Looking for a locally handmade gift or a unique statement piece for your home? Then you can find treasures of artisanal handicraft scavenging this weekend at Hari Kraf Kebangsaan (HKK), or National Craft Day.
Tucked behind the famous Jalan Bukit Bintang, the Craft Complex on Jalan Conlay is hosting the annual two-week event organised by the Malaysian government where handmade apparel and products are on sale for a third--sometimes even a fifth--of the price on the high streets. This weekend is your last chance to go!
As much as I wanted to buy this cat pillow, I reminded myself I was on a mission to buy a birthday gift for my dad!
Working in the Malaysian batik industry, Serena and I had a lot of networking to do, as textile suppliers from all across Malaysia were gathered in one place. We proudly brought our sturdy leather-based tote bag with a handpainted batik pattern to fit our camera, sample fabrics, and of course, newly purchased crafts .
Naturally, our production specialist, Serena, struck up conversations with some of the vendors. There were hundreds of batik vendors at HKK, each with a different style and vision for the future of batik fashion. Even the Malaysian Prime Minister’s wife is showing her personal couture batik and songket collection there.
After chatting with a number of vendors, Serena and I sat down to make notes of the contacts we made and new ideas in our batik notebook. Other than batik, Malaysia has many artisans moving into other trendy dyeing techniques as well, such as shibori. You can see Serena adorned in shibori from her scarf to her tumbler to her three-way clutch from Batik Boutique’s Eco-Dyed collection.
Traditional and modern designs are both well-represented at HKK. Everyone’s style is accommodated here, from contemporary minimalist to bright floral. You’ll run into a lot of fusion of foreign and local techniques, adaptation of modern techniques to make Malaysian cultural products, and even the usage of techniques passed down for generations to achieve more non-traditional looks.
“Um, how do you even open this?” Serena asked when fiddling with the food tiffin with a hexagonal handle. We tried... and we failed. Good thing Serena only had a small three-way clutch on her, or else we might have had to pay for some broken ceramics after our unfruitful endeavours.
Be careful not to spend too much time at one tent thinking that the others could not possibly be any more extensive. This year they have a tent for traditional Malaysian fashion and a separate tent for earth-based (such as clay), wood, and metal crafts. These two are the largest and about equal in size. Serena and I definitely got our workouts in for the day!
Step outside the tents and you’ll find a small hut which hosts batik classes, where your kids can paint on canvases with pre-drawn wax. If you’re interested in the whole process of batik painting or blocking in an air-conditioned studio, sign up for a batik workshop where you can make your own batik scarf, notebook, and many more other products on another day. But do remember to book in advance!
There are craft and cooking demonstrations, outdoor exhibitions and events as well. Envious of Serena’s flowy silk shibori scarf, I was tempted to buy my own batik scarf; Malaysia has the type of climate where layers are necessary not to keep warm but to protect yourself from the sun!
Other than revamping your wardrobe, prepare for the possibility of redesigning your whole living room. They have homeware ranging from small rattan flowers to full bedroom sets. The rattan and bamboo sets are a source of nostalgia for every Malaysian, as memories of celebrating holidays or family reunions would surely include sitting on grandma’s handmade wooden furniture while bantering or exchanging stories.
Don’t be misled to think there would only be small products. They even put a wooden bridge in the middle of one of the tents to showcase the full extent of Malaysian craftsmanship.
If you don’t have a full day to spend at HKK, it’s best to decide beforehand what you’re looking for. My main goal was a birthday gift for my dad, so I didn’t spend too much time looking at jewellery or handwoven accessories. Shopping for a 58-year-old businessman at a craft convention isn’t easy, but I pulled it off!
Success! After looking at shirts and mugs, I finally found the perfect gift. This artist makes beautiful pictures by fitting small pieces of fabric onto foam fabric, an art form she calls “non-stitch modern patchwork.”
The few hours we spent at HKK were marked by many successes. Buying a great birthday gift, making new business contacts, seeing inspiring fusions of techniques, picking up glazed ceramic mugs. An ice-cream vendor even came on his motorbike while we were waiting for our ride in the heat.
However, the most valuable thing we received was when Serena overheard the next stall praising their very talented batik artist who is an autistic middle-aged man. It gave us a refreshed sense of purpose about the work that we do. The story of The Batik Boutique begins with and continues to be centred on its artisans, who we train, provide work for, and have created an irreplaceable community with. As we were getting into the car to head back to the sewing centre for a meeting, Serena and I laughed about how some of our seamstresses would cheekily tease us about not getting them gifts from our outing.
These are the smiling faces we came back to. It’s hard to get Ana, Yatie, Dayang, and Munirah to take a serious picture. Trust us when we tell you they’re cheeky!
In a market dominated by fast fashion, one can easily forget that fashion is actually a form of art and a part of cultural history. When you visit the HKK this weekend, take the time to ask the small local entrepreneurs about where their products and apparel come from. It is rare and precious opportunity in this day and age to be able to speak directly to the artisans who made your clothes and accessories.
And that’s something The Batik Boutique is deeply grateful to have every day.
The Batik Boutique
3, Jalan 26/70a, Desa Sri Hartamas,
50480 Kuala Lumpur
8:30 am – 5:30pm
Call or e-mail us about arranging a batik workshop at +60 3-2303 6052 / firstname.lastname@example.org