Hazlina Zainuddin, 34, was an analyst with the Securities Commission who quit her job to start her own business in 2010 because she wanted the freedom to do what she wanted, when she wanted. Today, she runs Bayou Batik, a wholesaler and retailer of handmade batik-wear. ZIEMAN chats with her.
What prompted you to set up Bayou Batik?
I studied economics and international relations at the International Islamic University, Malaysia, and later at the University of Bristol.
Then I was an analyst at the Strategy and Research Department at the Securities Commission for several years.
One day, I decided to take a giant leap and delve into the world of fashion, despite not having any basic knowledge in fashion or running a business.
After a visit to search for batik clothing, I was disappointed to find that the designs on offer were rather old-fashioned and limited.
I realised then that there was an opportunity in the batik industry to modernise the designs, as well as tap into the growing plus-size market.
I drew inspiration from the women on the East Coast who are in batik business. And so, Bayou Batik was born.
How did you go about starting the business?
I started off small by selling batik pieces to friends and acquaintances. This allowed me to build a personally financed business with a small capital.
This was important to me as it ensures that any growth and expansion will be sustainable in the long term, and that all sources of funding are generated from within the business.
What worries me most is when I hear stories of new companies closing down when they are heavily in debt and unable to repay their loans.
What products does Bayou Batik offer?
Apart from traditional batik wear like baju kurung, jubah and kaftans, we also produce pareos, scarves and dresses. We even have a range of cheongsam made with batik design. Our latest range includes batik baju kurung for kids.
Were there teething problems?
As with any new small business, the biggest hurdle is trying to manage with the limited resources at your disposal in terms of human and financial capital.
During our first Raya season, for example, we were so overwhelmed with orders that we had to stop taking new orders because we feared we might have bitten off more than we could chew trying to get the clothes ready in time for Raya.
How do you ensure you’re giving customers what they want?
We are a small business, and this allows us to interact closely with customers and personalise our services to them.
We also use customer feedback to improve our products and some customers’ even share their ideas for designs with us.
Do you have to keep up with trends in the batik industry?
Even though batik is associated with traditional clothing, we try to keep up with the currents and ensure our clothing is trendy and fashionable.
We research the latest styles that grace the runways and fashion magazines, and we consult fashion designers to discuss ideas and receive input from them.
Since opening in 2010, Bayou Batik has strived to produce high-quality batik clothing of various styles and designs.
Our aim is to revive the art of batik painting and modernise the traditional designs to cater to a growing demand for fashionable batik clothing.
How competitive and different is Bayou Batik?
Our unique selling point is the personalised service that we offer to our customers.
It’s very rare to find batik retailers who are willing and able to customise orders based on customers’ requirements.
We work together with customers and offer ideas on batik designs, colours and patterns that will not only suit the individual’s taste but also create an outfit that is flattering.
Having been in the business for almost six years, I have observed a renewed interest in batik fashion, so we try to continuously produce designs that would not only appeal to the older generation but to the younger market as well.
Working with local batik artisans, we make sure our exquisitely designed batik pieces are uniquely hand-drawn and produced in limited quantities. This provides our customers with originality and exclusivity.
Any plans to expand?
At the moment, we have a boutique in Taman Tun Dr Ismail, and our clothes are also available on fashion valet online. Our range of batik silk scarves is also available at the Islamic Arts Museum in Kuala Lumpur.
Across the border, our clothes are available at Butik Bajoo in Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei.
Yes, there are plans to expand in the future, but currently, we want to focus inwards and try to expand the range of batik collections.
Some of our future plans include venturing into new markets by setting up shop at a location outside of Malaysia.
I like to hike during my free time and to explore trails in the wilderness. Being outdoors helps me clear my head, and I sometimes get inspired when I’m out on my walks.
Are there any quotes that inspire you?
There’s one by Jack Cranfield, the author of the Chicken Soup series of books: “Don’t worry about failure, worry about the chances you miss when you don’t even try”.
I try to apply this in my life, especially in running my business because I know, despite the many setbacks and challenges that I face, that the key is to not be afraid of failure bringing me down. Instead you have to try to find ways to improve, to learn from the experience so you don’t repeat the same mistake and move on.