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A Tree is Known By Its Fruit

by Cecilia Tan

Noor Arfa is a well-known Batik company that has been in operation for over twenty eight years in Malaysia. From the very first day it was set up, the company focused on its strategic business direction and vision to fulfill its dream.   Now the company can pride itself on having established a large and credible reputation for being a unique and stylish batik house.

The company started operations in Kuala Terengganu in 1980 and back then was only a humble backyard factory. Now it has expanded into a multimillion-dollar industry located in a sprawling 2.5 acres of land, with its own Noor Arfa Craft Complex (NACC) at Chendering Industrial Area, 6km south of Kuala Terengganu. The company currently employs over two hundred employees in its Terengganu factory.

Noor Arfa’s success is based upon the exciting and dynamic philosophy of its founders, Wan Mohd Ariffin Wan Long and his wife, Noor Hijerah Hanafiah. Their dream and destiny are a direct reflection of their total commitment and dedication to making their vision a reality.

“There are some principles that I adhered to in order to build my batik empire. Firstly the location must be strategic and we must be at all time open-minded and creative enough to explore new things. Secondly, we try to package our products beautifully and sooner or later, people will start to recognize our brand and acknowledge the quality of our products. I will never compromise on the quality of batik, even though at times they might be quite expensive.   Consumers are still willing to pay for quality and if customers want cheaper items, they can always buy batik made in China or India.  Batik from these countries is very cheap and is in direct competition to the batik market in Malaysia”, explains Wan Mohd Ariffin Wan Long.

“To build something may not be easy, but to maintain what has been built or to expand it, is even more challenging and difficult. That is why we both believe that ensuring the future of Noor Arfa is extremely important.  Besides working hard to build up the company, we are also training our three sons to take Noor Arfa to a higher level later on”, says Noor Hijerah Hanafiah.

Wan Mohd Ariffin Wan Long and Noor Hijerah Hanafiah’s eldest son, Wan Mohd Azwan, are currently the Directors of Noor Arfa Craft Complex (NACC) which was established on 1st January 2008 in Kuala Terengganu, in the state of Terengganu, one of the favourite tourist destinations in Malaysia. Wan Mohd Ariffin Bin Wan Long and Noor Hijerah Hanafiah invested RM10 million to build it soon after the opening of Malacca Batik House in Ayer Keroh, Malacca. This is the biggest Craft Complex owned by the private sector in Kuala Terengganu. The main purpose of NACC is to take an adventurous step into other areas, like crafts.

Although he is a young director, Wan Mohd Azwan is more than capable of leading the NACC, with a focus on developing craft entrepreneurs who can supply high quality products to the market place. The financial fund will be used to build an administration center, a sales and exhibition center, a tourism information center, a handicraft museum and a handicraft demonstration kiosk for batik, ‘songket’, ‘anyaman’, glass craft, wood engraving and cooper-tool crafts  under one roof. NACC is built as a tourism destination where a variety of high quality craft products can be exhibited in Terengganu and the east coast.

After completing high school, Wan Mohd Azwan worked in California in the United States for six months to gain experience as a stock keeper. After that he came back to Malaysia and took a ‘Professional in Marketing’ course at the University of Malaya.  During the weekends and in his free time, he worked as a salesman in the Noor Arfa Kuala Lumpur branch. Immediately after he completed his Diploma in 2003, he was appointed as a Franchise Manager for the company. As determined and courageous as his father, Wan Mohd Azwan brilliantly introduced a new strategic plan to franchise the business to small entrepreneurs and has successfully opened 6 franchise companies in shopping malls like One Utama Shopping Mall in Kuala Lumpur, Borneo Hyper Mall in Sabah, Airport Sultan Mahmud Kuala Terengganu, Genting Highland and in Perak. In 2010, Wan Mohd Azwan promoted the Noor Arfa franchise concept to batik entrepreneurs in Klang valley.

“There are three essential sections of the Noor Arfa Company. These are Marketing, Accounting and Production which must work hand in hand with one another. Effective communication is the best solution to many misunderstandings and arguments.  Don’t wait till things pile up. No matter how impractical or impossible my parents’ vision may be, I know we brothers can make it happen, just like our parents did. Act first and you will see an amazing result.” shares Wan Mohd Azwan with determination.

One of the keys to the success of Noor Arfa is the entrusting of all the important posts in their company to their own family. Noor Arfa is actually a family business, lead by them, but also belonging to everyone in the company. All their siblings came to workshops and underwent a challenging training not only in their batik-producing skills but also in character-building. Usually during weekends or school holidays, the three children came to the factory or workshop to learn the batik production process from the bottom up.  A rule was laid down that, in the company, nobody is to talk about another behind his back and should there be any disagreements or arguments, the person concerned should bring the issue up during a meeting and discuss it with everyone until the issue is resolved.

“After working hours, we have dinner together as a family.  We very much enjoy working together as one family; we tend to understand each other better and our family relationships also grow stronger. Today after years of tough training, every one of our children is qualified and capable to run a branch of Noor Arfa on their own.” says Noor Hijerah Hanafiah proudly.

“In my life, I spend most of my time on business. I talk about business everyday, even with my wife and children. I personally don’t play games and sports but I realise that to have a balanced and healthy lifestyle is very important.  In 2007, I took my whole family on a European trip, which was really memorable.” says Wan Mohd Ariffin Bin Wan Long, with a satisfied smile on his face.

When it comes to the decision-making process, Noor Arfa always focuses on not only what the core management team has to say, but also gives the workers their voice.  They are also entitled to give their opinions because the family believes that everyone can come up with good ideas. As Noor Arfa continues to give their workers trust and respect,  the workers tend to stay with Noor Arfa for many years, the belief being that as long as the needs of the workers are being well taken care of, they will contribute to the company wholeheartedly.

“Our biggest vision is to see Noor Arfa becomes a well known brand not only in Malaysia but throughout Asia and the world. We want to see Noor Arfa appear in big markets like Jakarta, Bangkok, Manila, Vietnam, Singapore and Cambodia. As we get older, we would rather be advisors and let our children do what is necessary to achieve this goal. In fact, we believe that if German companies can be maintained and continue to be famous for a hundred or two hundred years, then Noor Arfa can also do it. However, that depends very much on the next generation.” say Wan Mohd Ariffin Bin Wan Long and Noor Hijerah Hanafiah.

