Every family has their own traditions during the holidays, regardless of which festivity you’re celebrating.
Some have the tradition of binge-watching Christmas movies together or baking kuih raya with neighbours at the local community centre. Others take this time to practice more traditional cultural customs, like lighting diya lamps during the festival of lights.
For Soong Xin Ee and her Klang-based family, it’s having tailored custom batik dresses made to ring in every Chinese New Year. It’s a privilege that the ladies in her family gained from having three seamstress aunts.
That’s how the idea for Gérson Batik started. But of course, that’s just the short version.
Bringing new life to an old venture
You see, the Gérson brand itself had already been established back in 1990. All three of Xin Ee’s aunts (Wong Soo Ha, Wong Soo Me, and Wong Soo Ling) worked together at the custom tailoring shop providing customers with their skillful services.
As they began having families of their own and children entered the picture, they decided to close Gérson down, all in the name of maternal love.
That passion for tailoring never really disappeared, though, as is evident from their annual Chinese New Year tradition.
Being all grown up now, Xin Ee and her three cousins wanted to help them restart this family business and digitalise it.
It’s a familiar family affair
“How we started was with four cousins,” Xin Ee said, referring to herself, TziLi, Jamie, and Kelly. “We saw our aunts’ perfect workmanship and wanted to help them earn a living [again].”
Thus, a revamped store called Gérson Batik was launched online in 2020, 30 years after Gérson’s initial start.
Sticking with the inspiration, Gérson Batik prides itself on its made-to-measure services. This means that each piece is uniquely designed and sewn to your preferences.
Wong Man May, Xin Ee’s mum, helps out by hand-selecting the batik fabrics from local producers as she has a good eye for it. “The fabrics that she picks, she can imagine it on every design and piece. It runs in the family to have good sights [in fashion],” Xin Ee shared.
Once that’s done and measurements are made, Xin Ee’s three aunts take the lead with their seamstress skills, with Wong Soo Ha acting as the head designer. It usually takes them up to three months on average to craft each custom order.
Customers can choose from a slew of attire choices, including batik tops, skirts, dresses, and shirts. They can be purchased either through the brand’s Instagram page or their website, with prices starting from RM228.
Eat, sleep, sew, repeat
It was quite a challenge starting out with the pandemic still fresh. Utilising the skills they had on hand, Xin Ee and her three cousins turned to online marketing for the brand.
This was supported by Xin Ee’s own experience in ecommerce, TziLi as the creative branding designer, Jamie as the customer specialist who helped out with order enquiries, and Kelly as the person managing the finances.
And slowly, they managed to build up a steady customer base. Much of this is credited to all of them living under the same roof back then, which eased communication.
As for how they’ve maintained family relationships despite being in business together, Xin Ee shared that they have three practices:
- Having a clear vision for the brand and ensuring that everyone knows the direction
- Trusting everyone to hold their own weight and not micromanaging
- Ensuring that everyone really understands their roles and responsibilities
Speaking on her own experience, Xin Ee expressed, “It was definitely tough, a lot of sweat and tears especially [since] I am younger than my aunts and don’t have any [tailoring] experience. But it guided me to have more patience and things are so much better now.”
At the time of writing, the other three cousins have all left Malaysia to explore new horizons abroad, leaving Xin Ee to grow the family legacy at home while juggling her own full-time career in ecommerce.
Putting in the needlework
It’s been about three years since Gérson Batik restarted and the brand recently launched its first physical store in Subang. This new brand expansion also came with a wider catalogue.
Instead of just custom-made attire, you can now find readymade pieces to choose off the rack. They’ve also included newer items like neckties and pocket squares for men, and batik shirts that come in matching family sets.
And the response has been “overwhelmingly positive”.
“We had to close off our website for a moment due to the fast in-and-out flow of our readymade pieces. We couldn’t cope with the demand, it was more than what we had forecasted,” Xin Ee shared.
Realising that there is still a huge pool of customers who prefer to grab and go, the brand is looking to create more readymade solutions to meet the demands.
Initially, the idea for Gérson Batik was to target those aged between 24 to 28, as the family hoped their modern designs would attract younger crowds. But after their physical store opening, they found that the real audience is slightly older than that, ranging between 28 to 35 years old.
“We realised more and more people value modernised batik. Customers also mentioned that batik brings sentimental value to them as it reminds them of their elderly, yet they can wear it in a modern way,” Xin Ee explained.
With that in mind, the brand seeks to add a more personal touch to the batik fabric itself. They’re looking to partner with local makers to create their own batik prints soon.
As for the bigger and more ambitious goal, Xin Ee and her family want to take the brand international. But not at the expense of losing their identity.
“We are still tailoring every piece with love and not looking to pass this role on to others yet.” Gérson Batik is all about quality over quantity, a philosophy that her aunts, the Wong sisters, have valued in their line of work for many years and more to come.
- Learn more about Gérson Batik here.
- Read other articles we’ve written about Malaysian startups here.
Featured Image Credit: Gérson Batik