Lifestyle

Hazel J.R: From Cottage Industry to Fly Away Success

by Cecilia Tan

Any business, especially a niche business, needs repeat customers to survive. To achieve this, Hazel J.R  offers excellent customer service to attract and retain the customers they need to survive and compete against the big boys, and more so in a downturn economy.

Norhana binti Mustaffa was born and raised in Kelantan, Malaysia. Norhana’s childhood memories could never be separated from batik as she lived and breathed batik in one of the states in Malaysia that actively produced hand drawn batik.

As a career woman, Norhana started to get involved in the boutique business since the 1980’s. The business was growing up smoothly and surprisingly in the year 1993, Norhana made a firm decision that trulyr shocked everyone around her; she wanted to close down her boutique business and open up a batik boutique even though she was not a batik artist. Norhana felt that she had to be very honest with herself and recognised that there was a higher calling in her life besides making money and getting wealthy.  Being a Kelantanese, liking batik was definitely not enough. That thought kept coming to her especially when she encountered tourists who came looking for batik in her boutique and she was left without much choice but to send those disappointed tourists somewhere else. Disappointed, Norhana pledged to contribute to the Malaysian batik industry a little bit more besides wearing batik.

It was a tough decision that she had to make in choosing between pursuing money and making batik for the sake of passion and love for Kelantan batik. With great encouragement and understanding from her family, especially her husband, Mazelan bin Hamid, she carried out a 180 degree change in her business direction. Out of her love and passion for batik, a batik boutique named after this lovely couple, (“ha” from Norhana and “zel” from “Mazelan”) “Hazel” was born. The challenges for “Hazel” were overwhelming. Norhana could easily name a few when asked about the obstacles and challenges that she encountered during the earlier years of her batik boutique. From low capital to insufficient stocks and choices; it was difficult to compete with other well-established batik shops. However the challenges did not deter her in making her enterprise a success and possessing a strong spirit within her, she never gave up. In fact, she believed those who endured till the end would be rewarded. With this belief in mind, she strived for nearly 4 years to establish the brand, “Hazel” and build her clientele list.

The biggest secret for “Hazel”’s success is good service. Norhana always follows up with the customers after the completion of each sale by calling them to find out whether they are satisfied and happy with the batik products that they have  just bought. If the customer feedback is negative, then they will propose the customer to return the product in exchange with another product or a small gift. Whether the customers are happy or not, Norhana will always get their feedback as to what is their expectation in terms of quality and design. After gathering feedbacks from the customers, Hazel will hold a meeting with her team members and order new designs from the batik suppliers. In order to capture the hearts of customers, her batik design inventory is updated quickly, on a monthly basis with the most fashionable and highly demanded designs. Often, the follow up process enables Norhana to build a strong friendship with her customers to the extent that when they think of batik, they think of “Hazel”.

“We as one family, must be act as one heart with the same determination and vision. We have been consistently working hard throughout these years and never close for a single day, be it public holiday or “Hari Raya”. We open 365 days from 10am to 10pm to be readily accessible to customers,” says Norhana . In 2000, “Hazel” had established a strong footing in the batik industry and having a large group of consistent customers, Together with her husband, Norhana decided to open another branch at Bazaar Buluh Kubu, Kota Bharu, Kelantan. With the full cooperation from her fellow family members and team members, soon after 4 years, Norhana and her husband Hazel launched a new boutique called Hazel Silk House at Jalan Sultan Yahya Petra which is next to Renaissance Hotel, aiming at upper class market. Hazel Silk House imports Korean silk, Japanese silk and other materials from overseas to produce high end batik for upper class customers. As a businesswoman, Norhana will never shut her door down to those who can’t afford to buy expensive silk, thus she also provides batik in cotton and all kinds of local fabrics which are more affordable.