As their second son, Wan Mohd Hafiz is as ambitious as his parents. After obtaining his degree in Accounting and Finance from Yayasan Pelajaran Mara, he continued his studies in Ireland by taking a two year ACCA course. The reason Wan Mohd Hafiz studied accounting was because he realised that since Noor Arfa is growing steadily now, the company’s accounts could not be ignored and the company needed a trusted accountant to manage all its different accounts. As well as being an accountant for Noor Arfa, he is also the Director of Malacca Batik House (MBH) which has been recently established in Malacca, a town that was accepted by UNESCO as a World Heritage site. MBH was started with the aim of uniting all the entrepreneurs of batik under one roof and to act as an umbrella for all the manufacturers of batik and craft products in Malacca, Negeri Sembilan and Kuala Lumpur. The main focus of MBH is to act as an aid in motivating the development of craft enterprises that have power to influence and supply high quality products that can compete in the market place, either locally or internationally. With the guidance of his parents, Wan Mohd Hafiz’s confidence is growing and his doubts and questions answered with the help of his parents, his mentors.

“My parents were, and always will be, symbols of success to me.  My aim is, with my higher education, to take the business further than they have. The challenge to be better than my own parents is always there.” says Wan Mohd Hafiz.

As the youngest in the family, Wan Mohd Affendi is now pursuing his Diploma in Accounting at Kolej Polytech Mara (KPTM) in Cheras Kuala Lumpur and he is preparing to major in manufacturing accounting after his Diploma. Since he was young, like his two elder brothers, he has been through strict training from his parents. Through trials and tears, he has learned to be strong, as well as develop positive values in life.

“My parents have changed my future, especially in relation to my character, as I am now a disciplined person. Most of the time, they were very strict, firm and disciplined while managing Noor Arfa and building up their batik and craft empire. They never took a single cent of company profit to spend on themselves. To me they are quite successful yet very humble and polite and that makes me proud to be their son.” says Wan Mohd Affendi with a smile on his face.

Over the years, their combined strategic efforts, coupled with sheer determination to continuously strive for excellence, have made Noor Arfa not just a household name in Malaysia, but one that defines uniqueness. Noor Arfa’s story is an incredible success story.  Indeed, Noor Arfa has become synonymous with true entrepreneurship by holding its own, not just in this country but globally as well.

With its business systems, product focus, service excellence and marketing initiatives now in place, Noor Arfa is ready to seek the challenges of new business frontiers and opportunities, regionally and internationally.

STR BATIK

by Cecilia tan

STR Batik Sdn Bhd is one of the most successful batik businesses in Terengganu, on the east coast of Malaysia. The company was formed in 1978 by Wan Abdullah Bin Mohd. The main premises are at Kuala Terengganu, located at Kuala Ibai. The showroom and sales outlet,  located at Pasar Besar Kedai Payang, Frangipanni Besut, Terrengganu displays beautiful, brightly coloured silk cloth, brocade, crepe, satin, fuji, and cotton. STR is currently run by the founder’s eldest daughter, Wan Ruzima bin Abdullah, who has been the managing director of the company since 2003.

Ruzima has always known that a tough and challenging journey has been pre-destined for her. She has hardly spent time with her family as she has studied in boarding school since she was young, which taught her to be an independent child.   When her father became ill in 1990, she was put to test because as the eldest child in the family, she had to choose whether to continue working with C.H. Williams, Talhar & Wong as an assistant valuation officer, which has been her interest and expertise for years, or quit to become her father’s successor in STR. It was the most difficult decision that she has had to make as, on one hand, she didn’t want to leave her studies, and on the other hand, she felt that she had the responsibility as the eldest in the family to carry on with the batik industry that the father had built up over the years. Out of love and affection for her father, she decided to quit her studies and started to learn batik from the bottom up, all the way to production, marketing and management, from the father.

“It is about whether I do it or not, and if I decide to do it, I want to be the best I can, just as my father is always the best.  Besides maintaining what he has achieved over the years; I want to bring STR to a higher level. In fact, I want to be better than my father as I want him to be proud of me”, says Ruzima with determination in her eyes.

Today under the dynamic leadership of Ruzima, STR has expanded substantially to be one of the main fabric suppliers in Terengganu.  The company supplies white clothes and various batik materials to textile and batik industries. On top of that, STR is also a distributor of various types of batik products for the local and international market such as men’s shirts (formal and casual), ties, ladies blouses, baju kurung, sarong, songket, caftan, scarves, various types of souvenirs and handicrafts not only in Terengganu, but to the whole of Malaysia.

“My father had the vision to foster closer ties amongst batik-producers worldwide by sharing knowledge, views and ideas, new trends and challenges. At the same time, he wanted to share techniques, innovative technology, research input and marketing strategies for the betterment of the craft and industry in Malaysia. I am proud that my father’s vision has already been realised.”

Ruzima spoke from the heart in saying that sharing profit-making was never her primary concern, and that, in fact, she always has the burden of preserving batik as the special heritage of Malaysia.  She feels great satisfaction and happiness when she sees people from all walks of life proudly wearing batik, across all nationalities, races and ages.

Over the years, Ruzima has slowly developed her own vision and has sworn to bring STR up to a higher level in the batik industry. She is determined to ensure the long-term growth of STR, to expand the interest of the public at large towards batik in the craft and batik industry, and to develop an international market and network of batik practitioners and enthusiasts. Ruzima knows that all her dreams will come true provided that she never gives up and never forgets what her father has taught her since she was young,

“manakan dapat sagunya jika tidak dipecahkan ruyung” which means “no pain, no gain”.

“I strongly believe that as long as STR continues to further enhance the quality of batik and to render services with utmost professionalism to ensure customer satisfaction, be it for our corporate customers or individual customers, all the visions and dreams of STR are achievable”.

Last but not least, Ruzima noted that with her effort alone, STR could never be what it is today. She particularly would like to offer her highest gratitude and thanks to the late YAB Datin Paduka Seri Endon Mahmood, wife of the former Prime Minister, YAB Dato’ Seri Ahdullah Haji Abmad Badawi, who gave batik back its dignity, raised its national status and expanded its creative potential while forging an international presence in the fashion year. With great thanks, Ruzima also appreciates the various supports and encouragements she has had from the Government, especially Yayasan Pembangunan Usahawan Terengganu and Kraftangan Malaysia, who have consistently promoted the art of batik.

Sharing A Common Joy

by Raja Fuziah & Wairah Marzuki

Nelson Tan has long been regarded as one of the early pioneers in Sarawak who ventured into collecting the arts and craft of Borneo. Showcased at Nelson’s Gallery of Primitive Art, along the heritage row of shop houses facing the Kuching Waterfront, one literally becomes totally immersed with the amazing collection that he has collected in the last twenty years. An immense inventory of vintage textiles: batik sarong Sarawak, kain songket, kain pua, batik ayat of Nusantara among vintage brassware of every description, wood carvings and sculpture and old jewellery and accessories.

The Gallery is world renown. It has provided the learning space for researchers, academicians, art and craft collectors and tourists. From time to time ,artifacts from the Gallery have found their way to be displayed as part of a thematic exhibition held in various locations in Malaysia and abroad.

