Leaving legacies: How multi-generational S'pore family businesses stood the test of time

ST PHOTOS: GIN TAY, TIMOTHY DAVID, NG SOR LUAN, MARK CHEONG

An unspoken feat that comes with running a multi-generational family business is the weathering of multiple crises in  one a lifetime.

Particularly in the style and retail industry, where shoppers tightening their purse strings often means yours is the first luxury to go. Some have seen wars; others have had a taste of pandemic-era retail with the 2003 Sars (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) epidemic.

All are focused on continuing their families’ legacies, even if it means one day taking succession outside of the family. This National Day, The Straits Times shines the spotlight on four family businesses that have stood the test of time.


Leaving legacies: Passion and pressure drive 2nd-generation jeweller

Jeweller Thomis Kwan, 67, keeps his entire life in five plastic drawers.

Inside, packed to the brim, are thousands of unfinished, handcrafted Peranakan jewellery made over the course of 20 years. Some are polished to a shine and just missing diamonds; others are skeletal designs yet to be plated with gold.

"This is my whole life," says the second-generation director of home-grown Foundation Jewellers.

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Leaving legacies: Mother-daughter duo blend custom solutions for skincare woes

Working with your mother can be a trying experience.

But Ms Kelly Keak, 36, who runs the Singapore franchise of Japanese skincare and spa brand MTM Labo with her mother, Madam Susan Teng, 62, believes she has found a balance.

When she first joined the company, Ms Keak used to take afternoon naps in the back room - a habit her mother soon forced her out of.

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Leaving legacies: 3rd-generation Indian fashion boutique designs couture for all

While others in fashion may be turning to loungewear in the pandemic, fashion designer Kavita Thulasidas is going against the current and launching couture.

In September, the managing director of Indian fashion boutique Stylemart will debut an "exclusive, upmarket bridal collection" under an eponymous label. It is a step up from her usual custom pieces, for "brides who want something special", she says.

Call her crazy, but the plucky 46-year-old sees opportunity in crisis. After all, she was handed the reins of her family business in 1999, amid the Asian financial crisis.

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Leaving legacies: Heritage purveyor of belts and perfumes for 87 years

Few small businesses can claim to have stayed in the same shop unit for 87 years. VSS Varusai Mohamed & Sons has staked its spot at 719 North Bridge Road, in the heart of Kampong Glam, since 1934.

But its owners and staff will bid a bittersweet farewell to the space at the end of the month, when the store shifts next door. They are moving out due to rental issues including rising costs, says third-generation assistant manager Fauzia Rani, who is in her 30s.

The unassuming store has sold religious accessories to hundreds of thousands of Muslims since its inception.

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