Batik, oh batik! Insert many heart-eyes emojis here please. Batik is undoubtedly one of my earliest and fondest fashion memories. I remember as a young child of four years or so, earth tones of brown, black and beige that my late Nenek (paternal grandmother), who was of Javanese descent, used to wear almost daily with a kebaya or baju kurung top, her selendang (shawl) slung over her head and shoulders concealing her sanggul (hair bun), if she needed to pop out of her home.

We have pictures of my late Ah Ma (maternal grandmother) with her artfully coiffed permed hair in a snazzy figure-hugging kebaya and batik sarong attending weddings – more jewel toned than my Nenek’s, as Ah Ma was of Peranakan descent. I inherited her pure silver belt that was used to secure the kain batik lepas (unstitched batik cloth) and have used it not only for batik but jeans as well, for decades now. In fact, I consider it my most precious family heirloom!

My rich multi-ethnic background is filled with the sights, textures and smells (yes, there's a smell!) of the various nuances of batik. I, for one, am known to stop and backtrack my footsteps at even an inkling of a batik sighting. Suffice to say, I’m fascinated by the art of batik and all its various traditional forms. I think it’s incredible that batik styles and colours differ according to each ethnic group and region, and how clothing tells us so much about the history and culture of people. What I know for a fact is that I’m a lover of batik now and forever more, and Malaysia, my home, has some great brands doing great things to elevate this time-honoured artistry and its versatility. Here are six of them (all women owned, coincidentally!) that are promoting batik for work, play and everything in between:

1. BEATRICELAU SUSTAINABLE LIVING

Where do I even begin with BeatriceLau Sustainable Living? If I had no budget restrictions, I’d like one of everything she makes, terima kasih. I love a woman after my own heart; I mean, my family and I still wear my great grandaunt's Peranakan kebaya ketuk lubang! Almost 20 years ago, I wore one to my high school prom with wide-legged pants not unlike what you can see Beatrice rock on her Instagram account.

Beatrice also works with Batik from Nysakapas (also on this list!) and her designs for everything are just sensational. Her Instagram feed showcases her love for print on print (love!) and I really appreciate her styling eye, pairing kerongsang with batik cheongsams, kebaya with ruffled batik skirts, batik tops with wide-leg plisse trousers or skirts, batik toga tops with harem trousers, and the most gorgeous modern rendition of a samfu in batik cap I’ve ever laid eyes on! Beatrice thoughtfully utilises batik offcuts from her studio to make garments such as the ‘Shukra’ blouse – a sleeveless zip-up top with a keyhole neckline and a scoop hem. There’s an array of sizes and made to order is also available. BeatriceLau Sustainable Living is located at The School, Jaya One. You may also purchase or make enquiries via DM on Instagram.

To shop, click here.

2. BETTERTHANBLOUSES

I first met Pei, a former doctor and now maestra behind betterthanblouses (or BTB) at the Hin Depot Sunday Market in George Town in 2019, on a family trip with my mum and sisters to Penang. My family and I adore batik, having Peranakan and Javanese ancestry, to name a few. We instantly fell head over heels for BTB’s batik offerings and spent an obscene amount of time at Pei’s booth. BTB’s clothes are made with immense attention to detail and the quality is top notch. Their classic shapes will stand the test of time and are available as their flagship shell tops which are available in a regular length and cropped, alongside pencil skirts, broad A-line skirts, pleated shorts and dresses. I particularly like the cheekily-named Justin Timberlake split back shell top; you can guess why it’s named as such! Pei also makes fabric face masks from the offcuts of her pattern cutting. These masks are only available in-store and if you’re lucky, you might be able to score a heart-shaped one!

On BTB’s Instagram account, Pei shares how she uses BTB for everything under the sun; at home, to weddings and even to work out in. Multi-tasking clothing is my jam and the fact that it’s beautiful and showcases heritage is just the cherry on top! Back in 2019, Pei didn’t have a blouse in my size but she remembered me and dropped me a line on Instagram when she did a market in KL a few months later and brought a couple of options for me to choose from. She’ll also make a custom size if you require one! Measurements are listed on her website, where there’s a curation of true vintage finds as well. BTB’s storefront is located at 45 Malay Street, George Town, Penang. Strictly by appointment only.

To shop, click here.

3. KANOE

Kanoe is no stranger to the scene, having been in the game since October 2016. Noelle Kan is the fun-sized lady behind this label who partners with single mothers and refugee organisations in Malaysia to sew garments and provide a healthy work environment and fair wages. Kanoe also works with local artisans such as Nysakapas to create awareness and appreciation for our local craftsmen. If you’re looking for batik blouses, coordinated sets, crop tops, dresses, jumpsuits, rompers and trousers – simple or adorned with pom-poms – with matching face masks, headbands and scrunchies, Kanoe is a one-stop shop you’d love. You can even get batik offcuts here if you’re into crafting! #ZeroWaste

The one thing I truly appreciate about Noelle is that she’s open to feedback. Even though she started Kanoe making items in a petite size which is the more common Malaysian girl sizing, after many requests, she now has some designs in a larger, more inclusive sizing. I was happy to provide my measurements for one of the spectrum of sizings for the development of the ‘Big Girl’ Batik Frou Pants which is a Kanoe classic cut. I wear UK14 for bottoms, FYI, and the current ‘Big Girl’ sizing runs generous for me. I have a pair and love it – it’s so comfy and beautiful, easy to dress up with heels or wear on casual, chill days at home when I want the comfort of sweatpants but at the same time feel more put together. Kanoe’s kimono-inspired wrap dress is a similar workhorse piece of clothing that amazingly fits sizes 6-14! Measurements are provided on the website for easy shopping and you can request for minimal packaging too.