Alluring as it is, we may wonder what had truly inspired Nelson to acquire, preserve such a wonderful collection for all to share. How did it all start? And ,this is his story to myBatik.

“I was so inspired by the good work done by Her Majesty, Queen Sirikit of Thailand ,where I was privileged to participate at an International Textile Conference in 1988 in Chiangmai. Her Majesty had come to receive the UNESCO special Award in recognition of her efforts to nurture the silk cottage industry of Thailand and had transformed it as a national icon. I thought and worked hard after coming back from  Thailand. We developed beautiful handmade wooden trays, pua and introduced batik sarongs with ethnic motifs. Motifs of Iban Pua Kumbu, Melanau bamboo and floral pattern and Orang Ulu Tree of Life. It was great to  be able to promote affordable ,wearable batik sarong.

The late Kak Endon was so supportive and kind. She shared her ideas and encouraged  the  promotion of Sarawak arts and crafts.

This started a legacy of collecting old batik sarongs and vintage Nyonya kebaya and baju batik. I had donated a collection to the Musuem Negara, Selangor Musuem and the Sarawak Musuem. This to me is very important for two of the important pieces to be passed on for the future generations to cherish and treasure. In the collection, are batik as old as 17th and 18thcentury with beautiful natural dyes and flora and fauna motifs. It is amazing to see similar motifs and patterns  being replicated , printed and painted ,again and again.

Our Atelier patron, Dato’ Amar  Laila Taib,and president Mr.Edric Ong……had also encouraged and supported our  efforts to revive  the arts and crafts . Many art dealers and batik artists have benefited from the trade fairs and art fairs from the patronage , support and incentives extended by the Sarawak Government.

Today, tourists, local and foreign alike ,would ask for Sarawak batik sarong as a momento of their visit. What we started to venture and innovate about eight years ago  using tribal and Sarawak’s inspired motifs have become  in vogue. It has encouraged and promoted other artists and batik dealers to print and paint using  tribal motifs and patterns. This had indeed created a hallmark for Sarawak and at the same time providing the much needed extra income for the local peoplec

Batik Goes Green

By Emilia Tan

We all know going green is good for the planet.  What might come as a surprise is the fact that it can also be beautiful. Flowers, green grasses and plants do play very important roles for batik painters to paint beautiful green sceneries, underwater views, amazing sunsets and flora & fauna.
I have been travelling a lot for the past two years when I first started my publication company. I visited batik factories and workshops in countries like Tokyo, Pekalongan, Melbourne and many more. The set up of each factory or workshop in each country is more or less the same; the only difference is the design motif. Every painter I met during my trips loved to paint and created batik motifs based on surrounding landscapes, environment, atmosphere and also personal experiences.
In Malaysia, most batik painters are inspired through nature and produce a lot of floral-themed batik designs. A piece of beautiful batik cloth when turned into fashion wear could convey a message to the public that Earth is a responsibility to all and we should take care of the environment. A piece of Batik art indirectly reflects the beauty of Nature. We should protect our environment, before it vanishes through pollution and uncontrolled burning of forests.
Many years back, a famous design school in Hong Kong put a statement on a big billboard sign by the highway with this phrase: “The world without design is just like sunset without the sun”. This statement does make sense; thousands of designers are working in front of the computer every day coming up with thousands of new designs and ideas in the market. Man-made products and natural products are also moving along this line.
Nature inspires us, gives us ideas and provides us with our basic needs like food and water. Batik painters in Malaysia should use their expertise to create environmental awareness and create change. Injecting green into Batik does not only mean recycling or going organic, but more on the concept of coming up with environmental ideas and putting them into batik painting.

Batik in Kota Bharu, Kelantan

by Emilia Tan

Ever since the existence of myBatik magazine, I have been driving up to Kota Bharu for business trips whenever an issue is out. I love Kota Bharu very much, especially the attitude of people living there; they are very hospitable, humble and helpful apart from being great supporters of myBatik magazine.

Kota Bharu is a city in Kelantan which is located in the east coast of Malaysia. If you travel by flight, it will take you about an hour from KL, but if you travel by car, it will take you around 6 hours to reach there.

Kelantan is a great place to find good quality and reasonably priced batik. In Malaysia, up to 70% of batik shop owners get their batik supplies from Kelantan.

According to the owner of Kamaliah Batik, Mr. Khairol Annuar b. Hj Mohammad Idris who is the third generation of Kamaliah Batik Sdn. Bhd, there are about 1100 batik entrepreneurs in Kelantan, mostly those registered with the Koperasi Batik Kelantan.

“There are about 310 batik entrepreneurs who are registered with Kraftangan Kelantan. We are really doing a lot of promotion locally and overseas for batik entrepreneurs. In Kelantan, everyone loves batik – most people here not only produce batik but also wear batik daily. Plenty of the young generation, carry on with their family business in batik, even though they have finished their studies in Kuala Lumpur or overseas. With new technology and western influence, the young generation started to turn batik into fashion wear by catching up with the latest trends. Some even promote their businesses more aggressively online and utilize new concepts such e-commerce, in their batik enterprises,” answered Kamaruzaman, the Director of Kraftangan Kelantan since 1999 and who has been in the Kelantan batik scene for more than 25 years.

In its effort to promote batik, Kraftangan Kelantan offers short intensive batik courses for beginners and enthusiasts. Such course is usually 6-month long and the intake is March every year. The course includes batik canting (hand drawn batik), batik block print (batik cap) and batik silk screen printing. The best part of all, these courses are free.

To help boost the batik industry in Kelantan, Kraftangan Kelantan has also set up two centres of research and innovation in batik, Invovative Batik Centre and Research & Development Batik Centre. Both centres are located in Kraftangan Kelantan Campus, and the address is, KM 10, Jalan Kuala Krai, 16010 Kota Bharu, Kelantan. If you are interested to learn batik, please contact 09-7126266.

Aziz Awang – Batik & Global Warming

by Cecilia Tan

Climate change and global warming are intimately tied up with issues of pollution, emissions of CO2, photosynthesis, carbon sequestration, and the release of methane gas, to name just a few. Thus changes in one ecosystem cause changes in adjacent and other ecosystems and that climate change results in the warming of some areas and in the drying out of others. Thus what starts as subtle changes in weather patterns often lead to significant impacts and changes that in a whole variety of ecosystems including forests, agriculture, marine, arctic, dessert, mountain and urban landscapes.

Aside from personal expression and my passion for the planet, my goals are to increase awareness and inform and stimulate debate through batik ~ Aziz Awang

Born and raised in Kelantan, east coast of Malaysia, Aziz Awang is a self taught artist and started painting at the age of 14. He completed primary and secondary school and then furthered his study in Architectural Draughtsmanship for two years. He was a draughtsman for the 30 years and out of the 30 years he spent 20 years in Saudi Arabia.

