The Story of Rumah Bebe
The Rumah Bebe history begins in 1995 with a nyonya named Bebe Seet, who was spurred on to learn the traditional Peranakan art of beading slippers when she could not get a pair of antique “kasut manek” (beaded slippers worn by the “nyonyas,” Peranakan women). As far back as the 1900s or even earlier, young “nyonyas” were required to be skillful in beading their own footwear and other decorative items for her bridal chamber. With only the finest of minuscule glass beads, she stitches them on, one by one, to form a shoe-face. This form of art has been passed down from the past generation, from mothers to daughters. However, after the Second World War, interest in beaded slippers waned. Beading became a dying craft. No one was teaching Peranakan beading, but Bebe managed to seek a friend’s mother who taught her the basic techniques. Long after the elderly lady’s death, Bebe made much progress on her own, researching the history of beading done by the “nyonyas” of the past. She started holding classes to share the joy of beading with others who are equally passionate about the craft.
In 1999, as the beading classes became popular, she set up an independent boutique,” Bebe’s Niche” in Katong. The boutique specialised in beading classes, but also retailed beaded slippers, handbags and embroidered kebayas.
A year later, she moved into bigger premises at Katong Village. Tolerating 3 years of operating her business in an environment of bad locale and poor landlord management, she moved again in 2003.
The old 1928 shop house which Bebe chose as her next boutique was ideal – its run-down state gave her scope to re-design. Friends rallied to help with ideas, contacts and advice in the renovation, and in a speedy eight months, with a new name, Rumah Bebe was ready to open her doors to welcome 80 overseas delegates of the 2003 PATA Convention, a Singapore Tourism Board event.
Today the tradition for exquisite, detailed and expertly handcrafted work continues at Rumah Bebe ... where Bebe, the true Peranakan nyonya at heart, produces masterpieces of beadwork that is truly heart-warming to the discerning connoisseurs of Peranakan arts. Her signature beaded shoes are always a celebration of colours, textures and glamour. Still unrivalled in her distinguished tastes and with many copies in its wake, her passion for beading is still the driving force, and nothing gives her greater pleasure than to humbly stitch, bead by bead, a pair of beaded slippers for her clients.
In addition to creating art, Bebe is a dedicated teaching artiste. She conducts workshops in conjunction with her exhibits, locally and overseas and is active in contributing to community projects. Single-handedly, she runs her own little business of producing beaded items and other related heritage products. Her brainchild of a “Shop-in-a-House”, called Rumah Bebe, is a definite, regular delight for visitors and residents, offering unique products and services that serve to highlight the rich history of Peranakan culture.
Nostalgically, in her humble pursuit of a beading hobby, she would never have dreamt that beadwork will lead her to where and what she is now.