During the mid-1930s, a wave of Chinese female immigrants of about 200000 in numbers arrived in Singapore to work in various employment such as labourers in tin mines and rubber estates; domestic servants and as general labourers - referred to as samsui women. They would carry out work at construction sites, clearing debris and transporting building materials with led to contribution of constructions such as the Supreme Court, Bank of China building, the former Asia Insurance Building (Ascott Raffles Place today), Toa Payoh Estate and Bishan Station.
At work, they are dressed in dark blue blouse and pants set called samfoo, accompanied by a bright red, starched square piece of head-dress which enabled them to be more visible on the dangerous work sites. Some would wear a blue version instead if they are from the Sun Yap region in China. Their footwear were typically rubber cutouts fro used tires with additional straps.
Throughout their time in Singapore, they let a frugal life and were very thrifty. Many of them traded their youth to work in Singapore in order to send money back to China to their families. Majority of them did not have any family here and left their husbands and children back in China. Samsui women work well into their 70s with some returning to China while some stayed on in Singapore after retirement.
The idea behind this shirt was made during the last 2 years of the pandemic. Times were challenging, businesses for many were unpredictable. There were also a lot of perspectives on how different entities govern and dealt with the pandemic situation. These entities includes, nations, businesses and to individuals. Some faired well, some fell greatly. Stemming from such a diverse heritage but with an international perspective and despite being small, we were able to overcome the odds and never back down.
This is the first time we are introducing original prints to our line. We worked with local artist Zixi to translate our idea onto fabric through her brushworks. We find that these prints of Samsui women symbolises strength, resilience and hardwork to help build the foundation of what Singapore stood for since and till today. May we continue to carry on this spirit to overcome whatever adversities we might face.
The F. Classic Samsui Women Shirt is now available online and in store. Shop Here