In 1995, Aziz Awang returned to Kelantan, Malaysia and started to pursue arts seriously. He has been participating in many group shows in Saudi Arabia since 1979. His major collectors are The Mayor of Jeddah and The Museum of Sheikh Abdul Hassan Khalil and other private collectors.

As it is, Aziz Awang is the first and the only natural dye apparel and accessories producer in Malaysia. His effort in producing his master art pieces with natural resources such as plants and fruits had certainly contributed to a greener environment and brought good news to environmentalists. As global society begins to recognize the importance of going green in order to protect our environment and tackle the global warming phenomenon, his effort in creating environment-based art pieces is certainly laudable. Part of Aziz Awang’s artistic vision is to draw attention to the beauty of our fragile planet and arouse a desire in people to take personal responsibility for our human role in the causes of climate change and to motivate participation in solutions to arrest and ultimately reverse further damage to our environment.

In the process of making fabrics, wax is generally used as a dye resistant agent that requires the usage of petrol to wash away later on. Instead of using wax, Aziz Awang uses paddy husk to protect the texture of the fabric. Apart from wax and dye which are made from natural resources, the mordant which is used to retain the colour from fading off the fabric is also made by natural resources.

According to Aziz, the production of dye from natural resources takes a long time and serves as a great test of patient for the producer. For example, the leaves need to be boiled continuously for 12 hours, skin of the wood for 14 hours and cores of wood for 35 hours before they can be transformed into natural dye, wax or mordant. Even though the process to produce natural dye by way of natural resources is very complex and time consuming, the end result is overwhelming. The dye will produce colours that are attractive and rich which enable the production of exclusive and luxurious batik.

Due to this reason, batik produced by Aziz has always been the first choice of discerning buyers. For a 5-meter long textile, the price varies from RM 300 to RM 6,000. Aziz Awang produces a diverse range of natural colours on different fabric made of silk, cotton etc. The products made by Aziz Awang include fabrics, ready apparels, and accessories such as shawls and towels. Earning high profits from his batik production is never the main concern of Aziz. Instead, he derives satisfaction each time he produces a piece of fine, unique and high quality batik. In the market, batik is usually hand drawn or block printed. Normally, the dyes used are synthetic dyes or commercial dyes which are made from chemical compounds whereas Aziz’s dyes are created from natural resources and this does make his art pieces unique and different from other batik painters or designers.

Although it is still in the beginning stage of creating market awareness of the existence of his products made by natural resources, with effort, patience and creativity in the field of batik, we can foresee that his name will be recognized in Malaysia as well as internationally in the near future. All his efforts and hard works have been slowly acknowledged by the Malaysian society at large as the irresistible feature of his natural-dyed products has a therapeutic effect on human body as confirmed by researches made internationally.

Batik in Pekalongan – A Melting Pot of Culture

By Dudung Alie Syahbana`

The current batik in Pekalongan that we are seeing at this juncture greaty differs from batiks from otherregions in Java, especially those from Solo, Yogyakarta and their surroundings. This is due to the influence by foreigners — their ideas have greatly contributed to the development of batik designs in the Pekalongan area, hence impacting the styles and colours used by batik practitioners in Pekalongan.

Pekalongan is a town between Jakarta, Cirebon, Semarang and Surabaya. This town is a trajectory and an open area fortraders to stay while they are stopping by the towns in Java. New comers and traders can stay any time here during their trips. Developed by the governor general of Dendeles, the trajectory served to connect the traders stopping by Pekalongan to the cities in the north coast of Java. The access made Pekalongan vibrant and rich in culture with diverse cultures like European, Chinese, Arabian, Pakistani and Indian. The Arab clan has been in Pekalongan for a very long time and came into the town as merchants or missionaries of Islam. As for the Chinese, most came in as merchants and assimilated into the culture through marriages to the natives of Pekalongan. Other traders or merchants included different tribes of Indonesia such as the Bugis tribe from Makasar and the Minang tribe from West Sumatera. The Europeans came into Pekalongan when the Dutch ruled Indonesia while the Japanese came into Indonesia during the Japanese occupation from 1942 until 1945.

During the age of Dutch colonization, Pekalongan was area of capital city (Karesidenan) of Brebes region, Brebes city , Tegal Region, Tegal City, Pemalang Region, Batang Region and Pekalonga Region and Pekalongan city .

The Europeans in Pekalongan, mainly the Dutch, were educated people who were working at government offices. They had the capabilities to trade batik as handicraft and negotiate with batik producers in Pekalongan while their wives run batik workshops during their spare time. As a result, Dutch-inspired motifs and designs began to emerge in areas like Batavia, (Jakarta), Semarang and Surabaya. Among the famous motifs was the floral motif with names like Kristina/Tulip and Rose. There were also motifs inspired by European fairy tales such as Cinderella, the Red Hat, Game Cards etc.These motifs are very famous until now. One of the most successful European batikers was Mrs. Metzelaa.

Meanwhile the Chinese found batik to be a great business opportunity and means to earn good profits. The Peranakans (Chinese married with locals) became the most successful batik producers. In the beginning, they made batik with motifs from their own countries, China such as motifs placed on ceramic and jar ornaments and inspired by folklore of China: Hong birds, motif Phoenix, fishes, butterflies etc. The Peranakans also produced batik with floral motifs imitating those produced by the Europeans and successfully come up new motifs. The most famous Peranakan batikers were Gan Kai Leim, Oie Soo Tjoe, Oei Be Guan, Liem Ping Wie and The Tjien Sing.

The Arabic clan also produced batik at the back of their houses. Their motifs and designs were mostly geometric, indirectly inlfuenced by the Middle Eastern culture that excelled in science and technology. Some got their motifs from theCinde sarong or Sembagi from India which was finally referred to as Kain Jelamprang. They never made designs of animals due to religious prohibition. Not many Arabic batikers put their names on their products, although some did such as Zaki Basmelleh and H. Ehsan. Their products were mainly sold in Sumatra Island, Semarang and Malaysia, Thailand and Myanmar.

During the Japanese colonization in Indonesia, a motif called Batik Hokokai was created by Pekalongan natives and the Chinese clan. During that period, batik on cotton was very rare because imports of materials, such as cotton from Europe and India had drastically reduced. That made it harder for batik producers to produce batik but nevertheless many persisted and turned diffculties into opportunities by producing very fine and detailed batiks on other mediums such as silk during their spare time.

Practical Notes on Batik Tulis

by Charles Emile van Santen

The origin of batik tulis and the dye resist methods is not known. Some authors believe that batik originated either from India or from China, where similar techniques have been known for a long time and where some of the same traditional motifs used can be found in Indonesian batik tulis. Others have observed that some of the same motifs used in batik can be found in some of the sculptures on the eight century Borobudur temple in Central Java Province.

