Indian weaving and design methods, songket textiles were brought in to trade or as gifts for the sultan and his entourage as early as the 15th century in Malacca. Hand-woven from silk or cotton and intricately patterned with gold or silver thread, songket is a fabric that belongs to the brocade family of textiles of Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei.
Songket a type of fabric closely related with royalty in Malaysia is in jeopardy of losing its charm as the number of weavers who specialize in the art of making it are dwindling. It seems that this art may not survive another generation.
The hours of intense labour and careful attention that go into crafting each piece of handwoven songket makes it one of the most beautiful materials known to mankind.
With the skill being passed on from generation to generation, songket has moved from palace courtyards and into the homes of commoners. In modern times, songket has also been transformed into apparel and fashion accessories such as handbags and shoes.
In homes, it is used as place mats, cushion covers, table runners and gift items.
However, with the introduction of mechanisation and cheaper pretenders combined with a shrinking pool of young weavers, the craft of songket weaving is in decline.
Despite the challenges, Tanoti Sdn Bhd is put great efforts to keep this traditional craft alive.
Songket weavers can be found mainly in the East Coast region and Pahang in Peninsula Malaysia as well as in Sarawak, and most of them are women who have learnt their weaving skills from their more experienced elders.
The younger generation are not enticed by this traditional craft and opting for jobs with a steady income, Tanoti is facing a shortage of weavers and fears that someday this Malaysian fabric will no longer exist. As, there were approximately 2,000 weavers 10 years ago which has reduced over the years now.
Tanoti means weave in Sanskrit was established two years ago with an initial investment of RM500,000 and has 16 weavers. The company is 100% owned and managed by Sarawakians. As it is a labour-intensive industry, Tanoti believes in investing in their people.
Through a mentorship programme, less-experienced weavers and trainees are supervised by highly-skilled senior weavers. This is done in addition to completing their own assignments.
They believe in hands-on training and all trainees learn to cooperate with each other in getting to grips with the ins and outs of weaving songket under the watchful eyes of their seniors. Depending on the individual weaver’s ability to pick up the necessary skills and techniques, they hope that each trainee will be able to weave independently at their own loom within six months.
Although Tanoti primarily focuses on Sarawak songket, their weavers are also trained in peninsular songket-weaving techniques. Tanoti is also looking to add to their team as demand for high-quality Sarawakian songket is on the rise. They plan to recruit 30 weavers a year.
Although, weaving is a traditional artform but it does not stop from being contemporary. More than just weavers, Tanoti has its own team of designers and creative directors. They have also an in-house R&D team to look into technical aspects of the fabric.
From bookmarks to an art piece for a wall, many new things are being made with songket. For interior design purposes, Tanoti uses a heavier material which can be weaved into curtains or cushion covers. For apparel, songket is made much softer and more comfortable.
Songket has also been making an impact on fashion runways with some sleek and new designs. One designer worked with the company to create customised shoes and handbags wrapped with songket. The company is also working with BritishIndia — a homegrown lifestyle brand that currently has more than 40 outlets across Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and the Philippines.
Tanoti has removed middlemen from the equation to safeguard the interest of the company and its weavers. Mass-produced songket is growing in popularity, but there will always be demand for the traditional handwoven songket.
Tanoti breaks new ground in terms of design and implementation but the road to success seem long and hard but Tanoti is prepared to weave their way to it one thread at a time. The company is confident that it is able to compete successfully and cater to the taste of today’s fashion-conscious consumers.
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