To shop, click here.

4. MARYAM BAYAM

I ADORE Maryam Bayam. Click on the ‘About Us’ tab on the website and her mission is clearly articulated.  Maryam Mutalib champions Batik Terengganu while designing and making every piece of batik accessory and clothing herself. In early 2018, Maryam started out making her ‘Twisted Batik Headbands’ and, with the purpose of utilising fabric scraps to their fullest potential, her product catalogue grew organically to include chokers, earrings and scrunchies galore!

Maryam also worked with another local brand, The Raw Rebel, to rework batik offcuts into reusable facial rounds and sleep bonnets lined with silk satin – both of which I own. The reusable rounds are perfect for taking off makeup using micellar water or a general double cleanse, and simple to wash and dry. If you’ve got textured wavy, curly or coily hair, the silk satin-lined ‘Manetain’ sleep bonnet is a godsend and so pretty to boot! Maryam also has plans to introduce patchwork items to her line-up to further minimise fabric wastage.

Beautiful reversible batik fabric face masks with filter pockets are also available in ear loop or tie-back versions, which are great for hijabis and those who prefer less pressure on the ears. The clothing selections (at the moment, Batik Kurung Kedah tops and Instant Batik Pareo) are quite size-inclusive. If you pop Maryam a DM on her Instagram, I’m sure that she’ll be happy to chat should you require a custom size. Maryam is a beautiful human; I've not met her in person, but she’s such a sweetheart that it’s exuded over the internet. She’s dropped me a line when my favourite Knotted Batik Headbands were back in stock and she also runs regular polls to find out what items her customers would like to see next. Hint: some head wear is in the works! Bonus: Maryam’s mum runs a restaurant from their home in Kampung Chelet, Nilai. From the reviews I’ve heard, you can get some amazing Negeri Sembilan Malay cuisine from Aunty Aini’s Garden Cafe!

To shop, click here.

5. NIAH+CO

Out of all the brands on this list, Niah+Co is considerably new to me. A follower on Instagram introduced me to the brand that’s committed to the “contemporary revival of batik textiles” and, colour me impressed! I’d love to have had its items around when I first had my twins back in 2015. The Little Niah Collection of Batik Baby Bib with Tassels, Burp Towel and Nursing Cover is making my ovaries itch again!

For now, I guess I’ll settle for the apparel line of Batik Cheongsams, Cropped and Double-breasted Tops, Dresses, Skirts and Kimonos. The brand also has a small but mighty range of batik accessories including earrings, face masks and scrunchies, as well as low-waste lifestyle items such as reusable lace produce bags and batik cotton pads which are great for makeup removal and double cleansing. My favourite pick from Niah+Co is the Batik Floor Mat – it’s so versatile as a small area rug, a baby or child’s play mat or a cushy base for your daily meditation. Sizing for ready to wear apparel is currently limited to more generic sizes and measurements are available online.

To shop, click here.

6. NYSAKAPAS

Nysakapas by Haniza Hisham has a rather romantic backstory. Nysa, as Haniza is affectionately known, was a city girl from Ampang. She fell in love, moved to Kampung Serada in Kuala Terengganu in 2010 and found a new passion in batik cap (pronounced tjap) aka stamp batik. Nysa hand draws the designs of the cap (stamp) herself, drawing inspiration from the flora around her such as mawar (rose), kenanga (ylang-ylang) and pokok sembong (Fera Balsam). She works with the local kampung community, creating jobs and uplifting the traditional artistry of batik and natural botanical dyes.

Nysakapas’s latest collection, 'Botanik 2021', pays homage to local flowers and herbs in a selection of soothing colours on cotton poplin, cotton satin and cotton viscose. The collection is available as baju kurungs, kimonos, tote bags, aprons, cushion covers, fabric, fat batik squares (squares of fabric for crafting) and my personal favourite, the ‘Lipat’ Bag, which was inspired by the age-old art of Japanese Furoshiki and is unfortunately sold out cos it’s simply an ingenious, remarkable and functional work of art! Ready-to-wear clothing is available in sizes S/M and L/XL with measurements online. If you’re keen to have a go at painting batik one of these days, Nysakapas also offers Batik Art Boxes complete with three pre-cut and drawn botanical (‘Botanik’) or sea-inspired (‘Laut’) designs, a brush and three bottles of dye made by its Young Artisans which are a great activity for all ages, anytime!

To shop, click here.

Text: Nurun Nissak
Featured image: Niah+Co

For more stories on sustainable local brands, click here.

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