Craft Batik creates the complete batik experience
A name that is synonymous with fine quality batik is Penang-based company Craft Batik Sdn Bhd. The company has been in business since 1972 during the heady days of Penang as a free port shopping destination. Even back then, founder and entrepreneur Mr Quah Ewe Kheng realised the potential of setting-up a major batik production plant on the island. His sharp sense of business acumen served him well, and the company he set up has since grown in proportion to local and foreign demands for batik.
The first Craft Batik outlet and factory was located in Teluk Bahang. Due to a tragic fire which damaged the original building a few years ago, Craft Batik temporarily relocated to a spot opposite the Mutiara Beach Resort, also in Teluk Bahang. Offering a wide variety of batik products, this outlet is popular with tourists within the Batu Ferringhi–Teluk Bahang area. According to Quah, the Teluk Bahang factory is undergoing repair and will be reopened for business in 2006.
The Craft Batik boutique and factory nearest to George Town is located within walking distance of the Penang Botanic Gardens – a place where throngs of tourists and local folks visit daily. Surrounded by the lush greenery of a tropical forest, this Craft Batik building is divided neatly into three sections, namely the art gallery, boutique and workshop.
Art gallery: Original batik paintings are on display here and available for sale to collectors. They are drawn by some of Malaysia's most renowned batik artists like Tan Thean Song, Chuah Soo Beng, Goh Beow Lain, Lai Teik Keong and Goh Kye Hock.
Boutique: True to Mr. Quah's claim that "anything you can make out of batik, we will make it", the boutique features a fascinating selection of merchandise. They include wearables like men's dress shirts, pareos, shorts, trousers, aprons, scarves, haute couture gowns, kaftans, hats, baju kurongs and kiddie outfits.
Batik is also used in items like backpacks, quilted mats, kits, hand-held fans, photo frames, home décor items pieces, wallets, pill boxes and footwear. The most popular item, according to Quah, is batik tablecloth.
The boutique also stocks a small amount of batik items brought in from Kelantan.
Tour buses loaded with foreign tourists make it a point to stop by at Craft Batik to pick up souvenir items. They can also take the opportunity to relax while sipping freshly squeezed fruit juices from the cabana adjacent to the building. The fruits come fresh from the Tropical Fruit Farm, another tourist attraction under the same umbrella as Craft Batik.
A second outlet of the Craft Batik boutique is based in Langkawi, another popular island resort.
Batik products produced by Craft Batik are also exported internationally, to Bahamas, U.S.A., Tonga, United Kingdom, Belgium, and Spain.
Workshop: This is an open-air annex to the boutique where several full-time artists draw, colour and stamp batik patterns on various fabrics like cotton, tetoron or silk.
One artist is Zaidi, who is in his 30s and hails from Kelantan. He has spent about three years in batik painting, and his specialty is in pareos. Holding a tjanting (a copper 'pen' containing liquid wax), he skillfully draws a pattern on a piece of white fabric. When this has set, he hands it over to another person whose skill is in colouring. Zaidi's output averages about 12 pareos per day. An ambitious person, Zaidi is planning to set-up a website on batik art.
The hand stamping method is also employed in fabric printing in the workshop. This method involves dipping stampers of different patterns in molten wax, pressing them onto the fabric and dyeing the cloth. After each stamping, the cloth is immersed in a vat of dye which colours the unwaxed areas of the cloth. This process is repeated until the desired pattern is achieved.
The wax is removed by boiling the fabric. Special chemicals are then added to ensure the colours stay fast.
What sets Craft Batik's fabrics from the contemporary mass-produced Indonesian varieties is the quality of the printing. The pattern and colours can clearly be seen on both sides of the cloth, like a mirror image, unlike the usual one-sided print.
Whilst the 70s and 80s were heydays for Penang-made batik, the new millennium has not been too kind to small manufacturers like Craft Batik, said its founder-owner Quah. The competition posed by cheaper Indonesian imports have dealt a blow to locally produced batik. Although the fabrics and products produced by Craft Batik are arguably superior, consumers seem to prefer inexpensive over enduring quality. In the 80s, Quah'c ompany could make a half-million ringgit in yearly sales. These days, he considers himself lucky if he can even come close to matching the previous target.
Batik has been around for a long time, and there are no indications that it is about to make an exit now or in the future.
Thanks to the efforts of its many aficionados, Malaysian batik is appearing on catwalks and boutiques in major fashion capitals around the world. Batik shows are attracting the interest of foreign companies. All this augurs very well for the future of Malaysian batik and local manufacturers have reason to smile.
But in all the excitement and enthusiasm, one should not leave out the small player, Quah said, because the promotion and success of batik very well depends on all the manufacturers, big and small.
Craft Batik Sdn. Bhd.
Boutique, factory and showroom