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A striking dress in red and white.
Fern brings out coral motifs in the collection.
Baju kurung Kedah for the ultimare Hari Raya comfort.
Japanese-inspired kimono paired with a silk sarong.

A local batik brand highlights coral conservation in its Hari Raya collection, writes Syida Lizta Amirul Ihsan

FERN Chua’s foray into the business of batik is both by design and by accident. Named after the vascular plant, she grew up with a father who loved the outdoors and encouraged her to see the minute details of nature, from the lines on the rocks to the veins on the leaves, a point of view vital in her designing career.

Almost a decade ago, Chua, 32, met with a car accident which rendered her left hand invalid for six months. She had to go through surgeries and physiotherapy, and one of the skills she had to learn was sewing, something that requires fine motor skills necessary for recovery.

One day, she went to Central Market to buy supplies for her sewing project and saw many batik and even pseudo-batik items on sale and decided that she wanted to venture into this, armed with her skills in art.

So, Fern the brand was born. Chua tagged it “the new batik”, giving the ancient fabric art a new look and feel meant for the younger generation.

Her collections, while not too exclusive, are not exactly cheap and she stands by her pricing because she says batik isn’t easy and cheap to produce.

“Tjanting is a labour-extensive process and this is the backbone of batik,” she says.

Most of her batik pieces are hand drawn by artisans, from the artwork she produced. She also employs a batik company from Kelantan to produce blocks for her company’s block batik.

PROMOTING MALAYSIAN BATIK

What is important to her is promoting Malaysian batik. What is Malaysian batik, I ask her.

“Malaysian batik is free-form with motifs derived from nature and that’s our strength because such motifs are highly adaptable according to the clothes.”

She says the mindset that batik is outdated and is only preferred by the older generation is shifting with the arrival of new players — mostly young people — revamping the image, use and fabrication of batik.

“More thought has to go into the design and patterns on batik outfits so the look looks more put-together than just a floral fabric cut to make clothes.”

FOCUS ON CORAL

For this year’s Hari Raya collection, Chua focuses on corals and their destruction. As a long-time diver, Chua says she has seen how the marine invertebrate have died and reduced in numbers over the years.

“It’s really heartbreaking what global warming is doing to corals and the marine ecosystem. What once used to be green are now black.

“I’m trying to create the awareness on my collection so the public appreciate corals.”

The brand is working with Perhentian Marine Research Station, the organisation currently “in the process of conducting coral reef and sea grass surveys around Perhentian Islands to map the distribution of these marine ecosystems”.

“It’s something I want to do because I have seen the destruction and I feel strongly about it,” she says.

“I am always in awe of the beauty of life under the sea. As a diver, I’ve had many opportunities to discover and experience the sea up close and it never ceases to amaze me.

“Mother nature is the ultimate artist. The sea offers an incredible and diverse colour palette as well as breathtaking shapes and forms. Observing wonders at work while diving gives me all the inspiration I need and this reflects in my Raya collection.”

For this collection, Fern will be producing its coral-inspired patterns in 15 different pieces. The Coral Series is adorned with romantic and elegant ruffles and will be available in kebaya, kaftans, robes, maxis, blouses, long skirts and sarong.

The brand also does made-to-measure pieces, offering an array of patterns, silhouettes and colour options. Customisation during peak seasons usually takes four to six weeks.

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