Get a coffee, shop for clothes, cut your hair and get a tattoo (in no particular order) at Merchant & Sisters.
This is the tale of a merchant and two sisters, who became the best of friends through their passion for clothes, coffee and kinship. They found home by a certain ‘yellow brick path’ and made new friends along the journey – a barber with the heart of a lion and a mindful team of tattoo artists.
The Merchant in the real-life story is Farouk Aljoffery, while the sisters are Sunita Petrus and Perin Petrus. They are joined by barber Al of The Burrow and skin artists from The Tattoo Parlor. Together they make up the upstairs retreat of Merchant & Sisters, named after the founding members, in Plaza Batai, Bukit Damansara.
Inspired by the general stores in Western countries where one could get a cuppa while purchasing clothes, the trio decided to also emulate the ‘kedai runcit’ of years past, where the store owners and patrons would know each other on a first name basis.
“We wanted to provide a safe space where customers could feel like they were at home. We wanted them to feel comfortable enough to strike up a conversation with any of us in the store,” explains Sunita, the elder Petrus sister.
Apart from comfort and hospitality, the trio knew what else they wanted to offer anybody who walked through the doors.
“At the same time, we wanted to have beautiful things for them as well. They could order something from the café and pick out something to wear while also getting a gift for a loved one,” further shares Sunita.
Yes, you read that right. Apart from clothing items, home accessories and other gifting items, Merchant & Sisters also houses a café, from where one could think of what to buy from the store while sipping on coffee.
The idea to start such a concept has been something that the sisters have spoken about for years. Heavyweights in the production scene, they have always wanted to bring together everything they personally love – fashion, homeware and food – under the same roof. However, it only became possible when Sunita left the film industry in want of a change in environment.
For the ‘Purveyors of Extremely Good Taste,’ getting the café in was easy, as the cakes and coffee are supplied by Huckleberry Food and Fare, another café not far away owned by another Petrus sister, Shantini.
To ensure the success of the new café, the sisters even undertook some classes.
“We attended barista training,” say the sisters simultaneously when asked of their preparation prior to opening the joint.
“We also wanted to bring back toasties in a big way. We had it a lot during our childhood but oddly since then it has kind of disappeared from the face of the Earth. So we wanted to have that in our shop. The idea for the café started like that – small,” states Sunita
The sisters also found out that their location was not a late location but rather an early one. And being the astute entrepreneurs that they are, they decided to expand their menu to include breakfast items.
“Small but tasty; comforting but interesting. We’re not about fussy food, we’re about good, wholesome food,” describes Perin of their menu.
The menu is also not finalised – the small nature of their operation gives them the freedom of changing things around or adding new things in as they go along.
“For example, if we want to add shepherd’s pie into the menu the next day, we simply do it,” says Sunita.
“It’s all homemade – Sunita makes it, my mom makes it. Which is still in the philosophy of what the store is all about,” Perin explains.
The authenticity factor crucial to the store is evident in the clothes and other items on sale as well.
“We try to source for clothes and accessories from small-scale artisans who handmake their products. To find that it involves a lot of walking and searching. While some of the items that we sell now were suggested by friends, most we found in fairs that we travelled to,” reveals Sunita.
Nonetheless, the merchant and his partners had always wanted to have something more than just fashion and café. Like most of the additions to their store, the tattoo parlour and barbershop materialised naturally as well.
As word got out of the sisters’ project, a few tattoo studios reached out to Perin to collaborate, with The Tattoo Parlor emerging victorious.
“It just seemed like an interesting combination and the people from The Tattoo Parlor were pitching ideas to us as well. And it just came together on its own,” admits Perin.
“Everything here is growing organically, as we learn and understand what people like and we get to know people more and what they want. We go with the flow,” she continues.
The addition of The Burrow barbershop was also a natural fit to the organic growth as well as the philosophy of Merchant & Sisters. Albeit having come in as a replacement for a former barbershop, the new extension of Subang-fame The Othrs Barbers falls right into place beside The Tattoo Parlor in their own little glass box. It brings to mind how tattoo parlours and barbers often operate side by side in Western countries.
“We have seen the emergence of high-end barbering around the world. So, we thought why not have it here since it seemed that the men have been underserved in KL. Maybe it was time there was something for them,” expresses Sunita about the reason behind having a barbershop in her store.
What is the main challenge the sisters face in running their store?
“Trying to get people up here. Someone even asked if we were trying to be the world’s best kept secret,” says Perin laughingly.
“Malaysians are not used to first floor retail. But once they come in they like the quiet and the distance from all the hustle and bustle,” Sunita asserts.
Even though at this point, the founders are taking it one day at a time, they are not without future aspirations and plans.
“We want to have our line. Not just clothes, it could be homeware but that’s something for our next phase. Not huge things but small things that are our own. It will stay within the concept of easy-going style but it will all be about good quality and well-made in limited edition,” say the sisters together.
You may not find the sisters’ own line just yet during your visit in the nearest future, but there are plenty of handcrafted home accessories and well-made artisanal clothing for you to peruse, not to mention haircare products as well the possibility of walking away with a tattoo.
“For us it’s not about providing convenience but rather an experience,” highlights Perin.
And here’s a task for you – find the phrase “Elvis Never Left The Building” in the premise and once you do give yourself a pat on the back; you deserve it for both that and climbing up the stairs.
Merchant & Sisters
8A, Jalan Batai
50590 Damansara Heights
Wilayah Persekutuan Kuala Lumpur.
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