Batik has been a popular medium for lots of modern outfits and accessories for quite a while now, from The Gentleman’s Bar using it in its bowties and ties, to Inisaya turning it into more casual, wearable pieces, Spirit AnimalCo marrying it with traditional Chinese wear like cheongsam, and Baba Makes utilising it as a unique lining for his handcrafted leather wallets.
It goes without saying that these are just a few examples of the Malaysian businesses currently increasing the visibility and popularity of batik among the younger crowd.
Using the same concept but a different material instead is By Sarah. This Malaysian brand uses songket tenun in designing and producing all of its bespoke accessories.
Bridging the traditional & the modern
Songket is a kind of fabric that is usually woven with traditional looms, and one that has a complicated pattern of gold and silver thread.
Malaysian songkets are traditionally used as part of a dowry and hung from wedding beds to showcase the wealth of a family.
Most commonly, songkets make an appearance during formal occasions. Hence, Sarah, the co-founder of By Sarah, shared that the youth might feel intimidated by the material. Her work aims to make it more approachable.
“For me, it is such a waste to not introduce an intricate and durable material. If the younger generation isn’t aware of the potential of songket, I won’t be surprised if it becomes extinct one day,” she added.
Joining hands in the startup with Sarah is her cousin, Maria (also known as Dotty). The idea to form By Sarah came about when their aunt wanted to find a suitable songket present for her international guests.
Additionally, Dotty’s intention was to start something with her cousin before she personally left for Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
“For someone almost half my age and from a totally different age bracket, I loved seeing the perspective and ideas developed by her,” shared Dotty affectionately.
Currently, By Sarah is a part-time hustle for both the cousins as Sarah transitioned from being in the medical field to working in the corporate field.
Made for Malaysians, by Malaysians
By Sarah’s accessories and its fabrics are sourced locally as the brand aims to make its local presence an identity of Malaysian products.
“Each and every one of our products are carefully made by talented Malaysian crafters and artisans,” described Sarah.
The articulated designs on some of the brand’s leather range such as their Sufi Laptop Sleeve and cardholders use laser cutting and engraving to perfect the design on the front. However, the duo outsources the metal frames for their clutch.
The process of creating their accessories begins with the basics of ideation and sketching by the cousins. Following that, the co-founders would engage with their artisans to perfect and finalise the designs.
“After obtaining the right materials, we would then start prototyping our designs. Normally, a few rounds of R&D are required before we can finally launch our products,” shared Sarah.
It takes approximately one to two months to launch a product, as the production process alone can take up to two weeks, like in the case of their clutch bag or leather songket range.
To keep their ideas fresh as well, they actively try to envision new designs to incorporate in the brand down the line. As the team is made up of five members, they try to come up with an average of five pieces every two weeks.
“We try to come up with items that are more sustainable instead of following the current trend. We all know trends tend to fade eventually over time,” said Sarah.
The brand’s designs are inspired by several elements, but mainly from the elements of Islamic architecture, which have a classic look that has withstood the test of time and modernisation.
Staying as resilient as a well-made songket
Over the years, the co-founders believe that By Sarah has matured in terms of designs and types of products produced. The team is also more selective with what they want to associate with their brand.
This has brought them into the hands of notable clients, with Sarah saying, “Our biggest achievements were having the opportunity to produce for an international embassy, bags for bridal wears, and having our clutches owned by Dato Siti and Tun Siti Hasmah.”
And while they weren’t resistant to the pandemic’s effects, they were resilient.
The team used to retail at APOM KLCC and Bangsar Village prior to the pandemic. As foot traffic became nonexistent though, they pivoted to focus on e-commerce.
Moving forward, By Sarah has plans on opening their own retail store. They’re also looking to expand their team so that they can produce at a higher rate to meet the current demand of their customers, while coming up with new designs, of course.
Upholding their goal of elevating songket and growing appreciation for the material, they’re hoping that one day, they can be globally recognised too.
Featured Image Credit: By Sarah