Bent on preserving batik heritage, Malaysian entrepreneur starts programme to train poor young artisans

Indah Atelier CEO Mathumathi Manickvasagar Pilay with brand ambassador and renowned veena player Rajhesh Vaidhya during a press conference in Istana Hotel Kuala Lumpur, January 7, 2020. — Picture by Miera Zulyana
Indah Atelier CEO Mathumathi Manickvasagar Pilay with brand ambassador and renowned veena player Rajhesh Vaidhya during a press conference in Istana Hotel Kuala Lumpur, January 7, 2020. — Picture by Miera Zulyana

KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 9 — The founder of a Malaysian batik company is taking matters into her own hands to protect the dying heritage of the fabric. 

While Indah Atelier chief executive officer Mathumathi Manickvasagar Pilay is frustrated over the lack of support from the Tourism, Arts and Culture Ministry to popularise batik despite Visit Malaysia Year 2020, the company has rolled out its #myartisan campaign which identifies and nurtures young talents from the B40 group to equip them with the right skillset.

“The problem isn’t so much about the batik industry dying but batik artisans who are dying which has a direct impact on the industry,” she said.

“Our batik artisans are completely directionless. After they finish their studies at the National Craft Institute, they have nowhere to go as job opportunities are scarce.

“We are going to take them under our tutelage for three to six months, train them and put them on our payroll to increase production,” Mathumathi added.

There are currently 12 A-grade artisans but the company wants to have 100 artisans under its wing.

Mathumathi’s company is looking to train 100 batik artisans from the B40 group as part of its #myartisan campaign. — Picture by Miera Zulyana
Mathumathi’s company is looking to train 100 batik artisans from the B40 group as part of its #myartisan campaign. — Picture by Miera Zulyana

The entrepreneur made batik her passion project two years ago when she noticed a lack of innovation and creativity in the industry and wanted to rethink how things are done.

“We’ve done massive marketing on this but there is a lack of production despite demand being there,” she said.

Mathumathi and Rajhesh during the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signing ceremony. — Picture by Miera Zulyana
Mathumathi and Rajhesh during the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signing ceremony. — Picture by Miera Zulyana

Last month her company launched the ‘Malaysia in 100 Meters’ batik campaign which depicts the past, present and future of Malaysia through pointillism, a painting technique from the Neo-Impressionist era that uses small dots to form an image.

Their global artisan campaign will see various artistes and fashion designers from around the globe to join hands with the company to globalise the heritage fabric.

“Everyone talks about Indonesian batik, we too have our own identity,” she said.

Lack of support

Batik, she said had huge potential to go abroad. 

Mathumathi stressed that government and private sectors must play major roles to ensure the survival of Malaysian batik.

“The government has to support us.

“We are currently working closely with the Malaysia External Trade Development Corporation (Matrade) but we haven’t received any support from Tourism Malaysia and we don’t know why.”

Her company Indah Atelier — a subsidiary of the Moel Group of Companies — produces, markets and promotes batik within Malaysia and abroad.

Batik sarees for the Indian market

The first brand ambassador that has come on board is renowned Indian veena player Rajhesh Vaidhya who has the task of promoting batik in his home country.

Rajhesh is collaborating with Indah Atelier to launch a line of batik sarees in India and Dubai. — Picture by Miera Zulyana
Rajhesh is collaborating with Indah Atelier to launch a line of batik sarees in India and Dubai. — Picture by Miera Zulyana

As a musician who often performs for hours sitting down, Rajhesh told Malay Mail he was a fan of batik’s airy and absorbent fabric.

If the viral clip of Rajhesh’s rendition of the Malaysian national anthem Negaraku is anything to go by, things seem to be heading in the right direction.

 

 

“I feel so honoured, I have so much respect for the Malaysian national anthem and I played it with the fullest respect,” he said.

Tasked to come up with fresh unique designs, one of the musician’s ideas was to design batik sarees.

The line of batik sarees will launch in March in India and Dubai.

Other ambassadors appointed for each key market as well as unique batik products created for different markets will be announced in due time.

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