A SILENT war is taking place between local batik manufacturers and traders importing “imitation” batik products made of polyester, which are slowly capturing a large chunk of the market estimated to be worth tens of millions of ringgit.
Local batik manufacturers are having a hard time trying to protect their original handcrafted designs from being copied and mass produced digitally in China.
Although advancement in digital printing has led to cheaper products, it, nevertheless, loses in terms of quality.
Noor Arfa Batik is one of the biggest batik producers in the country, helmed by a husband- and-wife team who are both accountants.
They believe that the best way to ward off the competition is to allow civil servants to use long-sleeved batik shirts on any day, and not just on Thursday.
Noor Arfa Batik managing director Wan Mohd Hafiz Wan Mohd Ariffin said as a proponent of traditional handcrafted batik designs, the company had to think about the livelihood of its designers who created original motifs for exclusivity and other affordable batik products.
“In the past, competition was only among domestic players.
“It was a healthy competition where creativity marked the standard of our products.
“However, we are now facing competition from companies specialising in e-commerce, retail and technology like the Ali Baba Group.
“Batik products made of polyester or shall I say plastic, are now available online.
“They are cheap and you do not need to go shopping to find something that appeals to you.
“You cannot touch or assess the quality of the products until they reach your doorstep.
“As we need to remain relevant, we have to adapt and we have raised our exclusivity level for people to appreciate original designs. You have to come to our outlet to gauge the quality although you can view the products online on our website.”
Hafiz said with an industry worth more than tens of millions of ringgit, the government should support its growth and protect it from “dumping” because it had been proven that the batik industry supported the economy in terms of gross domestic product, as well as provided an income to those involved in the supporting industries.
“The government needs to lift its policy on wearing long-sleeved batik shirts only on Thursday and at special functions.
“It should allow employees to wear batik all-week long, whether long or short sleeved.
“If the government and private sector can allow employees to wear corporate shirts, then there is no reason not to allow batik shirts to be worn all the time.
“Batik is Malaysia’s identity and everyone should support it.
“The industry could easily be worth more than RM5 billion if people are encouraged to wear batik.
“And with about 200 active players, the domestic market is huge.
“Unfortunately, many buyers opt to buy cheap imitation batik from e-commerce outlets.
“Batik is facing the same challenge affecting songket imported from India.
“We will become a sunset industry if the government does not protect local manufacturers.
“Those involved directly or indirectly could become history.
“In view of this, we hope that the government will not reintroduce GST (Goods and Services Tax), which will open the door for the importation of imitation batik by traders because the Customs Department collects taxes from buyers or users, and not from traders.
“But under SST (Sales and Services Tax), the government collects tax at ports, where it can check dumping,” he said, adding that printed rolls could be prevented from flooding the market and threatening the survival of the local industry.
But if unavoidable, Hafiz said, the government should introduce a policy that made it mandatory to establish a manufacturing facility to produce imitation batik made of polyester in the country rather than allowing them to be imported.
“The industry needs to be protected because many people are involved in the production chain, unlike traders who buy the finished materials from other countries and flood the market with imitation batik.
“It is not fair to the local players.”
Hafiz took over Noor Arfa Batik operations from his father, Wan Mohd Ariffin Wan Long, in 2008.
He runs the company with his wife, Ismanisa Itam, 35, who is the manager, and his two brothers, Wan Mohd Azwan, 38, who is in charge of marketing, and Wan Mohd Affendi, 30, who mans the production.
Noor Arfa Batik employs 200 workers, who wear batik uniform every working day except Thursdays when they are allowed to wear any batik attire at the Noor Arfa Craft Complex in Kuala Ibai here.
200 workers, who wear batik uniform every working day except Thursdays when they are allowed to wear any batik attire at the Noor Arfa Craft Complex in Kuala Ibai here.