Time in Japan sparks Malaysian entrepreneur’s interest in batik

Batch of honour: Yong (right) sees batik as a part of the Malaysian identity.

COLIN Yong believes it’s important to take pride in our Malaysian cultural heritage. That’s why the 49-year-old has made it his mission to rejuvenate the art of batik.

Interestingly, it took a trip to Japan – where he studied business administration at Hitotsubashi University – to spark his interest in batik.

“In Japan, I was amazed by the passion of the Japanese for their art and culture. Although Japan is an advanced country, its people are proud of their handicrafts and take pride in their craftsmanship. They believe that handicraft is the soul and spirit of Japanese culture,” he told StarEdu.

Upon returning to Malaysia in 1999, Yong was presented with the opportunity to take over his parents’ Kuala Lumpur-based souvenir business as they wanted to retire.

Seeing potential in the business, he decided to take on the challenge by moving the souvenir shop to the bustling Imbi district and transforming it into a batik handicraft centre.

According to the KL native, batik is created through the resisting technique. It’s when wax is used as a resist material to block out the dye and create the desired pattern on the fabric.

“There are two types of batik-making process: hand-drawn batik and block-printed batik.

“For hand-drawn batik, we use a special tool called ‘canting’ to draw the wax outline. Then, we use a brush to hand-paint the dye on the fabric to create motifs and patterns on the fabric.

“As for block-printed batik, we use a copper block or stamp to apply the wax to the fabric to create motifs. Then, for the colouring process, we either use a brush to paint it or immerse the fabric in the dye,” he explained.

Both processes, he said, involve dewaxing at the end.

“We immerse the fabric into boiling water to remove the wax. Once it is dried, a batik piece is completed,” he said.

When asked how he learnt the ropes of the craft, the entrepreneur credited his talented team of batik artists.

“I brought batik artists from Kelantan to create the products,” he said, adding that the centre he has established is also one of the very few batik boutiques that allow visitors to witness the production process.

The journey for Yong hasn’t always been rosy, though. With tourism halted during the Covid-19 pandemic, his business was deprived of international visitors who made up the majority of his customers.

Developing the local market, Yong said, has been a challenge.

“We had to develop the local market to replace the tourist market. It is very challenging as not many locals appreciate the local crafts,” he revealed.

Despite the challenges, he said, his dedicated team of local batik artists has consistently created batik patterns and designs relevant to their target consumers’ modern lifestyle.

The business has expanded its range of products to include batik-inspired homeware and education kits.

This move, according to Yong, ensured that “the application of batik is wider”.

Moving forward, Yong and his team want to continue improving their craft and produce better batik products.

Yong also hopes that he can contribute to the preservation of the batik heritage through his business.

“We have batik workshops for the public to attend so that they can experience the batik-making process and appreciate the craftsmanship.

“I hope to see more schools having batik workshop tours and integrating batik craft into their lessons. It is a way to encourage the youth to know more about the craft,” he said.

He also emphasised the importance of wearing batik with pride.

It’s the soul of our culture, he said.“When we wear batik at international functions, we can proudly showcase our culture to the world. It makes us different from others.

“I hope Malaysians take greater pride in our cultural heritage. I strongly believe that batik is a part of our Malaysian identity,” he concluded.

Hoi Kei, 20, a student in Kuala Lumpur, is a participant of the BRATs Young Journalist Program-me run by The Star’s Newspaper-in-Education (Star-NiE) team.

Now that you have read the article, test your understanding by carrying out the following English language activities.

1. In the article, Yong said that not many locals appreciate local crafts. What do you think can be done to cultivate such appreciation among students?

2. Can you give three examples of Malaysian cultural heritage, besides batik? You may look for the examples from today’s copy of the Sunday Star newspaper.

3. Imagine you had a foreign friend. Write a letter to your friend introducing him or her to an example of Malaysian cultural heritage. Then, have your activity partner read the letter and respond to it. Have fun corresponding!

Since 1997, The Star’s Newspaper-in-Education (Star-NiE) programme has supported English language teaching and learning in primary and secondary schools nationwide. Now in its 25th year, Star-NiE is continuing its role of promoting the use of English language through a weekly activity page in StarEdu. In addition, Star-NiE’s BRATs Young Journalist Programme will continue to be a platform for participants to hone and showcase their English language skills, as well as develop their journalistic interests and instincts. Follow our updates at facebook.com/niebrats. For Star-NiE enquiries, email starnie@thestar.com.my.

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