Looking back these 16 years, Norhana had experienced all the ebbs and flows in her entrepreneurial journey and proudly declares that she has no regrets in life because she heeded the voice of her heart and allowed the passion in her heart grow to its fullness. However there is always something bothering her because she knows that time and tide waits for no men and she will soon retire, hence a need for a next strong generation to take over her family business. Otherwise “Hazel” will not stand forever in this very competitive batik industry, and will soon be knocked down by competitors. Having thought about the future of “Hazel” and her children, Norhana and her husband once again decided to set up a new company, “Hazel Junior Resources” at Jalan Pengkalan Chepa, which is in front of Hotel New Pacific to be solely run by her children with the hope that they can do better than their parents and bring the brand ‘Hazel” to a higher level. “Hazel J.R” not only sells batik but also readymade boutique apparel targeting young buyers in the market. Norhana doesn’t believe in holding a full grip of the business and is confident with her children’s ability in managing “Hazel J.R”. According to her, the younger generation will be able to ascertain the needs of their peers as they themselves are young and be creative and innovative enough to meet the expectation of their own generation.

Norhana is of the view that in order for the batik industry to survive well in Malaysia, all Malaysian Batik organizations have to fight against printed batik hand in hand because there has been a trend of wearing printed batik aggressively recently. The batik industry in Malaysia will not be able to survive and will lose its exclusiveness if printed batik is going to substitute hand drawn batik one day. On top of that, the Malaysian government must also strongly implement strategies to encourage citizens to not only like batik but buy and use batik.

Kamaliah  Ismail Zain: Doing It Naturally

by Raja Fuziah & Wairah Marzuki

Voices of the world were heard loud and clear in support of the campaign promoting the revival of Natural Dyes at the UNESCO International Symposium/Workshop on Natural Dyes 2006 in collaboration with the Government of India.

These voices of concern were vibrating at the dialogue sessions heard at the technical presentations and during the interactive sessions where natural dye experts from many countries around the globe demonstrated their skills and shared their unique findings with eager participants. Unanimously, policy-makers, craft planners, craft practitioners, textile enthusiasts solemnly agreed to advance the agenda to adopt eco-friendly practices in the making of craft products. Could this safe Mother Earth?

It was truly fascinating to wander around the symposium’s Natural Dye Bazaar. To see the amazing selection and choice to be made in  the variety of handwoven and handprinted textiles  made from natural fibres such as cotton, linen, and silk both with traditional and contemporary designs, patterns and motifs. Even more amazing was the range of colours of the natural dyes that were extracted from the variety of plants, barks of trees, leaves, vines and ferns, flowers and fruits , clay, desert sand , the sea, mud  and earth.

The impact of this on Kamaliah Ismail Zain of Lyanne Batik was devastating. She confided that initially she came to explore for new ideas, to gain  new insight and even to share her world of knowledge. Never did she realize that the Hyderabad Natural Dyes Symposium was going to be an electrifying experience. It became the source of inspiration for her to engage in and pursue the use and application of natural dyes for her batik work upon her return to Malaysia.

It has been two years since she ventured into the medium of natural dyes. Based in Selangor, Malaysia, Kamaliah claims that she is still in the embryonic stage of trial and error, “a very trying time indeed”. Nevertheless, the spirit of journeying into the realm  of the unknown, goads her on. This is particularly so after having had the opportunity of participating in many natural dyes workshops organized by Kraftangan Malaysia. She said, “these workshops did a world of good to me, for they gave a new  creative dimension and input to her basic knowledge” in the art of natural dyeing.

One cannot but feel excited and moved by her vision and aspiration. Her mid-term plan is to market natural dyed batik as a prestigious brand of Lyanne Batik. If so far she has been able to involve herself in the total process from planting indigo and other species of plants from which  natural dyes would be processed to harvesting, creating the recipes, designing and producing the batik fabric, there would be no reason why she should not be successful in fulfilling this task. The true test has been to accept the challenge which she has readily done so.

Kamaliah is truly blessed because she believes in what she is doing earnestly to protect Mother Earth and has truly genuine friends and clients who believe in her pursuit of her dream.

Project Batik 2.0

by Mohamed Kamal bin Dollah

Part 1 of 2

I practise with a variety of painting mediums in art-making ranging from ink to digital

media to aerosol cans. Despite my quest for mastery in the art of batik, I am often drawn to use other more appropriate mediums for specific requirements of art-making. I used to think that this was a problem, but I have come to terms with it after observing the reality of the contemporary art-making environment. Though useful in marketing an artist’s image or for a branding exercise, there is no further need to be restricted by medium and style. In contemporary practice, context presides over medium. On the other hand, I hope my advanced knowledge of batik art will not limit my scope of art-making or worse still, limit me to locating the context to suit the medium.

