It is heartening to see an increasing number of Malaysians appreciating and wearing batik. Made from the wax-resist dyeing technique, such outfits used to be synonymous with the elderly and were worn only on official occasions. This is thankfully no longer the case, with more businesses using creative ways to celebrate these colourful fabrics. Sridewi Batik is one such brand, fashioning batik workwear that is stylish and different.
Founder Nik Noor Amira Nik Najib has a background in business, and while she was bitten by the entrepreneurial bug at a young age, she had been unsure of the direction she should pursue. While working as an executive at a construction company, she had a light-bulb moment: “As a business executive, I wore office attire like pencil skirts and pants, but they were all so plain. I was bored. I have loved batik since young, seeing my mother and grandmother wearing batik sarongs. It got me thinking.”
Amira began researching the products that were available in the market, searching for a gap she could fill. And she found one. “I wanted to do something different and difficult to get in Malaysia. I thought, ‘Why not batik with a modern twist?’ So, I came up with the batik pencil skirt.”
Unsure if there would be demand for such a product, she decided to purchase some batik and stitch herself a skirt. She loved the end result and was amazed by the response she got at the office. “Many friends and colleagues asked me where I bought the skirt from and when I told them that I had stitched it myself, they all asked if I could make one for them. I was like, ‘Are you serious?’ I thought, okay, I can start my own brand.”
Amira started off by buying batik from Indonesia as she was drawn to the motifs. “I like to play with patterns and I was looking for very contrasting colours. It’s because I want people to be drawn to the design. For example, when giving a presentation, if you wear one of my skirts, you would definitely catch people’s attention. Others will be thinking, ‘Ooh that’s so nice! Where can I get one?’”
While she was very sure when it came to the colours she preferred, she was less confident about the style and cutting, having no background in textiles or fashion. “Sampling and prototyping were tricky. Finding the right balance between modern and traditional with just this one design was challenging,” she explains. Luckily, she had a friend with a degree in textiles who gave her a helping hand. This, combined with her extensive online research, enabled her to create her first line of batik pencil skirts and introduce them via social media platforms — Facebook and Instagram — to the public.
Shortly after the line was launched last September, the skirts were sold out. “People said that my skirts were very unique and one of a kind, because you could not find them anywhere else,” she says. Amira began with 20 to 30 pieces per design to test the market, and then increased her production to meet the growing demand. She eventually had to hire a tailor to get the pieces completed in time. The incredible response helped her make the decision to quit her job to concentrate fully on Sridewi Batik last October.
She chose the name Sridewi Batik as she wanted the women who wore her designs “to feel like royalty”. “Everyone will look at them. So, I went with Sridewi, named after the Javanese goddess.”
To date, the brand has released numerous collections of batik pencil skirts, including a design with a ruffled hem. “I want all races to wear batik just like they do in Indonesia. In Malaysia, we don’t appreciate our batik. So, I thought bringing a modern touch to the fabrics would encourage the younger generation to wear batik more,” says Amira.
With the aim of attracting a diverse customer base, she decided to launch a special collection each for all the major holidays. For instance, during Christmas last year, she had a festive set of skirts and during Chinese New Year, Sridewi Batik launched a vibrant array of red, gold and turquoise pieces.
Its most recent collection was due to be released during Hari Raya but had to be put on hold because of the Movement Control Order. “I couldn’t do deliveries, and the fabrics were stuck in customs. So, I had to postpone that collection,” says Amira.
As the restrictions have relaxed, she has taken the opportunity to launch a new design — batik split-sleeve blazers. “When I was designing the blazer, I didn’t want the material to be like regular office blazers that are thick. I wanted the fabric to be suitable for our weather — not too thick and not too thin either,” she adds.
As she adapts to the new normal, Amira hopes to continue to release special collections during festive periods. Once she has a more flexible budget, she hopes that Sridewi Batik will have its own website and, eventually, a brick-and-mortar store. Her short-term goals include restocking bestselling skirts, creating more blazers and launching batik blouses as well as fitted maxi dresses. She has also started contacting local suppliers to create pieces using Malaysian batik.
This article first appeared on June 15, 2020 in The Edge Malaysia.