected such businesses most severely, but the people behind these, many fueled by passion and dedication, have kept going and continued learning and improving their craft throughout the pandemic. Penang Monthly highlights some of these trades and the people behind them.
Vijaya Supramaniam worked as a sales coordinator, but after getting married and having children, she decided to take the leap to become what she had always wanted to be — a makeup artist. Being self-employed, Vijaya has more freedom to schedule appointments according to her availability. She also enjoys being able to express herself artistically and creatively in her work.
Her career change involved attending many different courses organised by the government as well as private and international institutions, most lasting only a day or two. In these courses, she learned how to apply makeup for different occasions, she got to know the various types of makeup brushes and their distinct functions, and she became acquainted with different kinds of hair styling, et cetera.
Vijaya started as a freelancer, offering only makeup services before finally opening her own shop in June 2019 — Jaishin Beauty & Bridal. This offers customers a wide range of services from makeup, manicure/pedicure, hair colouring/straightening, eyebrow embroidery, eyelash extension, henna tattoo and facials, among others.
“You have to be patient, passionate and honest in this line of business,” Vijaya says. Makeup, hair and beauty trends are constantly changing, and beauticians and makeup artists like Vijaya have to be aware of the latest trends and regularly upgrade their skills. She also believes that using good quality products helps build trust and rapport with customers.
Although having her own business has its perks, Vijaya thinks that she would not have been able to persist without passion. While business is good now, it had not always been so, and it took some time for her business to take off, especially with the many Covid-19 lockdowns.
Deepak Buxani comes from a long line of tailors. He started working at his family’s shop after school at the age of 12; at first, doing small tasks such as folding fabric and arranging bags, before moving on to more important ones over the years. He learned the craft by observing his father and watching him interact with customers.
Deciding that he liked tailoring enough to continue working in the field, he went to Hong Kong to learn more about the trade after graduating high school. In 1988, upon returning to Penang, he established his own tailoring shop, DeePee-Tailor and Collections, with his wife.
At DeePee-Tailor and Collections, the husband and wife duo principally takes care of the customers’ measurements and fittings while his team of workers helps with the remaining tasks. They also advise customers on the types of designs and materials, matching these to a wide range of fabric samples. Deepak and his wife personally handpick the fabrics they use, from linen and wool to cotton, and take care to avoid polyester, which he says is unsuitable for our weather because it is less breathable and does not absorb sweat. As a tailor, he worked seven days a week and at all hours.
“Tailoring is a lifelong learning process that requires skills, strong personal qualities and knowledge of the different tailoring techniques and fabrics,” Deepak says. “You need to have patience, flexibility and passion, and you need to be willing to continuously learn new, emerging patterns, styles and designs to understand what customers want.”
Deepak makes it his mission to ensure that his customers are happy and satisfied with the end product. In this, he seems to be successful, as DeePee-Tailor and Collections has a long list of loyal customers, both local and foreign, spanning generations. And with tourists coming back to Penang, things are looking up again for Deepak.
Tucked among the row of heritage shophouses along Beach Street, Le Petit Four is one of the few patisseries in George Town offering handcrafted French pastries. Its proprietor and pastry chef, Ooi Hooi Shing, used to work as an electronic engineer before deciding to follow her calling to become a pastry chef.
For a year, Hooi Shing attended the prestigious Le Cordon Bleu School in Paris and learned how to make pastries, viennoiseries (croissants and pain au chocolats, for example) and entremets (visually stunning and intricate mini cakes). After graduating with a Diplôme de Pâtisserie and completing a three-month internship at the Shangri-La Paris, she moved back to Penang and opened Le Petit Four in 2018.
In spite of the establishment’s roaring success now, Penangites were initially unfamiliar with the concept of French patisseries, which specialise in pastries, viennoiseries and entremets, and would ask for main meals or pastas. Le Petit Four continues to offer only pastries and cakes; their flaky and buttery croissants, which are highly popular, are permanently on the menu, while other items change from time to time – for instance, a lemon meringue tart could be replaced with a basil lemon tart.
Hooi Shing concedes that being a pastry chef is tough; it requires passion, dedication, discipline and organisational and technical skills. Her work hours are long – from 5am until 6 to 7pm – and all items on the menu are made daily to ensure their freshness and quality. When baking, corners cannot be cut and all steps and processes must be diligently followed. Failing, for instance, to constantly check the texture of the dough and ensure that it had had sufficient time to rest or forgetting to adjust baking time and temperature for different types of pastries can lead to disastrous results.
As the little patisserie fills up with customers again post-pandemic, Hooi Shing feels that she can do this for the rest of her life, buoyed as she often is by all the compliments she gets for her creations.
holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree (Hons.) in Business Management from Sunderland University, United Kingdom. Some of her interests include environmental, heritage, and cultural issues.