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KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 28 — “I’m not a designer, I’m a textile lover,” Francisca Turner says upfront, establishing the foundation upon which her semi-eponymous label was founded. A portmanteau of her name (she’s always been known as Franki) and the Indonesian word “tas” which means bags, Frankitas was born about a year and a half ago and has already garnered a loyal following for its clutches, bags and a growing range of home fashion.
The designs are classic – envelope and matchbox clutches in several sizes, complemented by brass, leather and suede details – but it’s the fabric that’s the talking point.
From bold African batik prints to striking Uzbekistan ikat motifs, Indonesian rangrang to gilded Terengganu songket, Frankitas is about “translating ethnic textiles into modern designs and making them relevant while proving that heritage is not boring,” says Franki.
She focuses on traditional, hand-woven cloths that have history and stories to them, sourced from around Asia as well as Africa, through representatives of weaving communities and NGOs. Inside every Frankitas clutch and bag is a card that tells you what the fabric is as well as its origin.
Franki admits to having a bias for Indonesian fabrics, as that’s part of her personal heritage. Of Indonesian-British parentage, she grew up in the village of Ciherang in Bogor, West Java, and counts Bahasa Sunda and Bahasa Indonesia as her first languages.
As a child, Franki also lived in Singapore before her family moved to Kuala Lumpur, where she completed her secondary education. She went on to do her A-levels in the UK and after graduation, carved out a career in the publishing line – first in Malaysia and later, as a socio-economic reporter based in Spain.
Franki travelled widely during that time but grew tired of living out of a suitcase. She moved back to Malaysia and took up a branding and management position in the halal industry. Juggling that with a growing family (she now has three children) was a tough balancing act, and eventually she decided on becoming a full-time mother.
But, as she puts it, “When you’ve worked all your life, you’ll always want to have a job” and the idea of creating her own brand began to take shape.
“I have all these fabrics that I had collected over the years and decided to make something out of them. Making clothes is hard — I’d previously started up an apparel line called Francisca & Dee with a partner — so I decided to make accessories instead,” says Franki. “Besides, a lot of stores tend to carry similar things... I wanted to fill the gap for unique items.”
That’s the practical side of the business; on a more sentimental note, she wanted to pay homage to her Indonesian background. “I’m very passionate about my roots and my kampung upbringing... they form the core values of my brand.”
Franki also wanted to ensure that her children inherit that legacy. “It’s important to me that they are connected to their heritage, or they will lack a big part of who they are,” she explains. “Living in this fast-paced mass-produced world, I feel a responsibility as a person and as a mother to show my children that in spite of the technology that runs the world, they need to understand where things come from.”
Furthermore, while it is becoming increasingly easy for things to be made, handmade items have higher value as they involve more time and thought.
In Frankitas’ case, they also often come attached with personal significance. There are clutches named after Franki’s three children and members of her staff. The brand’s very first piece, for example, was the Titin clutch, sewed by and named after Franki’s aunt. Even as the collection continues to expand, in design and fabric options, the Titin will always be a part of their offerings.
Eight months after she first introduced Titin – she started at bazaars such as Bangsar Shopping Centre’s Seek & Keep — Frankitas expanded into home accessories. The current range features cushion covers, table runners, framed ikat wall art, lampshades (which can be customised) and eye pillows, made of the same striking fabrics that give the clutches and bags their unique appeal.
In the months to come, there will be more designs, fabrics and product ranges to come. At the moment, Franki is finalising arrangements with one such organisation in Afghanistan that is keen on restoring their local architecture and handicrafts. By mid-2016, the Frankitas line may include jewellery made in Kabul.
She is also looking at creating their own fabric patterns and producing their own textiles. “So far, we’ve just left it to the weavers as they do it so well — their craft is a big part of their culture. We sometimes request for certain colours or motifs, but without straying too far from their traditional styles or the textile may not turn out well,” Franki reveals.
That respect for the weavers (Franki calls them “our heroes”) and their art is part of the brand’s DNA, complemented by her preference for timeless aesthetics. “I’m a bit of an old soul, with a hippie spirit. I’m drawn to vintage styles and I’m not a big fan of bling.” Altogether then, Frankitas is a bridge between the past and the present. “We may not be inventing the wheels, but we are innovating them.”
Where to shop Frankitas
The Frankitas gallery is at 21 Jalan Setiabistari, Bukit Damansara, Kuala Lumpur Opens 9.30am-5.30pm daily; it’s best to call and make an appointment ahead, especially on weekends.
Tel: +6012 370 8524
At www.frankitas.com (beginning 1 March 2016)
Shoes, Shoes, Shoes boutiques in Kuala Lumpur
Several hotels in Langkawi (The Datai, The Andaman Langkawi, Meritus Pelangi Langkawi)
China House in Kuching, Sarawak (coming soon)
Clutches and bags: From RM265-RM500
Frankitas Home: From RM85 (lavender eye pillow) to over RM1,000 (framed wall art); lamp shades are priced from RM385-RM650
Vivian Chong is a freelance writer-editor and secret bag hoarder. She documents her lifestyle adventures at http://thisbunnyhops.com/