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
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.