When you think about batik, what first comes to mind? Most of us in Malaysia often associate batik with formal events and a hefty price tag.
But it doesn’t always have to be that way. Homegrown batik apparel shop Gérson Batik sells custom-made batik dresses, tops and skirts with trendy designs that include both traditional and modern elements.
Soong Xin-Ee, Founder of Gérson Batik, Who Brought her Aunts’ Tailoring Business Online. Photo Credits: Gérson Batik.
Even better, you don’t even need to turn up physically for the seamstresses to take your measurements. Simply send in your measurements and they will tailor you a piece that fits you perfectly.
Bringing her aunts’ batik tailoring business online
So naturally, Xin-Ee and her cousins grew up with batik – from baby rompers to batik dresses for Chinese New Year, made with love by their aunts who live just next door – Wong Soo Ha (the main designer), Wong Soo Ling, and Wong Soo Mee (both of whom are in charge of tailoring).
And this has always made her feel special.
Soong Xin-Ee (Top Row, Second From Left) and Her Family Grew Up with Batik. Her Mother, Wong Soo Fhoong (Bottom Row, Third from Left), and Her Three Aunts, Wong Soo Ha (Top Row, Fourth from Left), Wong Soo Ling (Bottom Row, Left) and Wong Soo Mee (Bottom Row, Right – in Yellow) Are Key Family Members Involved in Gérson Batik. Photo Credits: Gérson Batik.
Overcoming the older generation’s skepticism of modern designs in batik
However, things were not that rosy at the beginning. Just like most family businesses consisting of different generations, Xin-Ee and her aunts had differing opinions when it came to the kind of designs that would work for a batik e-commerce apparel business targeted to young adults, especially millennials.
Xin-Ee Wanted to Make Wearing Batik Casual and Trendy for Young People Through Modern Designs and Cuttings, Such as Sleeveless Tops Like These. Photo Credits: Gérson Batik.
A leap of faith led to Gérson Batik’s success
Xin-Ee’s First Bold Modern Design for a Batik Top that was Well-received by Customers. Photo Credits: Gérson Batik.
It was then that her aunts realised their niece’s concept was working. “They started to trust my designs,” she said. Now, both Xin-Ee and her aunt Soo Ha are in charge of the designs, with Xin-Ee introducing modern and trendy elements to complement her aunt’s skill.
Now, with a variety of batik dresses, blouses, skirts, accessories and even men’s shirts, Gérson Batik receives around 300 orders a month.
Her parents are her greatest supporters through tough times
Xin-Ee and Her Mother, Wong Soo Fhoong, Who Sources the Fabric for Gérson Batik. Photo Credits: Gérson Batik
Seeking to hire low income women to lessen her aunts’ burden
Now, Xin-Ee is thinking of reaching out to refugee women, low-income mothers, and single mothers to help with the sewing in future. Reason being – she is worried about the toll the hard work might have on her aunts’ health, who are in their 50s and 60s.
She shared that during the peak period, such as before Chinese New Year, her aunts would be up sewing till 3am and they would be really tired.
However, she and her family members do not want to outsource the work completely, as they are concerned that it would negatively affect the quality of the end product.
“I can’t find anyone who has my aunts’ eye and skills, for example, knowing which part of the fabric design would go well on which part of the body, and putting the different colours and patterns of the batik together in a way that would make the customer look good,” she said.
Customers of Gérson Batik Love Their Modern Designs. Photo Credits: Gérson Batik.
Counting their blessings with the growing ‘baby’
The family has grown closer than ever and they count their blessings, celebrating every milestone.
“Gérson Batik is like a little baby that we have groomed as a family and seen it grow over the years,” Xin-Ee said proudly. “I’m so happy that we are able to give big angpows to my aunts and see that they have a sustainable source of income.”
Xin-Ee confessed that it was never her intention to turn the business into one that reaps in huge profits. “It started with wanting to make custom-made batik clothes affordable and to be able to provide for my aunts. We have enough, and we intend to keep it this way,” she said.
Until now, to keep costs low, most of the Gérson Batik team is made up of mostly family members who help out, such as Xin-Ee’s cousins who assist with operations and customer service. The modelling would be done by either Xin-Ee herself or her family members and friends.
Gérson Batik Also Offers Matching Family Outfits. Photo Credits: Gérson Batik.
This also means that she has no intentions of taking on the reins of Gérson Batik full time. She is actually training her 21-year-old cousin Joanne as a successor, she said, as she wants to focus on her next phase of life to start a family. But she is giving herself and her cousin at least two years to prepare for this transition.
But meanwhile, in the near future, Xin-Ee hopes to collaborate with other local businesses. Fans of Gérson Batik can also look forward to seeing the shop’s ready-made pieces, such as the men’s line, on online e-commerce platforms like Zalora.
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