By Nurqalby Mohd Reda
KUALA LUMPUR (Bernama) – When COVID-19 first hit the nation, many businesses were ill-equipped to deal with the new restrictions and shutdowns.
The pandemic changed the retailing industry, and one of the main shifts seen has been on the e-commerce sector. The online platform became a pervasive cultural phenomenon, with consistent growth across the entirety of 2020.
Nur Aina Balkhis Zumri, 22, from Kota Bharu, Kelantan, decided to ease her way through the turbulent waters of the coronavirus by saving her father’s batik wear business which was built over four decades ago.
The COVID-19 pandemic had crippled the business of her father, Zumri Hassan, 61, at Wakaf Che Yeh as it had to be shuttered due to the Movement Control Order (MCO).
According to Aina, the situation three years ago was the most challenging as her father had to process orders for hundreds of kaftan batik pieces ahead of the Hari Raya Aidilfitri.
“My father has been working as a batik trader since the 1980s on a small-scale by procuring his batik supply from Indonesia.
“Around 1990, my father started to expand his business by opening a business premise at Wakaf Che Yeh and eight years later, he began producing his own kaftan batik under the Mutiara Batik label. My father fully hand-painted the batik pieces with the help of three workers,” she told Bernama recently.
His operations were badly affected during the first year of COVID-19 when the MCO was in force which saw his kaftan stocks left unsold.
Viewing the setbacks through a lens of patience and objectivity, Nur Aina decided to leverage the social media to market the product, lest her father would continue to suffer losses.
“After careful thought, I decided to help my father by selling his merchandise on Facebook, a popular medium among bundle traders, as physical operations were then prohibited.
“As such, I picked up the courage to sell my father’s batik wear on Facebook live daily and to my surprise, the items were sold out in less than three months,” she said, adding that her customers were not limited to her state alone, but also across the nation, including neighbouring Singapore.
Encouraged by Aina’s determination to market the kaftan, her father suggested that his daughter took over his business.
Noting that it was difficult to maintain the legacy, Aina, who is a Science Diploma holder from Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM) Tapah said, with her father’s support, she took up the challenge to assume the responsibility.
“I did not have much confidence at first, but after helping my father to promote the kaftan, I could feel that business was in my blood and found managing the business satisfying.
“I was still unemployed after completing my studies but decided that I should give the business a try, by learning the art of kaftan batik-making –from canting and colouring process to marketing the product,” she added.
Aina, who is the fifth of eight siblings, said after a year of running the business and the trust gained from her father, she later decided to give it a new lease of life by diversifying the kaftan batik collection, in addition to marketing it under Aina Balkish.Co label.
“I used my own name as a personal brand as I wanted to see how far I could go in this field...with the help of my family members and nine other workers including my father’s own team, I found myself ready to expand this kaftan batik market,” she added.
KAFTAN BATIK EVOLUTION
Based on the latest kaftan trends, Aina saw the need to have varieties to her own collection by introducing ready-to-wear designs, which are both suitable for casual as well as formal wear.
This is because kaftan, which is made of cotton fabric, evokes an image of comfort, making it the choice among women.
“Previously, kaftan or ‘baju kelawar’ was associated with ‘wanita kampung’ and for nightwear among women as the sleeveless kaftan is usually worn in the house.
“With the evolution of the fashion industry in Malaysia, kaftan batik, which is popular in Kelantan and Terengganu, experienced a paradigm shift to reflect the changing trends.
While maintaining cotton fabric, Aina Balkhis.Co batik has been given a modern and contemporary touch with vibrant designs and colours to attract kaftan fashionistas.
According to Aina, batik is not merely for home wear but with the latest fashion, it can be worn at official events including wedding receptions, dinner events as well as during celebrations and to the office.
“We have introduced various kaftan batik designs under Aina Balkhis.Co label, and besides basic kaftan, there are also batwing, pario, plus size, long and short-sleeved kaftan as well as those that are embellished with stones.
“Besides the abstract and floral batik originally produced by my father, we have diversified our motifs for vibrancy, by including pastel and bright colours to attract younger women.
“We still retain floral motifs and traditional batik designs as our signature collection and produce cute designs based on cartoon characters such as hello kitty, mickey mouse and teddy bear, food such as doughnut, cup cake and ice-cream as well as insects such as butterflies to attract buyers,” she said adding that these batik designs were hot-selling items and much-awaited by the younger generation.
Going online has not stopped Aina from tapping other opportunities for expansion as kaftan itself has its own fans.
“Previously when kaftan was sold at the Wakaf Che Yeh shop, most buyers were from states outside Kelantan, maybe people here were not interested in kaftan back then.
“But after promoting our products on Facebook live and TikTok a year ago, we managed to expand our market to not only Malaysia but also received regular customers from Singapore as well as customers from Mauritius,” she added.
Despite the stiff competition from other kaftan traders, Aina is optimistic and is proud of her achievements in managing the kaftan batik business, noting that on average, she is able to sell 1,000 kaftan batik pieces in a month through the social media platform.
“A piece of kaftan is sold between RM30 to RM300 based on design, cutting and pattern produced, and we can produce 20 to 30 kaftan pieces a day.
“The most difficult motif to craft is floral or traditional batik design. Alhamdulillah, to date, we have managed to achieve a (net) profit of up to RM10,000 a month and I am relieved that I have made returns on my investment,” she added.
At the same time, Aina is always seeking new ideas for her batik collections in line with industry trends.
“So far, my business operation is mainly home-based, except that the canting and colouring process is held at a small factory here (Kota Bharu) with the support of three batik artists and one worker for sewing.
“God willing, I hope to expand this business with additional staff, a business premise to sell and exhibit kaftan batik as well as a manufacturing factory which is able to produce our batik in large quantities,” she added.
Translated by Salbiah Said
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