BATIK has an ancient origin. And an intriguing one at that. The word batik unites two closest of neighbours — Malaysia and Indonesia. There is convergence here of two people, as there is in batik’s etymology.
Here the Javanese amba and Malaysia’s titik meet at the confluence to signify “drawing with a dot” — the “draw” of amba and “dot” of titik.
A batik that is not drawn isn’t a batik, nor is it a batik without its dot. History has put amba and titik together. We — standing at this point in time today — must put them together. Again. If we do this, we can make this national fabric great again. Here at home and in the rest of the world.
To do this, the industry must re-imagine itself. First, it must fight some nabobs of negativism, nattering or otherwise. Batik, they say, is mere home wear. That is textile discrimination. It may have been true of batik sarong which ladies wore at home in the past. Not anymore. The fabric had left the confines of home long time ago.
Batik’s sartorial elegance has gone far, and can go further. Not just on the catwalk but as fashion pieces such as styled tops and matching kebayas. Men’s and children’s wear have huge potential, too. The permutations are limitless. Malaysia’s handicraft market was worth RM142 million last year, of which batik garnered RM104 million.
This may not be something to write home about for an industry that is more than a century old. It can do better, and it must aim higher. Malaysian batik makers must aim for at least a share of the US$44 billion (RM180 billion) global modest fashion market if not the larger general fashion space.
This is not hard to do. Batik is race-neutral. If we wear them as often as we can, we can give the batik industry a thrust that it badly needs. Batik as just a Friday wear did not work in the past. Neither will it now. Textile researcher Ramlah Latif tells the New Straits Times that batik will have a future if wearing it becomes a culture.
We agree. Organisations such as Handicraft Development Corporation (HDC) can do more, too. It should explore new avenues to help the industry grow at home and abroad. Promoting the finished products alone is inadequate. HDC must get involved long before the painted fabric leaves the workshop. If nothing is done, this old industry that flies the national flag may further wane and wither.
Kamarulzaman Mohd Salleh, the chairman of the Association of East Coast Batik Makers, says as much. In the 1970s, he says there were 1,000 batik makers in the country, but now there are not more than 400. And most of the 400 are located in the east coast states of Kelantan, Terengganu and Pahang. Workers’ numbers also are, sadly, going south. The batik industry is somehow trapped in a vicious cycle: aged workshop, overworked artisans, dwindling profits. We must help make it a virtuous cycle.