Dis­cover the beauty of batik with The Peak as we speak to pas­sion­ate in­di­vid­u­als cham­pi­oning the tra­di­tional tex­tile art form and bring­ing it to the fore­front of 21st-cen­tury fash­ion.


Dis­cover the beauty of batik with ThePeak as we speak to pas­sion­ate in­di­vid­u­als cham­pi­oning the tra­di­tional tex­tile art form and bring­ing it to the fore­front of 21stcen­tury fash­ion.

When we think about batik, it con­jures up im­ages of vividly coloured fab­rics pep­pered with flow­ers and but­ter­flies, or of our grand­moth­ers pot­ter­ing about the house with a batik sarong tightly wound around her waist. Some might even joke about it be­ing the un­of­fi­cial ca­sual wear for of­fi­cial events or point out the friendly ri­valry with In­done­sian batik. How­ever, there’s so much more to batik than we think.

By definition, batik is a tech­nique of hand-dye­ing fab­rics that uses wax as a dye re­pel­lent to cover parts of a de­sign, or the name of the fab­ric made us­ing this tech­nique. It is widely ac­knowl­edged to be of Ja­vanese ori­gin, with the word “batik” it­self thought to be the amal­ga­ma­tion of the Ja­vanese words amba (to write) and titik (dot). Due to the close trade and cul­tural ex­changes in the Malay Ar­chi­pel­ago, the in­tri­cate tex­tile art form found its way to the east coast of the Malay Penin­sula, where it blos­somed into an art of its own.

Spurred by a deep love for this tra­di­tional craft, our lo­cal de­sign­ers have been do­ing their ut­most best to dis­play its glory to the world. One of the big­gest cham­pi­ons of Malaysian batik is Ruzz Gahara, which first hit the global spot­light in 2013 with a suc­cess­ful pre­sen­ta­tion at Who’s Next Paris. Since then, its stun­ning de­signs have been splashed across the pages of Bri­tish Vogue and the UK’s Tatler Mag­a­zine, as well as be­ing high­lighted in the Pas­sage to Malaysia doc­u­men­tary by Travel and Living Channel (TLC). That’s not all though: the house is of­ten in­un­dated

with in­vi­ta­tions to con­duct talks and work­shops on batik around the world, in­clud­ing a two-week work­shop at the priv­i­leged Po­litec­nico Di Mi­lano, the old­est pub­lic univer­sity in Mi­lan.

Founders Nik Faiz and Han­ifi Triff Thamid are truly ec­static over the recog­ni­tion Ruzz Gahara has re­ceived from the in­ter­na­tional fash­ion scene. “Ruzz Gahara is about em­pow­er­ing the next gen­er­a­tion of mas­ter ar­ti­sans from ru­ral Malaysia. The cre­ative po­ten­tial of lo­cal tal­ents is im­mense and we see some­thing that is per­ceived as a small in­dus­try in the past can be gal­vanised to take over the world of fash­ion,” they ex­plain. “Batik can def­i­nitely share the run­way with other ar­ti­sanal fab­rics like French lace. In fact, the cur­rent trend in high fash­ion is lean­ing to­wards prints and colours in­stead of plain fab­rics. It’s just a mat­ter of bring­ing Malaysian batik to the fore­front.”

Ruzz Gahara is not alone in the cam­paign to in­vig­o­rate Malaysian batik. A young lass by the name of Fern Chua has been play­ing her part through FERN, a de­sign house that cel­e­brates and re­dis­cov­ers the aes­thetic el­e­gance of this fab­ric art form. “I feel that many of my peers and the younger gen­er­a­tion per­ceive batik as prints seen on tra­di­tional sarong, not as hand-painted art pieces.” Af­ter a life-chang­ing ac­ci­dent in­tro­duced her to batik, Chua as­pired to in­ject a ‘cool fac­tor’ in wear­ing batik and started FERN, where a fresh spin is given on tra­di­tional mo­tifs in line with cur­rent fash­ion trends.

