This article first appeared in The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on January 16 - 22, 2017.
AT The Batik Boutique, the traditional textile has a new role — disrupting the cycle of poverty in vulnerable communities.
The social enterprise works with artisan families in rural Malaysia to create the textile using wax and dye on natural fibre. The textile is then transformed into beautiful fashion and gift products at sewing training centres. The women create beautiful and ethical fashion products that showcase Malaysia’s traditional crafts.
The social enterprise was founded in 2013 by Amy Blair.
The Batik Boutique’s impact is clear. It has won various awards and most recently emerged as a finalist in the Malaysian round of Chivas The Venture, an international social entrepreneurship competition that supports social businesses that can offer scalable and sustainable solutions to real world issues.
In her pitch to the judging panel, Blair recalls how the initiative started off as something to help friends who were struggling with their household expenses. It has since turned into a movement to empower women with employment, skills and a source of income so that they can help provide for their families.
Blair had been working in the tourism industry when she noticed that there was a market for quality Malaysian-made batik products. Many foreign tourists wanted to purchase handmade gifts but good quality and authentic Malaysian products were difficult to find.
So Blair got together with her friend Ana, who could sew, to produce batik gifts that Blair and others could purchase. As they worked together, Blair soon learnt that there were many other Malaysian women who were living in public housing and struggling to feed their families.
“They drive me, their stories drive me. Their children drive me. The next generation is what I’m passionate about and I don’t want to see this cycle of poverty repeated because it doesn’t have to be.
“We are born in different locations, so we are given different opportunities in our lives. If my life is used to benefit someone else’s, then that’s worth it to me,” Blair tells The Edge.
The Batik Boutique offers free sewing lessons in centres located within walking distance of the women’s flats so that it will be more convenient for them to balance work and family life.
The women are free to set their own working hours and free childcare is provided. Crucially, the women who work with The Batik Boutique earn 40% more than the minimum wage.
Today, more than 150 artisans have worked with The Batik Boutique to obtain a fair, sustainable income and marketable skills.
Sales hit RM1 million after three years and Blair is aiming for a total revenue of RM5 million in the next five years.
The Batik Boutique sells its products at its retail space and a studio in Desa Sri Hartamas, Kuala Lumpur. The products are also sold via channels such as gift shops, Malaysia Airlines’ long-haul flights and The Batik Boutique’s website.
Blair plans to establish three new training centres to train 30 women in the next one year and another 100 over the next five years.
She plans to expand The Batik Boutique’s model to countries such as Indonesia and Cambodia. “We, as social entrepreneurs, are often driven by our passion and the heart of the people. So, we also need to balance how we are really going to help people and how we are going to get there.”