Today the dye resist method to colour cloth is used in many countries. Most researchers of batik recognize the high level of this form of textile art produced on Java Island. The invention of the canting or batik pen in the 17th century in the Mataram Court, Java, has been an important means to provide the Javanese batik artists with increased creative opportunities. The canting facilitates drawing the highly intricate and beautiful motifs for which Javanese batik tulis became famous.

The first systematic records of batik tulis are from Sir Stamford Raffles who was Governor General from 1811 to 1816 of the territory which is today known as Indonesia. Raffles ordered a systematic description of Indonesians art and crafts to be included in his famous History of Java, including a detailed account of the batik industry in that period. Batik tulis experienced a golden age from the early 1800’s to 1930, after which period industrial imitations replaced batik tulis to a large extend.

President Soekarno, Indonesian’s first President, during the 1950s promoted “Batik Indonesia” with the assistance of the batik designer Hardjonagoro.  However, a sustained revival started only during the late 1970s. The initiative was probably started by Iwan Tirta, a batik designer and collector, together with his collaborators. Today people in Indonesia and elsewhere realize the beauty of Javanese batik tulis and its contribution to making life more beautiful.

Batik tulis is used for clothing and interior decoration. It is also valued as art, and can be found in private collections and museums.  It is used in many countries of the world, particularly in South East Asia with Indonesia as the centre of production and use.

Batik Tulis Utilization

In Indonesia batik tulis is used as formal attire for official and private functions as well as for casual wear for leisure. The official Indonesian national dress for women consists of batik cloth- a kain panjang or hip wrapper and a batik selendang or shawl thrown over the left shoulder. This is worn in combination with a kebaya or traditional blouse. The official modern Indonesian national dress for man consists of a batik safari shirt worn over dark trousers. The official traditional male dress consists of a sarong or hip wrapper under a black coat. In private functions in Indonesia, such as traditional marriage parties, batik tulis is used by both man and women, each wearing a kain panjang or hip wrapper. In addition women may wear a batik shoulder shawl and the men a head cover made from batik cloth. A more modern adaptation would be an evening dress made from batik material for the woman and a safari shirt made from batik tulis for the man. In traditional rural areas in Indonesia, especially on the island of Java, batik sarongs or short hip wrappers are still worn by older women. Often these cloths are prints with batik motifs, but occasionally one may see elder women still wearing a real piece of batik cloth.

Many Indonesians own collections of master pieces of batik tulis which are often shown in the main drawing room of the house in a special display cabinet, often beautifully carved in a traditional design. Some private collections may include hundreds of unique pieces, including antique pieces handed down through generations.The value of such a batik collection can be substantial. A recent sale of a collection of some 150 pieces of batik owned by an elderly Indonesian woman provided the revenue to establish a fund to give financial support to art students, in line with the wishes of the owner of this collection.

Since the latest revival of batik tulis in Indonesia in the 1970s, batik tulis is also used for decorative purposes, as home furnishings such as wall hangings, curtains, bed covers, pillow covers or as a throw-over. Today, people in many other countries own batik tulis collections and use batik for decorative purposes.

Types of cloth suitable for Batik Tulis

Making batik starts with the selection of a suitable piece of cloth, either cotton or natural silk. For high grade cotton batik, often a piece of “primissima” cotton is used. Before a piece of cotton can be used for batik a special treatment is required to make the material suitable for receiving the dye, which includes cooking and beating. In case silk is selected for batik, 2 ply silk with or without in-woven motifs is preferred. It is further important that the yarn of this silk has been cleaned before weaving, to result in a strong cloth. One ply silk is often not sufficiently strong to survive the rigorous process of waxing and cooking, which is necessary to remove the batik wax after dyeing. Natural silk is a very strong fabric, yet it looses temporarily up to 50 percent of its strength when wet and heated.

The design

Designs for batik tulis are mainly based on traditional motifs, including main motifs and fill-in motifs or isen isen. Designs usually also indicate colour schemes to be used. An initial sketch is produced of the design on paper, followed by a drawing of a master copy produced by a draftsman to scale.

Transferring the design onto the cloth

This process starts with making a copy of the master copy on tracing paper, the working copy. Following this, the working copy is copied on the cloth which is to be waxed or batiked. There are two methods of copying the design on the cloth.

In the first method, sheets of carbon paper are laid over the cloth to be waxed. The working copy is put on top of this and the design is retraced with a soft blue coloured copy pencil. The result of this is a copy of the design on the cloth.

The second method uses a table with a glass cover with a lamp placed under this table. The working copy on the tracing paper is now put on the glass table and on top of this the cloth to be waxed. The light shining through the design makes it possible for the copyist to copy the design on the cloth with a soft blue coloured copy pencil.

Waxing the cloth

During the initial waxing of the cloth all parts of the design which are to not to be coloured in the first dye bath are covered with wax, while motifs to be coloured in the first dye bath are left uncovered. The batik tulis worker, almost always a woman, uses for this work a canting or batik wax pen. The canting consists of a copper reservoir with one or more spouts and a handle from wood or bamboo. For different types of motifs, different types of canting are used depending on the width of the lines of the motifs, as indicated in the design. The spouts of the canting vary in sized according to their use. For example when drawing the fine outlines the smallest bores are used, while drawing parallel lines or dots a canting with multiple spouts is used. The copper reservoir of the canting is filled with hot liquid batik wax from the wax pan or wajang, which is heated on a small kerosene stove. After the batik wax has required the desired liquidity level, the stove is adjusted to maintain an even temperature.

After dipping the copper head in the hot liquid wax to fill the cup, the batik worker grips the canting with her thumb, index and middle finger. She then follows the outlines of the design on the cloth filling this with liquid wax. Great care is taken not to touch the cloth with the spout to avoid unevenness in the thickness of the lines. To prevent spillage of wax the canting is always held horizontal. Great skill is required when using the canting because if the wax is too hot, it will flow too swiftly and if too cold, it will block the tube of the reservoir. To control the level of wax in the reservoir and to remove obstructions in the wax, the batik worker blows the spout of the canting. Wax, accidentally spilled on the cloth is removed with a sponge and a thin heated iron. However, it is almost impossible to correct mistakes completely. After one side is completed, the cloth is turned over and the outlines of the patterns on the reverse side of the cloth are also covered with wax, as motifs on both side of a piece of batik are similar.

The most experienced batik workers are responsible for the intricate motifs and patterns, while the less skilled workers are blocking the larger motifs and surfaces.  A result of this work method is that each piece of batik is unique, in the same way as each painting is unique. The cost of making a piece of batik tulis is relatively high as it is labor intensive and requires special silk cloth or cotton.

