Mehroon, 43, and Syra Gulam, 26
As told by Mehroon:
My sister and I are of Pakistani and Chinese parentage, so henna has always been in the family. When Syra was four, our family lived in India for a few years. That was when we were introduced to henna cones – they weren’t available in Singapore then.
Syra’s the artist and I’m the decision-maker. When Syra was 14, I gave her a tiny table space at the monthly flea market booth I set up and she did henna on kids to earn pocket money. We then started our own henna booth at bazaars, and that’s how the business grew.
Henna is as personal as your handwriting. As sisters, our handwriting is very similar – and therefore so are our henna designs.
We make about 9 kilograms of henna paste a week, packed into 600 cones – everything is done in-house. We’ve also expanded to doing henna for hair. This treatment, which uses seven herbs, nourishes the scalp and leaves the hair shiny.
White henna and glitter henna are very popular because they’re pretty. Unlike regular henna, it doesn’t get absorbed into the skin. It just dries on top of it.
To provide our clients a relaxing henna experience, we set up a studio two years ago. Doing it in their homes can be cramped and uncomfortable. We have henna wraps and plasters so clients can move around and sleep without messing up the designs. If countries like Dubai and the US can have henna studios, then so can we.
We teach low-income mothers how to draw henna. It’s a good skill, because they don’t need a huge capital to start. When we have big events, we recruit these ladies to help out.
We’re already taking bridal bookings up to December 2017. We still do walk-ins, though.
AS FOUND ON
Photo: Afiq Omar
'Syra and I have been friends since we were 15, and I’ve seen how she has progressed over the past ten years. So naturally, I got her to do my henna for my wedding. I told her the styles that I like but for the most part, I let her run the show. Her work is very clean, uniform and neat – it’s great that she makes her own henna paste so consistency is guaranteed.'
#02-03, 81 Joo Chiat Rd (www.syraskins.com.sg). Mon-Fri 11am-7pm. From $20/ adults, $15/children.
Aqidah Fuad, 25
I started practising by doodling on friends and family. I met this lady who taught me proper henna techniques over a few sessions. Currently, I have a day job, but I plan to take up henna as a full-time gig next year. I also work closely with wedding vendors, such as decor and catering, to provide a complete service.
Moroccan style, which is characterised by dome-like shapes, is my favourite. I especially like designs that point to the centre – I think it makes the hands look slimmer. To me, less is more. I don’t like it too complicated because the design gets ‘lost’. Temporary crystals are quite popular these days, too.
Browsing popular henna pages and hashtags on Instagram inspires me. Some clients will show me reference pictures, but I try my best to make it unique.
I just started doing henna with jagua ink, which comes from a fruit and leaves a blue stain, on myself and my friends. It looks like a tattoo. For regular henna, my favourite essential oil mix is lavender and cajeput. On average, I make 400 grams of henna paste a week and sell about 50 cones.
I try not to take assignments less than a month prior to the actual date, and I recommend booking six months to a year in advance for bridal. Casual henna starts from $12 for adults and $7 for children.
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'Aqidah’s henna stains are a very deep red and that was what I wanted, so I asked her to do henna for my wedding. I messed up my henna a little bit because it’s hard to sit still for so many hours but she was patient and made me feel comfortable.'
Nuryn Eddy, 21
I’m currently taking a gap year after graduating from polytechnic to do henna full-time. I’m the only ‘artsy’ person in my family, and I’ve always liked getting henna done at Geylang Serai bazaar when I was younger, so I decided to try my hand at it myself.
My first henna booth was at my primary school’s fund-raising fair, when I was in Primary Six. It was purely for fun and I charged a few cents for each design I did.
I got my first paid bridal assignment from Syra [Gulam]. She’s my mentor and one of my biggest inspirations. I really look up to her. The bride was really friendly but I took a really long time to finish – almost 4 hours!
My style leans towards patterns, geometrics and Moroccan designs. I find complex designs especially satisfying. I’m a perfectionist, and sometimes I can be too hard on myself trying to make my designs perfectly symmetrical – after all, you can’t copy and paste a henna design to the other hand.
The support from my loved ones really spurred me on. Henna comes with practice; it’s not something I can be amazing at overnight. It was a challenge to find my personal style in the beginning, but I just kept at it.
Inspiration comes late at night, right before I sleep. I’m also inspired by fashion and carpet designs.
My henna blend consists of cajeput, sweet orange, eucalyptus and lavender. I make 400 grams of henna a week, to sell and for my appointments. It’s best to book six months in advance for bridal, although I do take casual sessions (from $8) if I have open slots.
