Dexon Button Shop is located on the ground floor of an old shophouse in Jalan Petaling, Kuala Lumpur. Numerous stalls in front of the five-foot way formed a barrier in which the shop is tucked away. Going through the narrow passageway leading to Dexon Button Shop, the sunlight rays which fall on the front of the shop radiates a special charm. Another captivating sight is the neat and compact wooden cabinets and the dazzling array of buttons on display inside the shop. A myriad of metallic buttons, shell buttons, wooden buttons, plastic and increasingly rare fabric buttons are procured both locally and internationally.
Apart from offering a multitude of buttons, Dexon is also a haberdashery, selling zippers, needles and thread, scissors etc. At the same time, Dexon is one of the few shops in Petaling Street which is family-run by Chinese owners to date, a 40-year-old establishment still in business today. The signboard hanging above the shop entrance became faded over the years, contrasting with the semi-circular column aside which retains bright scarlet letters. The two antique machines——a manual riveting machine and a fabric button machine, are not commonly found among haberdasheries.
The founder of Dexon Button Shop, Mr Chai Chang Nam, hails from Kuala Kangsar, Perak. During his youth, he worked at a tailor shop in Kuala Lumpur. When the shop ceased operations, he started his own haberdashery business at a corner on Jalan Tun H.S. Lee. After a fire incident, Mr Chai shifted to a half shop at No.37 Petaling Street. Later on, the property owner sold the shoplot to a hotel operator, he had no choice but to relocate. Fortunately another shop is available a stone’s throw away, thus he occupied the current premises at No.45 Petaling Street in 1992. The grand reopening was a major event, congratulatory flower stands from his peers almost filled the entire five-foot way. Mr Chai’s second daughter Villy vividly recalls the shop was as if a florist, a fun and exciting childhood memory.
Now that Mr Chai is growing old, he considered retirement during the Movement Control Order (MCO). As Villy took over the reins, he assumed an advisory role. Villy has often helped out since a young age, and is familiar with the shop’s operation. With the help of staff who have up to twenty years’ experience, she has no trouble with the transition. Everybody perform their own duties, covering basic tailor services besides selling sewing supplies, such as stitching buttons, alterations, seaming and zipper repairs.
Chinese knotted buttons are staple goods of the shop, all handmade by Villy and her mother. Colourful fabric strips are weaved into floral patterns, holding the collar in place by a knot and a loop. Usually found on traditional garments such as cheongsam, knotted buttons date back many centuries, with rich cultural heritage. The skills are passed down from Villy’s grandmother to her mother, and then her as the third generation. As knotted buttons fell out of style, this traditional skill may soon be forgotten.
Petaling Street and its surrounding areas, including Jalan Tun H.S. Lee and Jalan Sultan, is the main Chinese settlement during the early days of Kuala Lumpur, with 140 years of history. During her childhood, Villy would be at the shop after school, waiting for her parents to go home together. The staff would let her play around, and witnessed her growing up. Petaling Street is a bustling and friendly neighbourhood to Villy. Almost all shops in the area were previously run by Chinese merchants, there were many textile and clothing shops, as well as traditional herbal shops, hardware shops and food stalls. Some shops ceased operations due to lack of successors, while others rented their premises to foreigners, hence the Chinese cultural features in Petaling Street dwindled. Last year, Villy returned to this intimate shop and community, embarking on a new journey after being laid off.
A button may be tiny, but it is practical in fastening garments or as an accessory. Even though Petaling Street may have altered from the past, Dexon Button Shop remains low-key, holding on thanks to regular customers and craft hobbyists, forming intricate bonds in the same way buttons hold clothes together.
Text: Daniel Lim & Pua Hui Wen
有你 UNI Production
Producer : Daniel Lim
Cinematographer : Amelia Lim / Evon Pang / Michael Lerk
Video Editor : Amelia Lim
Copywriter : Pua Hui Wen
Music : 《Soft Piano》
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