Stylist Spotlight: Struggles of a Malay Celebrity Stylist in Singapore

Published on May 21, 2021

The road to the top is never easy. But when you're Malay in Chinese-dominated Singapore, the journey can be even tougher.

We're putting our heads out there but how many of us are guilty of ever having this thought.

Malays ah? Will they come on time and skip work or not?

We don't talk about it in public but this thought, borne often in private, seriously affects employment opportunities for Malays across many industries and workplaces... even in hairdressing.

Meet Eri

Meet Eri, accomplished Malay Celebrity Hairstylist and founder of ERI SU SALON.

Meet Eri, accomplished Malay Singaporean Celebrity Stylist and founder of ERI SU Salon.

You wouldn't think that someone like him, having styled for many of Singapore's and KL's Malay celebrities and worked backstage on Asia's Next Top Model , experienced this discrimination.

But you'd be wrong.

In my younger days, I was working at a local hair salon chain. As the outlet we're in was not doing well, all of us applied to a hot new trendy salon that just opened. Guess what, all of them were hired except... me.

There was no reason given, even though I was among the more experienced stylists.

- Eri

As difficult as it was, he also managed to snag a job at a top Japanese Hair Salon in Singapore.

Could it be that he was not good enough? Perhaps.

As a budding hairstylist who wanted only to be the best in his field, Eri thought, he needed to do whatever it takes to upskill himself. He took the road less travelled, working as a stylist on Asia's Next Top Model.

Still, it doesn't seem to be sufficient.

To challenge myself, I applied to be a stylist at an internationally renowed hair salon. But guess what they said to me?

“Sorry, we can’t hire you. You’re Malay.”

Yes – they said it outright. 

- Eri

It was then he realized that all his achievements and the hard work that went behind them may never be enough.

What more can he do, to prove his worth?

Fighting the Stereotypes

As painful as it may be, Eri understands that the real fight is not against the stylists who made those comments but against the mindset that people have towards Malays.

I wouldn't say they are right but I know that there is some truth in the stereotypes. As Malays, many of us value family very highly. Some, however, take the stereotype to the extreme and use family as an excuse to show up late or even not turn up at all. This behaviour doesn't just affect the individual but other people's perception of who we are.

His experience at the top Japanese hair salon was however transformational.

From there, Eri realizes that an organization, or even an individual's actions all boil down to the habits you do every single day. A lot of problems can be fixed once the right processes are put in place.

This realization gave him renewed purpose.

Paving the Way For A New Beginning

We may have been talking about Malay stylists but don't be mistaken,  ERI SU SALON is not a Malay salon. Having to work twice as hard to get to where he is, Eri wants to show that everyone can flourish at the top as long as you are willing to put the heart, sweat and tears into developing your skills.

Could I create a new way of doing things so that passionate stylists can get to the top without needing to compensate for racial discrimination?

- Eri

With this thought, ERI SU Salon was born.

Eri Su Salon Interior

To Eri, this means not taking race as a factor at all but instead, putting in place processes to hire and train stylists to keep skill, service, quality and experience tip-top.

Eri Su Salon Interior

The result? A multi-racial Singaporean salon with Japanese-level service and genuine Malay hospitality.

Japanese Level Service at Eri Su

As you can read from reviews about Eri and his team, customers here always look and feel fabulous because the stylists here always goes the extra mile to give customers a good experience.

Most importantly, the hairstyles here look AH-MAZING.

Caramel Grey Hair Colour by Eri Su
Grey Brown Hair Colour by Eri Su
Pink Highlights by Eri Su

That is yet another process he put in place in ERI SU SALON - to make sure stylists here at the forefront of hair trends and spare no effort in transforming customers into stars.

Discrimination against Malay stylists haven't been completely eradicated and maybe it never will be. But having stylists like Eri proudly stand up against discrimination and committing to provide a safe space for passionate stylists regardless of race is certainly a step in the right direction.

Would you support Eri and his team on this journey?

P.S. Creative Colour is to us their MUST-TRY service at ERI SU SALON. Understanding that not everyone has the means to afford bleached hair colours, Eri has designed budget-friendly hair colours that'll get you looking like a celebrity without breaking the bank. Not many salons bother to do that so we're just grateful to have uncovered a gem like Eri here at Beauty Undercover!

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