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'I saw her work at an arts market and became a big fan as her henna designs are very unique, unlike traditional Indian designs. A mutual friend introduced us and I left the design up to her. She ended up doing this tribal henna piece for me, which I fell in love with. My friends who saw it asked if it was traced from a template – it was that intricate and neat.'
Fauzella Sahabdin, 30
I got interested in henna when I was 14. I was inspired by a friend who was into the craft and asked my mum to buy me a henna cone so I could try designs on myself.
In 2014, I left my job of eight years to do this full-time. It’s great because I get to plan my own schedule, which is especially important since I just had my kid.
People tell me my designs are intricate, symmetrical and precise. So I guess that’s what I’m known for. I take inspiration from everywhere. I study buildings and carpets, and think about how to incorporate their designs into my work. I also like Arabic, Turkish, Indian and Iranian motifs.
I make 3 kilograms of henna paste a week, which amounts to about 200 cones. Besides the usual cajeput and sweet orange, I also add vanilla essential oil into my paste. I find that it enhances the smell of the sweet orange and masks the smell of the paste, which can be too strong for some.
For people who want casual henna for their anniversaries, birthdays or for no particular reason at all, prices start from $12 for adults and $5 for kids. Brides should book one year in advance – I’m actually almost fully booked for 2017.
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'My friends booked Fauzellah to do my henna as a surprise wedding gift. I showed her some references but she didn’t copy them entirely. She added her own elements according to her style, which I love very much. The design was intricate and the details were very well done. She’s quite fast, too – it was all completed within 3 hours.'
Khairunnisa Chow, 24
I loved art when I was in secondary school, although I stopped pursuing that after graduating. In my previous job as a floor manager, I did henna on my colleagues occasionally – that rekindled my love for drawing.
The turning point for me came when I was in Bali. I met people who lived from hand to mouth, but yet were always smiling. So I decided to jump into doing henna full-time.
My mum had her doubts when I quit my job. After all, this is very ‘un-Singaporean’: I’m not guaranteed a steady income and there’s no CPF. But she saw my hard work paying off and now supports my decision.
I like it when my clients go, ‘Surprise me’. Based on their preferences, I usually come up with designs on the spot. My designs look full but never over the top. I like floral and Gulf-inspired detailing. To me, technique is more important than style – the precision of the lines and dots, and the symmetry of the designs are crucial.
Most of the ingredients in my henna paste are imported from Rajasthan and the US. Cajeput is my favourite essential oil, along with sweet orange. A lot of people like lavender, but I can’t stand the smell. I make about 500 grams of paste a week.
Hopefully, I’ll start conducting classes next year to share the art of henna. I already have appointments up until December 2017. Brides usually book at least half a year in advance, while I slot in casual ones (from $10/adults, $5/children) whenever I have time.
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Nazairah Jigindar Singh
'Her Instagram was enough to convince me to hire her for my wedding. She’s a meticulous sketcher – better than most reference images I had sent. Even after making a few changes right before the big day, she managed to complete the henna in only 2 hours.'
See Min Ng, 21
I chanced upon henna at a flea market two years ago. I’ve always had a habit of drawing on my arms with markers, although it never lasted more than a day – so I turned to henna. It was mostly for myself, but my friends started asking me to draw for them. I’ve been doing henna on and off since.
My henna designs are unconventional. In fact, I would say they’re quite tattoo-like. I like to mix a bit of tattoo and traditional henna designs – just don’t expect symmetrical ones.
I’ve been thinking about learning how to tattoo instead, and I think I might be a tattoo artist one day. Korean tattoos are my favourite: they’re really fine and intricate.
I use Golecha instant black henna, which is the only safe-for-skin black henna I can find on the market right now. I also work with jagua ink – it's long lasting and it looks like a real tattoo.
I'm looking forward to my first bridal client in February 2017 – she knows that I’ve never done bridal before but she wants tattoo-like designs.
Clients who want complicated designs usually ask me prior to the appointment, else I’ll just freehand on the spot. An average session takes around 20 to 45 minutes and I charge about $10 to $30. I’ve had requests to draw on forearms, legs, chests, backs and napes. I take appointments whenever I’m free.
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'See Min set up a henna booth at a Young Hungry Free warehouse sale. That’s where I met her. I’m an art student and we organised a shoot as part of a project of mine as well as to showcase her henna designs. The original idea was to henna an outline of the spinal cord, but she added in vines and flowers.'