Success Story

DESA MURNI – From Dreams to Reality

by Muhammad Fahad

Whenever there’s a talk about the PIONEERS of Batik in Malaysia and globally, one of the names that clicks into our minds instantly is BATIK DESA MURNI.

The history of Malaysian Batik goes back to 13th century and it was later mentioned in the literary works of Malay Annals, which were started in the era of the Regent of Johor. Malaysian Batik is generally a textile with the patterns of leaves and flowers on it. Apart from using an exceptional quality of cloth, Batik is also very famous for its geometrical designs, with its Spirals or Butterfly themes. In modern times, if there’s one organization that needs to be applauded for carving new paths for batik, then that’s going to be Batik Desa Murni.

Batik Desa Murni Sdn. Ltd., is a dream project started by Tuan Haji Embong Bin Su in the year 1974 for the production of Batik, textiles and tudung.  Based in the state of Terengganu, Desa Murni is a family enterprise, run by the eldest son in the family, Tuan Haji Suhaimi Bin Embong. As the demand for batik increased substantially during the 90’s, Suhaimi Bin Embong merged the basic idea of Batik with modern technology and now the company uses high-tech digital systems for printing. He explains,

“My aim is to introduce Desa Murni to the international market. We can rival and compete with the other international brands like Gucci or Prada if our products are as good as theirs.”

Suhaimi Bin Embong thinks that all of this is possible with the help of his wife Fatimah Fathiyah Ismail, who has been with him every step of the way. He says,

“My success is the result of cooperation and assistance from my wife and family.”

Recently, they have launched five new lines of digital silk batik to meet an increase in demands from overseas. They have also opened their outlets in different parts of Malaysia like Kuala Lumpur and Kalang Tang. When asked about the current business strategy for Desa Murni at the launching ceremony of an art gallery at Pengadang Baru, Suhaimi explains

“Due to an exceptional increase in demands from overseas, we have hired 35 young designers, with one head designer from Italy working extensively with them and creating approximately 1000 exclusive designs daily. Our goal is to ensure that no two customers wear the same thing.”

On April 8, 2011, former Miss Malaysia and the brilliant actress, Erra Fazira, who starred on the Malaysian silver screen during the mid-nineties, was signed as the brand ambassador for Desa Murni. At the signing contract ceremony, Erra Fazira was looking stunning in a traditional silk batik dress by Desa Murni.

“I’m so excited and proud to be chosen as the brand ambassador for Desa Murni Batik, which is considered to be one of the pioneers in the batik industry. I am delighted that I will be representing the company locally and globally, as Malaysian Batik has a lot of potential to grow”, explained the former Miss World contestant. Erra Fazira has also shot an advertisement for the company and other photo shoots in different attires.

With such dedication and commitment from Suhaimi Embong and his wife and Erra Fazira becoming an integral part of the brand, there’s no doubt that Desa Murni has got all the potential to excel in the Batik and textile industry, locally and internationally.

Batik On The Horizon – Fion Poon & Ferrelle

by Cecilia Tan

Everyone wants to hear a success story, but after much consideration and scrutiny, I can only say the defining moment for our success is when sales help set the criteria for expansion and the bonuses bring smiles to all our employees. The present economic environment will be a test for Ferrelle. We, at Ferrelle are under no illusion and will be monitoring our own progress carefully – FION POON

As a company, Ferrelle’s vision is very simple, that is to build Ferrelle into a brand with a very niche market. The greatest ongoing lesson for Ferrelle as an organization has been the formulation and evolution of its own sets of values. Clarifying values and finding self esteem have always been important areas of Ferrelle’s journey. Ferrelle’s vision has always been a collective effort. It is not just about the vision of its founder, but also the vision of its staff.

The journey has not been easy; it faces ongoing trials that provide good lessons, lessons that all businesses and businesspeople learn at some given time. In a specialized field like Ferrelle’s, the ability to keep learning and be innovative is as essential as having good management policies and forward-looking leadership. Hence, as a business entity, Ferrelle adopts a learning approach; it is always learning, trying to be creative and emulate the best in the industry.

Although batik is slowly presenting itself as a viable addition to the mainstream fashion industry, how Ferrelle incorporates batik into fashion depends very much on innovation, creativity and perseverance. Batik artists are always changing and adding more vibrant colours into traditional earth tones variants, and while certain styles and representation will always preserve batik as an art, the more colourful batik designs have inevitably crossed into mass colour print production. Looking at this, Ferrelle is experimenting and creating products from these colourful pieces of batik and hopes to create an awareness of its viability.

The questions for Ferrelle have always been this: How far can it preserve a tradition like batik without compromising its artistic form? How do you promote the artist and his work? Will an artist produce a thousand pieces of a similar work and still call each an original masterpiece? Ferrelle is always looking at opportunities to cooperate with artists and designers to realize its vision.

