The Future of Batik in Malaysia

by Dr. Robin Chin


  • Batik
    • Batik is a traditional Malay garment that has prints on each side. The prints are intricate floral motif patterns woven into a tapestry of colours using wax and dye techniques. However, there are several definitions of batik. Wikipedia describes Batik, as a wax-resist dyeing technique used on textile found in several countries of West Africa, India, Middle East like Iran, and in Asia. The history and evolution of batik is debated and India, China, and Middle East have all claimed to be the original cradle of this craft form3
    • Batik has been both an art and a craft in Malaysia, and for most part being a fraction of the Malay tradition. The East Coast states of Kelantan and Terengganu are famous for their fine batiks. From East Malaysia, come artistic talents rich in distinctive ethnic patterns and those that feature native motifs.
  • Perception
    • The failure to understand batik and batik painting and the emergence of cheaper and more attractive imported textiles and silks further eroded batik’s appeal. Coupled with the perception that batik entrepreneurs are reluctant to inject fresh ideas and the static designs make batik enthusiasts shy away. After a quick check at Central Market in Kuala Lumpur, traders lament at the appearance of imitation batik and seem to agree with the observation.
    • Aisiah Saleh of Innai, who owns a batik fashion boutique at Great Eastern Mall, Jalan Ampang reiterated that Batik is divided into two groups, one retaining its traditions in the Malay arts and crafts while the other, making contemporary fashion designs; and the notion that “batik” is a cheap product is wrong. Her sentiment is shared by Zuraidah Abdul Razak (General Manager) from Karyaneka and agrees that although both local and foreign tourists alike are price sensitive, the influx of cheaper foreign-made artifacts have affected the low-end segment.
    • Although wearing of Batik garments may be fashionable in Malaysia, but the perception that it is Malay identity and culture led Kartini Illias, a batik fashion designer, to further opine that such views will only impede the development of the batik industry.



  • The Batik Industry
    • As batik has become more popular, the need for batik producers to evolve from their cottage-industry roots is pressing. New standards of contemporary design have arisen, and they are different from the traditional styles as industry players diversify the product range and experiment with new ways and methods in producing Kartini Illias said that in addition to innovation and creativity, keeping abreast with market needs and adapting to changing fashion trends are vital to compete and to widen its appeal to the young and trendy who associate batik with the older generation. En. Zamrudin Hj Abdullah of UiTM emphasizes that the use of natural dyes that are environmentally friendly and exploring the use of substances that create interesting new effects keep batik refreshed and dynamic.
    • In the attempt to rid the perception that batik is a cottage industry generally confined for tourists and souvenirs, Kraftangan, which acts as a research and development center also provides handicraft, entrepreneurial workshops, and incubator programs. It works along with Karyaneka’s marketing and retail outlets to promote both handicrafts and batik fashion, and at the same time, nurturing and strengthening the small-medium enterprises capacity as well as stimulating the existence of community-based industry.
    • Although the concerted efforts to promote the industry seem to be confined mainly to high fashion, Karyaneka says the industry is domestic driven with annual revenue improving by about 20% in 2007 and 10% to date in 2008 representing a three fold increase from 2004. For the small art and crafts segment, tourist sales is 65: 35.
    • Contrary to the idea that the batik industry is in the doldrums, the batik fashion sales is 60:40 driven by domestic sales, excluding corporate sales, adding that the segment is the best seller and moves itself as designers constantly refresh their designs and explore the use of materials. According to Kartini Illiyas, tourists simply love them, she adds. She reminded that Malaysian batik is unique. It is hand-drawn and no two pieces are the same. This is the hallmark of Malaysian batik. The same is shared by Innai boutique. However, Kartini experienced higher foreign sales, probably due to her location in KLCC.
    • To rekindle interest in batik and develop new designers, Yayasan Budi Penyayang Malaysia (World Batik Council) Asia Inc reports that it aims to develop an international network of batik enthusiasts and stage conventions in Kuala Lumpur that include fashion shows, design competitions, batik extravaganzas and road shows and develop batik beyond Asian shores4


  • Market Development
    • Karyaneka has more than 10 outlets throughout the country and more are planned. The buoyant batik fashion sales are echoed by entrepreneurs like Kartini and Aisiah who are looking forward to opening more outlets in Malaysia and to expand their ventures abroad.
    • The local batik industry was valued at about RM50 million in 2004. At Karyaneka, the marketing experience favours the arts and crafts segment, leading 60:40 of its revenue. Well aware of the industry’s limitations where 70% of the industry’s producers are located in Trengganu and Kelantan which are generally family-owned, Karyaneka’s challenge is to both build and harness their capabilities.
    • Working alongside major industry players, Noor Arfa Batek reports of having marketing chains in several ASEAN, Middle Eastern and European countries. They established the Noor Arfa Craft Complex (NACC) in Terengganu to develop the arts and craft segment as well as designer-entrepreneurs’ capability to supply high quality products that can compete in the market place5.
    • The batik fashion’s platform is meeting the changing market needs with selected crafts and refreshed designs citing the innovative use of wool and cotton combination for the pashmina export market and finished products like home furnishing.
    • Future new generation of Malaysian artists and designers must continue with the exploring spirit as a language of expression in contemporary art and be brave to go beyond the boundaries of cultural heritage.



  1. Design Traditions.
  2. Tourists go for quality, never mind the price, 2008/03/28 01 June2008)
  3. Lifestyle 01/06/2008
  4. Batik Push , ASIA INC APRIL 2005
  5. Noor Arfa Batek,
  6. iNNAi Batik,
  7. iKartini Batik,
  8. Craft Complex & Karyaneka,