Tucked within the historic, art-strewn Haji Lane in Singapore under the lazy afternoon sun, a cosy entrance splashed with a bright yellow converged my attention to a nostalgic ‘kampong’-like scene – two wooden chairs guarding the glass door side by side, with a green Mexican hammock hanging between the walls on the left while on the right sights bright, shiny colours of bags seated neatly on suspended baskets. I stepped into the shop and was overwhelmed by what I saw – rows of colourful bags and accessories smelling rustic and sweet in the air. Welcome to Kolombiana, a retail shop that sells handmade bags and accessories made in South America.
Karen Rodriguez from Colombia and her Romanian husband, Adrian Bozdog, are the owners of the shop that started at the beginning of October in 2013.
“As we are aware, we know not of any other shop in Singapore selling such things,” said Adrian as he showed me their best-selling signature bags called mochilas. As my fingers ran on each layer of solid, interwoven cotton fabric, I found myself addictively caressing the soft leather made from cowhide which smelled distinctively luxurious, and observing the meticulous handiwork both in and out of each bag including its base. Strong, sturdy and heart-achingly beautiful. I knew at an instant that these mochilas are NOT your typical mass-produced, flimsy and highly-prone-to-fade coloured arm candies found in flea markets off the cheap.
“They come from Latin tribes, artisans and small shops in Colombia,” said Karen. Because each mochila is handmade, no two mochilas are the same. Karen explained: “Unicoloured bags made from cotton can take around 1 week to produce, while those made of leather or combinations of both leather and cotton can take 1-2 weeks.” She further added: “Usually one female artisan is devoted to making one part of the bag, while a male artisan is responsible for the strap. No machines are involved, so each item is hand-knitted to perfection.”
For this reason, cotton mochilas range from S$160 to S$180, while those made of leather or a combination of both cost between S$130 and S$380 each. On the other hand, Kolombiana’s hand-crafted accessories of tribal-patterned necklaces, earrings, rings and beaded wrist bands cost from S$15 to S$40 each. The quality of each product is worth every penny and still competitively-priced compared to reputable brands stocking handmade goods. Already, I can picture myself in my dull, everyday attire transformed into fashion chic with these fun-loving, juicy vibrance.
I decided to find out more about the owners and on why they wanted to set up a shop here. “We wanted to introduce a little of South American culture to Singapore, since people here are generally not very familiar with the South American culture,” Adrian explained.
Karen added: “After I visited the communities in Colombia that made these beautiful bags and accessories, I brought my husband to Colombia and showed him these items. Wherever I carried my mochila in Singapore, people would look at it and comment that they cannot find such bags here, so we decided to sell them. They can last long.”
The two met in Singapore while working for other companies based here. Karen was working for a German company doing marketing, while Adrian specialised in finance in New York and Singapore. The two ultimately met 3 months after Karen first arrived in Singapore 3 years ago with no family and friends to begin with, and eventually tied the knot in December 2012.
The couple expressed their love and satisfaction for living in Singapore, citing plans to live here for a long time.
WIth the ever-expanding international community, Karen noticed more and more Latin Americans in the country: “We have visitors from Venezuela, Peru and Colombia who are proud to see a piece of Latin America here. We have many tourists visiting the shop too.”
“At the beginning (in Singapore), it was tough. I started making friends, though few local friends, mainly because I used to work in an international environment. I joined a church that gave me an opportunity to meet more locals,” said Karen, who also remarked that despite the hard search for genuine Latin American food, she delights in the only easiest find that reminds her of home – coffee.
The couple’s warm and friendly disposition adds to the shop’s welcoming atmosphere and reflects their charitable ambition to contribute back to Latin communities lacking basic amenities, education and jobs, and which have made many of the pretty items on their shelves with love.
WIth plans to set up an online shop and awaiting their next shipment of goods which will include more items not found in Singapore, Kolombiana is optimistic about setting a cultural and fashionable trend with their products. Why not expand your wardrobe with a touch of zesty, Latin flavour today!
Kolombiana is located at 64 Haji Lane Singapore, opening hours 12pm – 8pm everyday. Check them out at http://www.kolombiana.com/
This article was published on Vida De Latinos’ online magazine, 1 November 2013.
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