With its expertise, Ferrelle aspires to provide a platform to further introduce Malaysian batik into the competitive fashion industry. Shoes and handbags have always been essential parts to complete and compliment the fashion industry. In seeing the good potential of working together with artists, Ferrelle is putting specific batik designs onto shoes and handbags to showcase both talents and great artworks. Through this avenue, batik can present itself viable both as an art and a fashion trend.

Changing trends and a new consciousness in the fashion industry are also creating opportunities and possibilities to explore and experiment new awareness. Going ethnic, native and green are the ‘in’ thing today. Hence, Ferrelle is doing its best to incorporate materials that use natural dyes and natural fabrics, to ensure its products are environmentally friendly.

As its craftsman and designers are busy creating new products, designing beautiful things for women, the combination of style, comfort and quality has become the expected norm. Defining standards and its presentation are two important aspects in portraying the successful and discerning woman. True to its motto, “You are what you wear”, one of Ferrelle’s missions is to help make Malaysian batik more appealing both locally and internationally. If successful, then it too would have succeeded in promoting Malaysia as a brand.

Quality You Can Trust
Haji Hassan Bin Dato’ Haji Hussin SMK,JP

by Robert C.S. Tan

Haji Hassan Hussin walked into the coffee lounge at the Eastin Hotel, Petaling Jaya, where several people wearing batik had gathered. He informed the waiter, “I’m looking for a Mr CS Tan. We have an appointment. I’m Hassan.” Standing nearby them, I walked up to Tuan Haji Hassan and greeted him. “Hello, CS Tan, it’s nice meeting you,” he replied. He looked immaculate in a yellow baju Melayu and songkok. His warm smile broke the ice. It was the first time we met.

Tuan Haji Hassan is the Managing Director of Hussin Yacob Trading Sdn Bhd. An established company dedicated to the supply of dyestuffs, chemicals, white fabric and other raw materials used in the manufacture of batik products and based in Kota Bharu ,Kelantan – the home of Malaysian Batik, it was established in 1945 by his father. Haji Hassan takes pride in the fact that as a second generation management team for the family business, his company has not only managed to maintain the same line of business to batik makers but has diversified into batik apparel, sportswear and uniforms to institutions such as private enterprises, companies, universities and colleges.

Tuan Haji Hassan was born into a family already immersed in the batik industry. His late father, Allahyarham Dato’ Haji Hussin bin Haji Yaacob, a far sighted entrepreneur and noted philanthropist in Kota Bharu, secured distribution rights from several renown manufacturers from Europe and became the largest distributor for the supply of dyestuff, chemicals and other raw materials for the batik and textile industry for Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand. The company also has long established trading connections in Japan, China and India.

“I was introduced to the batik industry at a very young age. As a boy, I had to study the English-German dictionary because my father imported products from Switzerland and Germany. In the end I could count in German and knew all the colour names in the German language! I had grown up with the batik industry since then,” Tuan Haji Hassan said .

“If anyone would do batik, he or she would do the research and invariably would turn up at our office. We are established since 1945. We have a trove of information and tradition to help people in the batik industry”, he adds.

Remembering his father fondly, Tuan Haji Hassan said, “My father had a high level of enterprise and courage. His business mind was fantastic. At 13 years, he took a boat from Tumpat to Singapore to sell meat. By the time he got there, the meat he took with him had turned bad and could not be sold. There was no meat preservative then. Having no money with him, he had to work in Singapore to earn the passage to come home to Kota Bharu. He was only 13.”

Another incident Tuan Haji Hassan quotes shows the resourcefulness of his late father. Shortly before the end of the Japanese occupation in Malaya (now Peninsular Malaysia), his late father started to collect Japanese stamps used in Malaya. Many years after the Japanese occupation, his late father sold the stamps at an auction in London for a few thousand pounds.

According to Tuan Haji Hassan, his late father had a great business mind. “My father worked for his uncle. His name was Haji Sulaiman. This Haji Sulaiman was a great entrepreneur. This was in the 1920s. He went from Kelantan to Indonesia to get the batik blocks. Together with Che Su, a renowned Batik family, he was one of the first people to introduce batik in Kelantan. My father worked for him and learned how it was done. My father also taught himself English. If you read his letters, you would think he went to school to learn English. But he learned English on his own by buying The Straits Times, The Daily Mirror of UK and watching American movies. He was a determined and strong-minded man. After some time working with his uncle, my father became an entrepreneur. He was many years ahead of his time”.

After graduating from University of Malaya in 1978, Tuan Haji Hassan first worked at Petronas, the national oil corporation. However, his period of employment at Petronas was short-lived. The family business needed his help. He returned home and worked with his father.

