Seeking a new adventure, Amy Blair and her family left their Texan home in 2007 to settle down in the sunny bays of Penang.
Two years later, they moved to the heart of KL where they met Ana who helped out with babysitting and miscellaneous household chores.
Their bond grew stronger the more Ana worked with them, until she felt comfortable enough to share her woes as a single mother of two.
Amy resonated strongly with Ana’s dedication to her children, being a mother herself. She wanted to help Ana find extra income to support her family, so the duo began brainstorming when they discovered Ana’s skill in sewing.
They bought some batik fabric for Ana to turn into unique gifts. Amy was very impressed with Ana’s handiwork, so she brought them over to her hometown in the States where her family and friends shared her enthusiasm.
They were enthralled with not only the unique batik design but also the touching story of Ana’s struggles. Soon enough, word spread and Amy found that more and more people began asking if they could purchase these gifts.
So in 2010, Amy decided to officially turn what was an answer to her friend’s cry of help into a business now known as Batik Boutique.
Giving Women In Need A Fighting Chance
Batik Boutique started with the base principle that women deserve a fair and sustainable income, and it still holds true till today.
The social enterprise aims to help women (mainly single or low-income mothers) who are looking for other means to support their families financially.
Having worked part time in tourism before, Amy understood the strong cultural ties of batik to Malaysia. It didn’t matter that she has no experience in the creative process of batik; she just wanted to find a way to promote it globally.
“Batik is beautiful to me because it is artisan-made. It’s like wearing a piece of art. There are many hands and stories of people’s lives that go into each piece of batik. The layering and techniques are fascinating, and I love the colors and patterns too,” said Amy, talking about what drew her to batik.
Batik Boutique started with about 30 artisans which has now grown to 150. They work with people coming of all backgrounds—from batik artists to seamstresses who work in their sewing center set up in low-income housing areas.
Amy shared that so far, they work with women who have at least basic knowledge in sewing. Originally, they would negotiate the price each time.
“We would sit down with these women and discuss a fair wage based on a few factors, like the hours taken to create a piece, the cost involved, and more. After doing this for awhile, we have a fixed wage set based on which piece they make,” said Amy.
You can find a variety of things on their platform, from scarves and tote bags to a wide range of apparel.
The average pricing of these items are about RM55 to RM220 and the price tag can differ according to what methods was used to produce the batik design (whether they’re hand-blocked or machine-made).
“Our batik comes mainly from the East Coast area like Kuala Terengganu and Kota Bharu. Surprisingly, not many Malaysians know a lot about batik so sometimes I educate my customers on it when they ask about the differences in price and such,” said Amy during an interview with BFM.
Since their inception, Batik Boutique has been receiving positive response from local and international customers—and not just from the quality of the items but the social impact the enterprise has as well.
Currently, they donate 20% of their profits to local charities as well as to clinics to subsidise their services for the lower-income community.
Batik Boutique measures their social impact in two ways.
Amy keeps track of the number of artisans they directly work with and the income they earn from this partnership.
“We then identify how each of these artisans share this income with their family, and this gives us a broader idea of the social impact we are making,” explained Amy to Vulcan Post.
In terms of revenue, Amy shared that Batik Boutique has reached a point where they are already profiting as a social enterprise.
“We are now able to increase our social benefits like child care for our seamstress, train more artisans, and expand to our own retail outlet as well, thus increasing both our revenue and impact,” added Amy.
It’s interesting to see how she can say that now; when she first began, she wasn’t even thinking about Batik Boutique as a “social enterprise”. Her goal was to help women through their financial hardships, hence why she didn’t take any profit when she was starting out.
Now, she’s proud to see a greater understanding of social entrepreneurship in Malaysia and that support exists at the government level through champions like the Malaysian Global Innovation and Creativity Centre (MaGIC).
To further their reach, they are now working with other startups like LokaLocal.
Helping these women and artisans are a big chunk of why she started her enterprise, but she also feels strongly in spreading more awareness on batik.
So Batik Boutique began opening up workshops to reach out to locals or tourists who are interested learn the art of batik or shibori. Through these classes, students can get creative with their own patterns and designs while learning how to prepare hand-dyed textiles.
Students can bring their creations home, which is always a nice touch. And to help promote these workshops, Amy approached LokaLocal, an online platform that allows people to experience our local culture via their tours.
“We wanted to offer our workshops to spread appreciation of an art type that is intrinsic to Malaysian culture, all while supporting the empowerment of local artisans. LokaLocal is the perfect platform to promote this venture.”
And this collaboration with LokaLocal has proven fruitful. People are becoming more aware of Batik Boutique’s mission and there are more opportunities for more workshops.
Now they’re looking into working closer with LokaLocal to expand their influence by bringing authentic cultural experiences for those looking for new opportunities.
“We hope to be able to grow our business so that we can expand our impact. We are currently training a new group of women how to sew, and hope to continue being able to work with more people in need.”
“Ultimately, we aim to grow Batik Boutique to be the largest Batik brand in Malaysia and beyond all while making a difference in the lives of those around us.”
This article was written in collaboration with LokaLocal.
Feature Image Credit: Batik Boutique