Im­mers­ing her­self in the world of batik, Chua trav­elled to the east coast to wit­ness the process with her very own eyes, ex­per­i­ment­ing with dif­fer­ent cut­tings and read­ing to un­der­stand the tex­tile art’s colour­ful his­tory. Her re­search soon led her to Ruzz Gahara and the two col­lab­o­rated on a cap­sule col­lec­tion, par­tic­i­pated in trade shows in Paris and Taipei, fol­lowed by an­other col­lec­tion pre­sented at KL Fash­ion Week.“FERN’s core val­ues are to fuse the old and the new to­gether by com­bin­ing tra­di­tional tech­niques with a mod­ern twist, in­spired by na­ture and my love for ab­stract prints. Hence, the tagline ‘The New Batik’,” ex­plains Chua. “The beauty of batik is that each piece is unique and, as they are hand-painted, each has its own story to tell,” she re­flects. “Batik is an art­work, a mas­ter­piece that one wears in­stead of hang­ing up on the wall.”

It’s a sen­ti­ment shared by Ong Swee Lyn, founder of Batik Tree, an or­gan­i­sa­tion that serves as a re­tailer and ad­vo­cate of batik. “As batik is hand­made, the beauty lies in its im­per­fec­tion. You will never be able to find an­other ex­act piece be­cause each will have its own unique flaw, re­flect­ing a spe­cial beauty of its own. No two pieces of batik

are iden­ti­cal.” While cel­e­brat­ing Malaysian batik in the in­ter­na­tional scene is com­mend­able, the art and craft form needs love from home too. Ong was moved to set up Batik Tree af­ter learn­ing the plight of batik crafts­men in Kuala Tereng­ganu. “They were fac­ing tough times due to the de­clin­ing de­mand for hand­made batik. I re­alised the hard work and sto­ries of our crafts­men need to be told or our batik will even­tu­ally dis­ap­pear. Be­sides, if we as Malaysians don’t do any­thing to pre­serve our cul­tural her­itage, who will?” ques­tions Ong. “The ap­pre­ci­a­tion has to start with us Malaysians be­fore we can proudly claim our na­tional her­itage on the in­ter­na­tional front.”

It’s not been an easy jour­ney as Ong once shared the dis­tinct lack of in­ter­est for Malaysian hand­made batik in favour of cheaper dig­i­tal prints and batik pieces from In­done­sia. “Our lo­cal crafts­men would love to carry on the trade, but de­clin­ing de­mand is dis­cour­ag­ing, while the batik mak­ing process can be te­dious. Each piece – de­pend­ing on the in­tri­cacy of the de­sign – goes through nu­mer­ous wax­ing ap­pli­ca­tion, dye­ing and wash­ing cy­cles. The en­tire process can take from three days to a week to com­plete,” shares Ong. How­ever, Batik Tree is shed­ding a light on these chal­lenges through the power of so­cial me­dia. “We show not only the fab­rics but also the process it­self. Here, we high­light chal­lenges that our crafts­men go through in cre­at­ing a sin­gle piece of batik, as well as a wealth of in­for­ma­tion to help iden­tify an au­then­tic piece of hand­made batik. For us, it’s not just about sell­ing batik, but in­spir­ing one to ap­pre­ci­ate batik and all the hard work that goes into its cre­ation.”

It’s a long road to giv­ing Malaysian batik the recog­ni­tion it de­serves, but it’s un­de­ni­able that valiant ef­forts are in place to help the craft blos­som. With a shared love, pride and hope for our na­tional her­itage, the art of batik will con­tinue colour­ing the lives of Malaysians. As Fern Chua as­tutely ob­serves: “As Malaysians, it is about em­brac­ing our her­itage and bring a piece of our past into the fu­ture of fash­ion and art.” It’s time for batik to bloom.

FROM LEFT TO RIGHT Nik Faiz Nik M Amin, founder and man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of Ruzz Gahara, founder of Batik Tree, Ong Swee Lyn and Fern Chua, the epony­mous founder and de­signer of FERN.

01 Batik Tree as­pires to sup­port lo­cal crafts­men and their hand­made batik pieces by con­nect­ing them to ur­ban and so­cial me­dia savvy con­sumers. 02 Ruzz Gahara brings new life to Malaysian batik by adding a cos­mopoli­tan ap­peal to the tex­tile art form.

07 With an em­pha­sis on be­ing ‘The New Batik’, FERN adds a chic qual­ity to the tra­di­tional de­signs.

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