Tuan Haji Hassan recalls, “I’ve always wanted to be a business man on my own.  My stint at Petronas was purely to gain experience of working in a large corporation. My father at that time had a minor stroke. There seemed to be an emergency to come back earlier. At that time, my father was in his 50s. I was 25. I had intended to work elsewhere in other areas to get more business ideas and then come back to do the family business. My father was ill for a while and he recovered. So, I managed to stay with my father for about 15 years. I learned the business from him.” After working with his late father for some time, Tuan Haji Hassan held the position of Managing Director of the company.

His early challenge in running the family business was dealing with the competition. He speaks about the challenge with a story teller’s skill. “We were representing the Swiss company called Rohner. This company was very established. It was like the “mercedez-benz” for colours. It was the number one brand. Being the number one brand, the products were expensive. Japan started to enter the industry by providing alternative and cheaper products. So there was price competition between the European and Japanese companies. These companies are not big players anymore. They have left the industry for environmental reasons. They sold their patents to China and India. The price competition was a big challenge then.”

Until today, Tuan Haji Hassan continues to maintain his company’s niche in the batik industry. His business approach is to ensure his customers make money from buying his products. “Our business is we sell our products to intermediaries. People who buy our products have to use them, that is, they make a finished product to sell to the end-users. Our policy is our buyers must profit from buying our products. Some of our buyers are sub-dealers. They buy our products and sell them at a profit to other dealers. So, the products must be priced right for others to make profit.

Hussin Yacob Trading Sdn Bhd operates from a shop house in town and a warehouse in the industrial area. Haji Hassan’s company supplies batik products to walk-in customers and delivers products to his regular customers in Kelantan, Trengganu, Kuala Lumpur, Kedah and Sabah.

Over the years, Tuan Haji Hassan has diversified the company’s activities downstream into textile printing and garment manufacturing. The company’s products today include sportswear, work wear and custom made batik. Other business interests of the company are the supply of equipment and machinery, property development, construction, tourism and insurance services.

Despite growing his late father’s company into a more diversified entity, Tuan Haji Hassan is modest with his achievements. He attributes his business success to his late father. “I learned the business from my father. The success of the business is really my father. I’m just continuing it. He was the real entrepreneur”.

I asked Tuan Haji Hassan what his vision is for batik Malaysia. He replied excitedly, “Batik will always survive as a form of art. But I would like to see batik survive commercially rather than just an art form. This means people will wear batik. It could be clothing or accessories. In the 1970s, after the Konfrantasi (conflict between Malaysia and Indonesia), Malaysia became good friends with Indonesia. Malaysia became exposed to a lot of men wearing batik shirt. Before that, Malaysian men did not wear batik shirt. There was only batik sarong. There were batik makers in Kelantan. The late Tun Razak said that once a week, men should wear batik. This gave a great boost to the batik industry. It was all right for men to wear batik. Before that, men didn’t wear batik. So now, men wear batik. This was the first batik boom of the industry. The biggest boom was in the 1990s when silk was introduced as a premium batik material.”

On ways to promote batik in Malaysia, Tuan Haji Hassan suggested, “In Indonesia, people wear batik as a daily wear. Here, we wear batik for ceremonial occasions. I would like to see people wear batik once a week. The whole country should wear batik particularly those in the hospitality industry including taxi drivers. This will give a certain vision to the country. Like in Hawaii in 1984, the Hawaii shirt was the in-thing. If you wear a shirt other than a Hawaii shirt, you would be out of place. So, we can call this batik-wearing day a culture day.”

Having grown and spent many years of his life in the batik industry, his vision for batik artists and thoughts on batik makers are insightful. He urges the States to support batik artists by having art galleries for them. For example, when people come to Kelantan to look for the artists, they do not know where to go. These galleries can show where the artists are.

For the batik makers, he observes that they often designed batik for the Malay community according to their own taste. If they want to sell their products internationally for example to the Europeans, he believes that batik makers need to use less colours, perhaps, one or two colors, light shades or black and white. This is to suit the European preference for batik colours.

He adds, “Then, the Indians have their own particular colours. The Chinese maybe have their own particular colours too. Right now there is no research on that. So the batik makers have not seen the ethnic preferences for batik colours“.

We spent the Sunday afternoon talking about batik, revisiting history and his company. Ending our conversation, I asked Tuan Haji Hassan what his philosophy is towards business and batik art.

He said, “The philosophy for business for me is to make sales, earn profits and make customers happy within the Islamic injunctions. I want to do business in a way that Islam or God wants us to do. “Ehsan”, an Islamic term, means giving others more than what is asked for. I want to do business with “ehsan”.

As for batik art, Tuan Haji Hassan observes that Malaysians generally have little appreciation for art and culture. These subjects have to be taught in school. But teachers need to appreciate them.

With strong business values handed down to him from his late and dynamic father coupled with an inherent love for batik, Tuan Haji Hassan continues to lead the management team for the family business with the same business motto as his late father’s: “Quality You Can Trust”.