When it comes to contemporary Malaysian fashion, no other item has experienced more of a ‘glow up’ than batik. What had been a traditional garment, worn only by elders at home or to formal events, has exploded among the chic and trendy in Kuala Lumpur.
Driven by creative independent designers, this age-old artform – lightweight, beautiful and perfect for tropical weather - has been transformed into practical yet stylish outfits and accessories. Today, we see batik adorning anything from hair accessories and tote bags to shift dresses, easy shirts, drapey blouses, wrap skirts and more.
Reimagining batik for the modern Malaysian
Kapten Batik was founded by two engineers, Farhan Omar and Mohamad Ekram Faiz, who deviated from their career paths to make men’s shirts with batik sourced from various parts of the world. Their designs feature batik from as near as Terengganu and Kelantan to Cirebon and Pekalongan in Indonesia, and as far as Jaipur in India.
Speaking to the New Straits Times, Farhan described their method: “We went to places that are out of the way because we wanted to find prints that are unique and exclusive to us.
“We can’t use the same designs as other brands, because part of our plan is to make Kapten Batik the leader in men’s batik shirts.”
Using artisanal handicraft and traditional textiles, the ready-to-wear label focuses exclusively on creating slim fit men’s shirts with contemporary designs that meet the needs of young and sophisticated urban men. As a result, it has cultivated strong support from this demographic.
This includes KL-based content creator, Rafael Stale, who remembers batik as loose-fitting silk with bright hand-drawn designs that his father would wear to work and formal events, which differs significantly from his own tastes.
“For my generation, we prefer fitted cuts, more muted colour schemes and block prints,” Rafael shares.
“Kapten Batik offers well-tailored shirts with a variety of patterns and materials, so I can always find something elegant to suit me,” he adds.
Meanwhile, Brava Batik caters to the modern woman in a tropical climate. Popular for its
trademark reversible slip-on summer dresses, the label makes full use of the material’s lightweight qualities that are so perfect for the hot and humid weather of Malaysia.
Founder, Raz Bahari, grew up watching her mother wear batik sarongs every day and was fascinated by the textile and the process to create it. She observed what white-collar professionals wore to work and was surprised that there was very little batik. So, she designed her own dress from batik material bought on holiday in Terengganu and received numerous queries as to its provenance.
From there, Brava Batik was born, and very quickly received a strong reception, gaining exposure from the media and included in Malaysia Tourism Centre’s (MaTIC)’s annual Batik Fest last year.
The versatility and elegance of Batik has even encouraged the founding of social enterprises like Batik Boutique, an initiative that employs local artisans to create beautiful and contemporary batik apparel with an outlet in Kuala Lumpur and an online store that ships internationally.
Thanks to the creativity of fashion entrepreneurs, batik has been reborn, melding a timeless tradition with modern aesthetic appeal so that it can be worn by anyone, anywhere, today. Beyond becoming a fit for purpose apparel that locals can wear for work and leisure, batik is claiming its position as a Malaysian heritage textile fit for the global market.