By Aisha Hassan on April 8th, 2021
One day in 2015, a woman named Suria found a box that belonged to her late mother. Inside was a treasure trove of crafts, and as Suria lifted each one out of the box, a portrait of an artisan unfurled.
“There were batik fabrics, raw fabrics that were not made yet, some dye and some batik tools,” Suria says. “I thought, wow — I should continue her legacy.”
While Suria knew her mother made traditional batik, discovering that box, especially after her mother’s death, was a catalyst. It sowed the seeds for Suria’s own brand, Suria Artisan Batik, which takes a more modern approach to batik and is largely inspired by the rainforest. Today, Suria’s designs are stocked at world-class resorts like The Datai and St. Regis in Langkawi, Malaysia, and she has partners as far afield as Los Angeles.
“Despite the challenges in starting your own business, passion still drives me and I really believe in it,” Suria says.
Preserving our rainforests
When Suria was growing up, her father moved the family from the city to Janda Baik, a village in Pahang, Malaysia, that teems with lush greenery. He did it because he adored nature, and this same sentiment has affected Suria’s batik brand.
“Personally, I really love the rainforest,” she says. “Being Malaysian, I think it’s really important to understand that a lot of deforestation is happening, and I wanted to connect that with creating batik.”
That’s why Suria donates to the Tropical Rainforest Conservation and Research Centre (TRCRC) using Suria Artisan Batik profits, when she is able. Fluctuating sales, particularly during the pandemic, make this difficult, but Suria strives to contribute even if it’s a small amount. In addition to being connected with this local reforestation nonprofit, the rainforest is also Suria’s primary design inspiration.
“When I see a tree or a piece of leaf of flower, I see how the lines come together, or how raindrops come together, and then imagine how it would look on a piece of fabric,” Suria says. From then on, it can take two to three weeks for skilled artisans at Malaysia’s Craft Institute to create the batik block Suria envisioned, and then bring the batik creation to life.
The people behind the craft
Suria works with skilled artisans throughout Malaysia. “There’s Pok Mud from Kelantan who has been making batik since he was a teen...and Pok Ya from Terengganu who designs the batik blocks,” Suria says. Moreover, Suria works with the Lady Ayaz Sewing Centre, which, under the UNHCR, helps refugees make a livelihood.
Beyond focusing on the people throughout her supply chain, Suria also endeavours to be a slow fashion business. This includes creating limited collections of only 10-20 pieces, opting for batik techniques that save water, and repurposing spare fabric.
And throughout it all, if Suria ever needs guidance, she turns to her mother – the person that inspired the brand in the first place.
“I sometimes look up at the sky and ask her questions, about whether I should do something like this or like that,” Suria says. “It makes me feel connected to her.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Aisha Hassan is a writer, journalist, and co-founder of Dia. Previously, Aisha worked for Quartz in New York and Harper’s Bazaar in Malaysia. Her fiction has been published in international literary magazines. She has a bachelor’s degree in English Language & Literature from the University of Oxford, and a master’s degree from Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism.