Surprised that there were no batik headbands in the market, Maryam sold her wares to friends and family at first and, later on, to other customers through Instagram. Once the market for her batik accessories was stable, she kick-started her business. “I was meant to be a chef in my family’s restaurant, but I rebelled. I did not want to be in the kitchen,” she says.
Denying a career path chosen for her by her family was a big deal, considering that her mother is the famed cook behind Aunty Aini’s Garden Cafe in Nilai, Negeri Sembilan. Many Malaysians remember the proud moment when British chef Gordon Ramsay was put in his place by the charismatic and feisty Aunty Aini, who taught him the meaning of terms like agak-agak, and made the usually hot-tempered, self-assured chef a little fearful while they cooked her scrumptious beef rendang.
“My biggest challenge was that I didn’t get my mum’s blessing. She really wanted me to continue my culinary career, but my heart’s not there yet and if I’m not able to give it my 100%, then what’s the point?” explains Maryam.
She named her business MaryamBayam — a term that was used to tease her in high school — and registered it in June last year. “MaryamBayam is unique, especially with the tag line, ‘Better in Batik’. It rhymes and is catchy,” she adds.
The accidental entrepreneur gradually built her company by learning about marketing and the business side of things from her friends. She also opens a pop-up store at least once a month, where she is able to show people the versatility of headbands as an accessory. “I wear a hijab now so I really wanted to promote it for all the hijabis as well. You can still look cultured and fashionable while wearing a hijab. It is really fun to promote and market my product this way,” she says.
While sourcing for fabrics in Terengganu, Maryam was introduced to the state’s unique batik art. “It actually changed my whole view about batik because all this while, we have been so used to Indonesian batik. But batik made in Terengganu is hand-blocked. You can tell the difference when you flip the cloth over and you see that it (the print) is exactly the same because the dye seeps through. If it is cheap batik, the back would look faded … My current supplier, Aunty Rosimah, was very encouraging when she found out that I make batik accessories.”
MaryamBayam’s full range of products include handcrafted batik headbands, earrings, scrunchies and shorties (which can be used as a scarf or a bag accessory). “It’s batik that comes in small packages. Something so simple, small and practical. It’s easily attainable, and is a piece of our culture and heritage,” she says. The moment Maryam felt success was when online retail portal Lazada approached her to sell her headbands on their platform.
A year after the brand’s inception, Maryam launched maryambayam.com. “With a website, anyone living overseas will get an idea of who we are and what we are doing,” she explains.
A key challenge for Maryam now is staffing — she is currently a one-woman show, managing with advice and guidance from close friends. Although her perfectionism makes it hard for her to let go, she hopes to expand the team. “I have to nurture and teach someone. The person needs to have the same level of passion I have for this business,” she says.
In the future, Maryam hopes to create her own batik designs. To spread the word that batik can be funky and stylish, she wants to introduce batik turbans next. Maryam also aims to promote Malaysian talents through her website. “I’m going to call it the Bayam movement — a movement to promote our culture and heritage. The website is going to be a platform for anything cultural and artistic. It is going to be a community.”
This article first appeared on Jul 1, 2019 in The Edge Malaysia.