Nor Aini Shariff tells Kasmiah Mustapha that batik will be big one day in the fashion world
IT was almost 20 years ago that fashion designer Nor Aini Shariff began a trend. In those days, batik was hardly seen as a fashion statement or deemed as a piece of high fashion.
But batik has always been close to her heart. When she graduated in fashion design from Institut Teknologi Mara (now Universiti Teknologi Mara), she chose batik as her trademark.
To her, batik represents not only the Malay culture, but also her identity. Using batik as her core design, she won third place in the Benang Emas competition in 1994, organised by Jelita magazine. And she has not looked back since.
“Back then, few thought batik could be turned into fashionable, designer wear. Even my friends told me that there was nothing interesting about batik. The material was thought of as casual attire, not something to be worn to formal functions or made for a wedding dress.
“But I can foresee that one day, batik will be big, because it is a work of art. It is like a painting, which increases in value over time. I know I can take it further because I am creating an identity. I can relate it to myself and the country. We just need to create market awareness.”
Rather than buy and sell ready-made batik garments, Nor Aini prefers to start from scratch. From buying a piece of cloth to designing the batik motifs, painting on it and turning it into something fashionable, designing her own batik is her way of ensuring that the designs are truly hers — like her personal stamp.
She explains: “I believe that if I start from the beginning, the work will be more original and I can claim it as being my own and not just the end result.
“I decided to create my own collection based on batik design because as a designer, I have to have my own identity, something that people can relate to.
“It’s also an advantage because people will be able to know the difference between my designs and that of other designers. If I just buy the fabric from the market, anybody else can copy the design. But if it is my own batik, it would be difficult for others to reproduce.
“That is the beauty of batik. Even when we try to recreate the same design, we can never get an exact copy.”
Over the years, her designs have also evolved — from having full batik designs to small and simple motifs, such as on the sleeves.
“Previously my designs were more abstract. Now I have combined them with the modern and contemporary. For example, if the theme is floral, I will make sure that it is more stylised. I want it to be bold with more details. If the designs are too plain, people will not see the beauty of batik.
“Many designers have also come up with new and contemporary designs. We want to make sure the colours are attractive, the designs are stylish and meet current fashion standards.”
Using fabrics such as chiffon silk, crepe de chine, satin silk and cotton voile, Nor Aini's collection has been showcased at events such as Islamic Fashion Festival, Batik For The World and the Batik Splendour fashion event at Berjaya Times Square. She has also taken part in fashion shows in Singapore and Indonesia.
Through her collaboration with Perbadanan Kemajuan Kraftangan Malaysia, her designs have also been showcased at trade missions and fairs in countries such as Australia, New Zealand, Japan and the US.
But isn’t batik often associated with the elderly? Nor Aini begs to differ. With the right designs, concept and colours, she says, the younger generation will also be drawn to batik.
As for her creative process, she says it usually starts with the concept, then the colours or combination of them, the motifs and the products. Once she has an idea for a design, she will then decide what fabric is suitable.
She says: “Actually it is not that difficult because batik designs never runs out. Even after all these years, I still have new ideas or concepts that I want to explore. The pattern may change but the concept remains. In fact I can use my old designs and just improve on them.
“There are many things to explore in batik. I will do other designs but only on request. I will continue to promote batik. I want more people to be aware of it and to start wearing it more.”
While the process of designing batik takes longer compared to other designs, Nor Aini says that is the beauty because coming up with something new and interesting can be really challenging.
If the designs don’t work, she has to start the process all over again — from choosing the fabric to designing the motifs and creating a style.
She says: “If we are taking part in a show, the process will be doubled if something goes wrong. If we are not happy with the results, we have to start all over again. That is the biggest challenge for designers using batik. But we get the satisfaction because it is our identity.”
Nor Aini’s collection under the Jarumas label, ranges from casual wear to high fashion and they include pantsuit, evening wear, wedding dress, baju kurung, men’s shirt and Islamic wear. She also designs scarves and tudung.