Batik Revo­lu­tion

So­cial en­ter­prise, Batik Bou­tique, is known for empowering lo­cal ar­ti­sans in cre­at­ing unique pieces us­ing the batik fab­ric. The Weekly speaks with the brand’s founder on the brand’s jour­ney to suc­cess

Women's Weekly (Malaysia) - - CONTENTS -

This lo­cal so­cial en­ter­prise is mak­ing a big dif­fer­ence in the lives of Malaysian ar­ti­sans

Back in 2009, dur­ing her early years af­ter mov­ing to Malaysia, Amer­i­can Amy Blair be­friended sin­gle mother Ro­hana Mo­ham­mad (Ana), en­list­ing her help to teach her Ba­hasa Malaysia. Learn­ing that Ana needed more in­come to sup­port her fam­ily and was able to sew, they pur­chased batik fab­ric that Ana trans­formed into unique gifts, such as home­ware and fash­ion ac­ces­sories. These were well-re­ceived by Amy’s fam­ily and friends.

Then in 2013, Amy set up Batik Bou­tique as a so­cial en­ter­prise to em­power ar­ti­sans in Malaysia, of­fer­ing women from low-in­come back­grounds a chance to learn new skills as seam­stresses, earn in­come and pro­vide for their fam­i­lies.

What sparked your in­ter­est in start­ing Batik Bou­tique?

I started Batik Bou­tique out of a de­sire to help the com­mu­nity of marginalised women around me and also high­light the cul­tural her­itage of Malaysian batik glob­ally.

I met a group of women from the PPR (pub­lic low-cost hous­ing) that needed an op­por­tu­nity for sus­tain­able work. Two of their main ob­sta­cles were child­care and trans­porta­tion. With a back­ground in cus­tomer ser­vice in the hos­pi­tal­ity in­dus­try, I de­cided to work with these ladies to de­sign and man­u­fac­ture au­then­tic, Malaysian­made gifts, in a busi­ness model that re­spected their life-stage and abil­i­ties. We es­tab­lished a sewing train­ing cen­tre within walk­ing dis­tance to their homes, and we pro­vide child­care for women work­ing with us. When an op­por­tu­nity is given, I have found that peo­ple are re­silient and able to bring pos­i­tive change to their own lives.

How have the items un­der the brand evolved since the early days?

For one, we use au­then­tic Malaysian blocked and dyed batiks! In our early days, I, like most peo­ple, didn’t know the dif­fer­ence be­tween ma­chine-pro­duced fab­ric peo­ple call batik, and ac­tual ar­ti­san-made batiks. The process is so elab­o­rate and com­pli­cated. We re­ally have to keep ed­u­cat­ing the con­sumer on its au­then­tic­ity, and that is part of our mis­sion to high­light ar­ti­san-made prod­ucts.

Our stick­ing and de­signs have also im­proved dra­mat­i­cally. In fact, I keep one of our coast­ers from our first round of pro­duc­tion in my stu­dio at my desk as a re­minder of where we’ve come from.

To­day, we are a global gift and sou­venir com­pany, selling whole­sale and man­u­fac­tur­ing for com­pa­nies like Star­bucks, Grab, and Four Sea­sons. We’ve had celebri­ties like Yuna wear and sup­port our prod­ucts, and we man­u­fac­ture for a US ecofriendly fash­ion la­bel. We’ve come a long way!

What are you fas­ci­nated by at the mo­ment and how does it fit into your work?

I am fas­ci­nated with mak­ing batik cool again both in Malaysia and abroad. I gen­uinely love and re­spect the batik process and the ar­ti­sans be­hind it, and I love tak­ing peo­ple to the east coast of Malaysia to in­ter­act with ar­ti­sans and their art. No one who sees the ac­tual process of batik doesn’t fall in love with it. I am ob­sessed with bring­ing the art form to life in a mod­ern way for peo­ple to ex­pe­ri­ence.

What is the big­gest les­son you’ve learned since start­ing the com­pany?

I have learned that it takes an en­tire com­mu­nity of friends, fam­ily, cus­tomers, cor­po­rate and gov­ern­ment ad­vo­cates, and a ded­i­cated team to cre­ate a last­ing brand that brings im­pact to a na­tion. My ca­reer choice im­pacts every­one in my life. And I am grate­ful when some­one around me sup­ports what we’re build­ing, or when I see some­one at a res­tau­rant car­ry­ing one of our bags, or a cor­po­rate com­pany comes for­ward and says they want to sup­port our sewing train­ing pro­gramme. And I be­lieve, to­gether, we can make real progress.

By cre­at­ing em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties, in what ways has Batik Bou­tique made a so­cial im­pact?

Batik Bou­tique pro­vides sus­tain­able in­come op­por­tu­ni­ties for women in marginalised com­mu­ni­ties and for batik artists in the coun­try. As our brand grows big­ger, we are able to cre­ate a larger im­pact in com­mu­ni­ties. We track wages paid as well as ben­e­fits of­fered to each ar­ti­san, and we con­tinue to work to­gether with the ar­ti­sans to come up with op­por­tu­ni­ties and train­ing that are im­pact­ful and sus­tain­able for them. We seek to be­come the largest batik brand glob­ally, with an em­pha­sis on com­mu­nity im­pact to show oth­ers that you can do busi­ness and do good at the same time.

What can we an­tic­i­pate from Batik Bou­tique in the next three years?

We have big dreams for Batik Bou­tique in the next three years. We plan to ex­pand our op­er­a­tions to a larger ex­pe­ri­en­tial cen­tre with re­tail, batik work­shops, and greater in­ter­ac­tion be­tween cus­tomers and ar­ti­sans. We also plan to ex­pand our re­tail bou­tiques to more lo­ca­tions, and we will con­tinue to pur­sue more ODM (orig­i­nal de­sign man­u­fac­tur­ing) both lo­cally and abroad. It’s an ex­cit­ing time for batik and Malaysia!

To find know more about the Batik Bou­tique ini­tia­tive, visit www.the­batik­bou­tique.com.

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