Dyeing the cloth

Dyes used for batik can either be natural or chemical dyes. Natural dyes are mainly obtained from leaves, tree bark, wood- and roots and rootstocks. Most of these materials are environmentally harmless, but unfortunately the mordant or the chemicals used for the fixation of natural dyes are often harmful. For example: Alum, potassium aluminum phosphate.  Natural dyes will often fade more quickly, and it is also very time-consuming as well, so today not many batik-makers are still using natural dyes. Modern chemical dyes allow a much wider variety of color choices. There are a number of chemical dye methods of which the following are most used for dyeing of batik tulis: Acid dyes, for example Indigosol and Napthol and Reactive dyes, for example Procion.

Direct coloring of small motifs: “coletan”

For some designs with many small motifs, a method is used to directly colour small areas with a small brush, using the same dye methods and colour fixation chemicals.  Examples of designs, which are directly brush painted: Small flowers of a bouquet; a field with flowers or small sea life. In case a gold colour or prada is indicated for selected motifs of the design, these motifs are also coloured with a brush.

Making fringes or tassels

A batik-shawl or slendang often requires a fifth step to make fringes or tassels at both ends of the cloth- ronce or rumbai. Note that the fringes should be made only after the cloth has been dyed. Making fringes before the cloth is dyed will result in messy fringes. To make fringes a strip of 15 cm at both ends of the cloth is left without motifs. These strips are dyed in the dominant color of the cloth. After colouring the fringes can be made by stripping away the weft threads and bundling and twisting the warp threads into the desired size fringe. A strip of 15 cm wide will result in fringes of 8-9 cm length.

Batik in Holland

BATIK in Holland is still a comparatively recent importation; brought here some ten years ago, it was met with absolute incomprehension and lack of interest, but its real merit as a means of decorating fabrics has earned it a place in the industrial art of the nation and year by year it is gaining wider recognition.

For two hundred and seventy odd years it has been known in Holland, to which country it was brought by the Dutch traders from Java in the middle of the seventeenth century. It was not, however, received very enthusiastic-ally and the commercial failure that followed the importation of some 2000 pieces (which were finally sold at auction, as no market could be found for them through regular channels) did not encourage traders in their efforts to popularize batiks. From that time, that is, about 1750 until 1817, interest in the work decidedly flagged and the honour of reviving it must be given primarily to Raffles who gave a description of it in his well known “History of Java” published at the latter date. He, however, seems to have had very little personal feeling for the art and merely wrote it up as a matter of history, and, it remained for the modern artists to give it is first real impetus.

Dutch Artists of Fame

The present keen interest in the craft is mainly due to Chris Lebeau, Dijesselhof and Lion Cachet, who have, by their wonderful work, revived and stimulated a nation-wide appreciation of the art.

American batik has recently gone through a phase of development similar to that experienced in Holland some twelve years ago. It has been in danger of getting into the class of transient “cults” and becoming a fashionable pastime with a rise and fall similar to the craze for doing peasant wood-carving, burnt-wood work or sweater knitting. But here, too, its real merit has saved it from becoming just a modish amusement. In Holland it was even introduced into girls’ schools as a regular course, so that graduates might enter the social world fully equipped ! Luckily for its ultimate survival, however, it required so much technical knowledge that it was soon left to serious students, but the desire for the beautiful results obtained by the process was not relinquished so willingly and the result was that people tried to produce the effect without the work. This imitation was called a “secret process” and enjoyed considerable vogue.

The general public believed that this substitute was real batik, because the material had been dipped and some wax had been used, but any one who knew anything about the genuine process, was not fooled and recognized that stencils and various other fake methods had been utilized. The unlimited patience of the native worker was unknown, and unsung was the thoroughness of the painstaking craftsman. At this period the watch-word was “speed” and the results showed it.

The importance placed on the “crackle effect” is another parallel in the phases of development in Holland and America. Crackle certainly has its place in the beauty of batik, but the indiscriminate use of it as a complete motive of decoration in itself, is to be regretted. It would be used less, probably, if examples of the best native and European work were studied, in which real design and colour are the arresting features.

Even whilst admitting that the medium does limit the designer to a certain extent, study of the work of the before-mentioned Dutchmen, Dijesselhof and Lebeau, will show the variety of design, feeling and temperament that can be expressed through the batik process.

Dijesselhof

Dijesselhof considers batik a better way to express himself for his mural decorations than either oil or water colour painting. He uses the brush to a great extent and works with great freedom of execution, making the medium conform to his own particular type of work.

Lebeau

Lebeau, on the other hand, after the manner of the Javanese, sees the tjanting as the only tool with which to produce his richly fantastic designs. Lebeau is technically the greater artist and possesses a supreme disregard of time when he is producing a magnificently ornamented textile; his attitude toward his work is reminiscent of, that of the monks who in bygone ages, spent years on the intricate and beautiful ornamentation of their laboriously hand-lettered books of devotion. They, too, had perfection of design and craftsmanship as their only standard.

These men have been an inspiration to Dutch artists, and the illustration of a batik by Chris Lebeau facing page 26 will give the reader a good idea of the high standard of proficiency this Dutch artist and craftsman has achieved. It will be seen that no actual lines were used in these designs ; if a line effect was wanted it was made by a series of little round dots, almost equal in size, with the result that a soft pleasing line is obtained instead of a hard one.

By graduating the size of the dots, from small to large, an effect is produced that never could be obtained with lines; not only are the lines treated in this way, but whole surfaces in which a light tone is desired, instead of being “covered off” with a brush, are laid in with count-less dots very close together. As can be readily understood this hand-work requires the acme of craftsmanship, for if the dots are placed irregularly, that is to say, if their arrangement is not directly harmonious with the main lines of the design, the pattern formed by the spaces between them, would disturb the rest of the drawing.

In the second reproduction it can be seen that the little dots are actually laid in circles, but with such regularity that no circles are shown. The workmanship in the stork design is even more amazing than that of the two first decorations and it is hard to believe that a human being has had sufficient patience to execute such a design.

European Use of Batik

In Europe, batiks are chiefly used for interior decoration; table covers, screens and lamp-shades being more popular than costumes decorated by the process. It is also used to a certain extent in book-binding, on paper and on parchment. Practically the same methods are employed when batiking these materials as for woven goods, but experimenters are advised to take the greatest care when handling paper, which of course. when wet, tears very easily.

To batik parchment it is necessary to first soak it, in order to make it pliable, then whilst wet, it should be stretched on a piece of plate glass, slightly larger than the parchment, and glued at the edges with strips of paper binding. When thoroughly dry the design is pounced on or drawn in with pencil. Before starting to apply the wax the glass must be warmed from the back, in order to make certain of an easy flowing of the wax; if the parchment is cold it will be found that the wax congeals too quickly and will not be workable. The parts of the design to be left un-coloured are covered with wax as usual, and a little wall of clay is built around the edge of the glass; this forms a bath into which the dye is poured. The col-our is allowed to soak in thoroughly and the dye is then poured off, the process being repeated if the tone from the first bath is not intense enough; other colours are applied in the same way. The wax is then removed by sponging carefully with gasoline.