Batik-painting is seen as a demanding medium, which requires a lot of skill, planning and materials that are not easily available. It is not a practice for casual artists. All this is true. I did not acquire the skill easily, but now that I have acquired it over years of practice, I no longer find batik daunting.

To think that this is a medium of the common people, that is practiced by small households in remote villages. It really does not require much to overcome its intimidating outlook to bring the process into a painting studio.

One advantage is that batik is easy to work with in large scales. Unlike a traditional western easel painting, it has an obverse property that is overlooked when presented within a picture frame. Traditionally a medium for making attire, the medium’s versatility is much more practical to addressing the requirements of contemporary-art that has a tendency of challenging presentation format. This is a medium that is very versatile. It can be either very basic or highly sophisticated. It does not necessarily have to remain within a picture frame on the wall.

Frustrations

The major frustration with batik-painting is the lack of clear instructions and material

supplies. Most batik instructors are unqualified to teach this craft and they make

modifications such as melting crayons, which bastardises the craft. Serious practitioners acquire their skills the hard way, often building it up from scratch. Thus most batik practitioners are protective of their knowledge. The nature of this medium is unforgiving and failures are rife in a process that often breaks the spirit of most people who try it. I have written numerous syllabus for teaching batik at different levels in school and have the experience of teaching many from very young primary school students to adult learners.

From my 13 years of experience in teaching art, I do admit that this is the most challenging medium. The technique is easy to understand but difficult to master. Inadvertently, my knowledge and skills are in demand. For the medium to succeed, more batik practitioners are required to make up the critical mass. The community should be more open to sharing the knowledge. This is a simple technique, but unfortunately the secrets are still closely guarded. It is our loss as practitioners when we hide our knowledge and deny future practitioners from building on our accumulated skills. My works in the course of my MA exemplify the challenges of finding innovations within the medium while holding true to the craft.

Project 1: Drawings

Drawing traditionally has always been perceived as a preparatory act of expressing an idea or observation. It is a transitional stage, a part of something bigger – a painting, a building, etc that a drawing in itself is incomplete. Contemporary drawing today redefines it to a broader context as traces of marks on a surface; that is the art in itself.

In an attempt to innovate batik practice, I took a step out of the box to reflect. One of the things that I came to realise is that Batik is a kind of drawing. I have always had a parallel practice in drawing through my daily works done on Chinese rice paper.

I discovered a similarity of batik to my other practice of drawing with ink. The way I

manoeuvred a brush pen is comparable to the tjanting. Both handlings are difficult to master and have a very subtle friction when it flows on the surface and blotches when the movement is paused. Ink blotches on rice paper as the tjanting blotches wax on fabric.

I began to explore the possibility of exploring batik more as contemporary drawing rather than painting. In the age of mechanisation and digital reproduction, the raw strokes made by hand are becoming rare. With mastery of technique, batik expresses the fluidity and sensitivity of the strokes beautifully, very much like Chinese calligraphy. The crackling hairline, variation of line thickness and uncertainties of the dyeing process is unattainable in a mechanical process of art-making. It reminds us of our sense of touch and about being human.

With advancement in printing technologies such as dye-sublimation printing that can

produce high resolution photo quality images on fabric cheaply and quickly, the practice of making batik by hand in the century-old traditional method is questionable. Mass production and mechanisation lacks authenticity. It detaches the viewer or user from the maker. It reduces the personal touch of the artists’ hand and the imperfections that is very much a reflection of life itself.

Drawing to me is like a dialogue. When I create a trace of mark on a surface, it becomes an expression of a vision through my action. The eye sees and the mind responds to move the hand that causes what is now on the paper, and another mark is added. It is a give-and-take process much like a conversation but, since it is an exchange of expression within one’s self it is an insight of one’s metaphysical being.

The act of drawing creates element that reference other elements on the surface to form relationships, narratives or clarity of thought. It can also be seen as an act of appropriation or destruction. Appropriation of a surface that was blank (in most cases) into a stage where a signifying play of differences can take place and at the same time destroy the purity of the surface works towards the extinction of emptiness. As artists, we depart from the white surface and cover it with markings.