Aniline dyes are used chiefly and occasionally acids which produce colour by their action on each other, are employed. Vegetable dyes are popular in Holland on account of their permanence, the Dutch being almost as particular about the durability of their work as the Javanese. This is natural when one remembers that, there, the batik art is considered in the same light as painting and sculpture, and frequent exhibitions are held for a public whose attitude toward the craft is very different to that of many Americans, who do not yet appreciate the art as an art.

Beside public interest, the government of Holland has done its best to stimulate the study of the craft. Experimenting stations are maintained, where free of all cost, the artist can have his batiked design dyed and he is given all the information and help that he wants. This, of course, means a great deal to the beginner who knows little or no chemistry, some knowledge of which is quite essential to one who would become a really expert dyer.

This article is republished courtesy of www.oldandsold.com

Batik Malaysia – Forging Ahead Remains the Only Solution

by Raja Fuziah & Wairah Marzuki

myBatik was privileged to meet with former Prime Minister of Malaysia, Tun Mahathir Bin Mohamad in June 2009 where we had a delightful discussion on the subject The Unique Batik Malaysia.

We are proud therefore to share with our readers Tun Mahathir’s insight on the subject and his advocacy of the task ahead. This article reflects on the issues discussed with Tun Mahathir and we record herewith our impressions:

The Unique Batik Malaysia

Developing batik as handcrafted textile – hand printed and hand drawn, has made us all acutely aware of the importance of three essential elements in producing a new product. They are, namely, Design, Colour and Technique.

We need to pay attention to all of the three above elements giving emphasis to Design which requires the most and urgent attention.

Secondly, Malaysians love bright colours and batik in bright colours has become a manifestation of that expression. However, we need to think of the market and the consumers we are targeting. Therefore, we need to study how they perceive colours and their receptivity to our selection of colours.

And thirdly, the need to take an aggressive approach in R&D and to engage in experimenting new technologies that can expedite and enhance batik production process as well as to solve problems related to attaining quality production. Learning from the experiences of other countries such as Japan and Korea, and adapting their practices to meet our needs would indeed be a real asset. Another aspect of R&D, relates to acquiring knowledge about the characteristics of fabrics in order to appraise their appropriateness for making batik.

What makes Batik Malaysia unique is that we have been able to develop it through innovation by observing and learning from the tradition of batik–making of other countries, and successfully creating our own indigenous batik–style.

We must therefore continue to challenge ourselves to develop the product further and aim for excellence

From Batik Sarong to Batik Yardage

In the last 50 years, batik has gone through an evolutionary process. Originally, the traditional batik cloth is the batik sarong, a functional cotton wrap to cover the body worn mainly by women and some men at home and at work.

Its transformation from a two meter patterned cloth to batik yardage (1960s) indeed had posed a serious challenge which demanded and involved extensive support in design and product development.

The task and challenge to innovate batik design has continued until the present day where the business of batik-making has reached the level of a highly competitive industry with producers ranging from that of a single-operator batik entrepreneur to that of an atelier/factory type of production vying for the discerning consumer.

Trends in Fashion

The world of fashion has created an immense consciousness with the designers and batik – makers who recognise the need to constantly innovate and produce new designs, introduce  new range of colours as well as to experiment with new production techniques to meet with the fast changing consumer taste and fashion trends. As a result, batik crafted from a variety of materials such as silk, cotton and linen of varying texture  have emerged in the market – place.

Batik as an Art form

Malaysian artists have made an inroad with their innovative adaptation of the batik technique on canvas. Henceforth, a new genre of batik as an art form was born. Batik paintings depicting images of Malaysian flora, fauna, forest, food and fiesta themes are providing a glimpse into the rich diversity of natural and cultural heritage of Malaysia through Batik Art.

The Design Challenge

A good design should create a pleasant virtual experience: the customer should perceive the product as aesthetically pleasing.

In this respect, batik designers should develop batik design to respond to the particular needs of the consumers thereby promoting the concept of special design for specific usage, such as batik for school wear, batik for uniform, batik for daily wear, batik for formal day and evening attire and batik for special occasions. Each particular design with special motif, pattern, colour and fabric created would therefore give batik that exclusive look and this would impact on batik not only as a versatile textile for clothing but also in popularizing it to a wider market.

Malaysia’s natural environment offers limitless source of inspiration from which new ideas, patterns, motifs and colours could be derived. At the same time, the uniqueness of each community in Malaysia, the people and their living traditions and cultural heritage are yet another source for design input.

Towards A Design Solution

Batik has to be taken seriously if it were to achieve the status of brand excellence.

Towards this end, designers, batik-makers and all concerned would have to work together in meeting the quality standard specified — whether batik is for the domestic market or for export, criteria such as finishing, presentation and packaging are important in determining the quality of the product.

One positive way would be for the local institutions who are already working in the development and promotion of batik to jointly cooperate and collaborate in their R&D efforts. Hence, to consider the idea of establishing a Batik Design Laboratory aimed at making a strategic thrust forward in research and product development envisaged for batik. This could be either as a programme or project. The lab should steer the direction and harness the best of all human, professional and technical resources made available to it by the collaborating institutions.

This institutional framework should act as the tool responsible in realizing the agenda to develop further the unique identity of Batik Malaysia.

Batik in Pekalongan – A Melting Pot of Culture

By Dudung Alie Syahbana`

The current batik in Pekalongan that we are seeing at this juncture greaty differs from batiks from other regions in Java, especially those from Solo, Yogyakarta and their surroundings. This is due to the influence by foreigners — their ideas have greatly contributed to the development of batik designs in the Pekalongan area, hence impacting the styles and colours used by batik practitioners in Pekalongan.

Pekalongan is a town between Jakarta, Cirebon, Semarang  and Surabaya. This town is a trajectory and an open area for  traders to stay while they are stopping by the towns in Java. New comers and traders can stay any time here during their trips. Developed by the governor general of Dendeles, the trajectory served to connect the traders stopping by Pekalongan to the cities in the north coast of Java. The access made Pekalongan vibrant and rich in culture with diverse cultures like European, Chinese, Arabian, Pakistani and Indian. The Arab clan has been in Pekalongan for a very long time and came into the town as merchants or missionaries of Islam. As for the Chinese, most came in as merchants and assimilated into the culture through marriages to the natives of Pekalongan. Other traders or merchants included different tribes of Indonesia such as the Bugis tribe from Makasar and the Minang tribe from West Sumatera. The Europeans came into Pekalongan when the Dutch ruled Indonesia while the Japanese came into Indonesia during the Japanese occupation from 1942 until 1945.

During the age of Dutch colonization, Pekalongan was  area  of  capital city (Karesidenan) of  Brebes region, Brebes city , Tegal Region, Tegal City, Pemalang Region, Batang  Region and Pekalonga Region and Pekalongan city .

The Europeans in Pekalongan, mainly the Dutch, were educated people who were working at government offices. They had the capabilities to trade batik as handicraft and negotiate with batik producers in Pekalongan while their wives run batik workshops during their spare time. As a result, Dutch-inspired motifs and designs began to emerge in areas like Batavia, (Jakarta), Semarang and Surabaya.  Among the famous motifs was the floral motif with names like Kristina/Tulip and Rose. There were also motifs inspired by European fairy tales such as Cinderella, the Red Hat, Game Cards etc.These motifs are very famous until now. One of the most successful European batikers was  Mrs. Metzelaa.

Meanwhile the Chinese found batik to be a great business opportunity and means to earn good profits. The Peranakans (Chinese married with locals) became the most successful batik producers. In the beginning,  they made batik with motifs from their own countries, China such as motifs placed on ceramic and jar ornaments and inspired by folklore of China: Hong birds, motif  Phoenix, fishes, butterflies etc. The Peranakans also produced batik with floral motifs imitating those produced by the Europeans and successfully come up new motifs. The most famous Peranakan batikers were Gan Kai Leim, Oie Soo Tjoe, Oei Be Guan, Liem Ping Wie and The Tjien Sing.

The Arabic clan also produced batik at the back of their houses. Their motifs and designs were mostly geometric, indirectly inlfuenced by the Middle Eastern culture that excelled in science and technology. Some got their motifs from the Cinde sarong or Sembagi from India  which was finally referred to as Kain Jelamprang. They never made designs of animals due to religious prohibition. Not many Arabic batikers put their names on their products, although some did such as Zaki Basmelleh and H. Ehsan. Their products were mainly sold in Sumatra Island, Semarang and Malaysia, Thailand and Myanmar.

During the Japanese colonization in Indonesia, a motif called Batik Hokokai was created by Pekalongan natives and the Chinese clan. During that period, batik on cotton was very rare because imports of materials, such as cotton from Europe and India had drastically reduced. That  made it harder for batik producers to produce batik but nevertheless many persisted and turned diffculties into opportunities by producing very fine and detailed batiks on other mediums such as silk during their spare time.

Confusion to Strength

by Alexandra Low

To anybody’s imagination, the very man who held DaimlerChrysler Malaysia at the helm for years contributed only to the automotive industry or knew only business, or a combination of both. That albeit being a reality, showed only a fragment of his life—one that burst with the colours of Malaysian art.

“I only know how to look at things from the business side.”

Dato’ Frank insisted that he was nobody in the fashion scene; his blue eyes revealed his broiling discomfort when he touched the fashion topic. It would not be at all comical had it not come from the lips of one of the first people who established the Malaysia International Fashion Awards (MIFA). He subsequently moved on to witness the growth of other influential fashion bodies like Malaysia Official Designers Association (MODA) and Stylo.

By right, if a man confessed that he had little life apart from his work, it could only mean one thing: he did have little life apart from work. He has three automotive-related companies in Malaysia namely FS Consulting Sdn Bhd, German Motors Sdn Bhd and Chemplex Continental Sdn Bhd. But, the very man who helped nurture the growth of Malaysian fashion arena was also the one of the leading sponsors of Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre. His passion for beautiful things did not stop at pre-dawn antique shopping on the dark streets of Beijing. He also visited rural villages in Terengganu to see for himself the tedious production of Malaysian traditional dye-print art.

“I’m not a fashion icon,” he stressed again, “I’m not even fashionable to begin with.” Yet his lips curved upwards whenever he spoke of the growth of local fashion as well as performing arts industries. “I just like to create things and make things happen. I believe [that] development isn’t about majestic architectural, but more on education.” To him, education meant two types of platforms: one, for young people to express their thoughts and ideas; another, exposure—in short, a stage basking with spotlights and flashlights.

Dato’ Frank watched local star designers, namely Khoon Hooi and Melinda Looi, emerged from the platforms he helped erect. That was only two success cases. To him, there were thousands more aspiring art students who would one day shape the fashion world and these young people deserved to be seen. “Malaysia is a vibrant country. Unlike Europe, here, you can do Indian fashion, Islamic fashion, Chinese fashion and so much more!” The possibilities were endless. That was the major reason why he got himself involved in the leading fashion events.

Although happy for Khoon Hooi and others who had made a name for themselves, he was disheartened that not many batik designers seized the opportunities to showcase their works in the annual event. “Batik is not something every country has.” All the more, batik has to be treasured and promoted. Despite efforts by the government, its mark in the international fashion scene is still minimal. Batik’s confused status explains its lack of success.

“Somebody must make a decision. Batik has to be either handicraft or fashion,” he said. The rationale, simple business strategy: “If [batik is] handicraft, it can afford to retain its current image. It can be hand drawn, individually produced and expensive… But if batik is to be more [towards] fashion, then it has to be mass produced, made younger and affordable. Fashion isn’t about couture only. It has to reach the masses.”

“Somebody must make a decision. Batik has to be either handicraft or fashion… If batik is handicraft, it can afford to retain its current image. It can be hand drawn, individually produced and expensive. But if batik is to be more towards fashion, then it has to be mass produced, made younger and affordable. Fashion isn’t about couture only. It has to reach the masses.” – Dato’ Frank Steinleitner

“To the younger generation, batik looks old… boring… something people wear to formal functions…,” he sighed. Batik had not permeated deep enough into the Malaysian society as a fashionable wear. To be fashionable, batik must rise to the frontline of everything trendy. To do that, it must first be competitive enough to survive fast-moving trends and ephemeral tastes. “That means, it must be produced efficiently,” he declared, “and that will make it affordable.”

“I can only speak from the business point of view,” he said again. And it was the lack of business views that limped the progress of the batik industry. Many batik designers were not business savvy. Many were poor farmers or fishermen—people who relied heavily on government’s subsidies and financial assistance—trying to pocket some extra income dyeing cloths. These people just did not have the capital to mass produce.

The development of batik into something synonymous to the national identity had been discussed for too many years, and yet the results were disappointing. He believed that the core issue was not inept marketing, nor was it horrid quality. “Really, someone… like the Ministry of Arts, Culture and Heritage… should decide how they want the world to see batik. A repositioning would give batik another beginning on a new footing.”

Repositioning requires smart business thinking. “It’s worth thinking (on how to improve the batik industry). I will think about it and we can share more next time,” he promised. But, before that, batik must know whether it is handicraft or fashion.