KUALA LUMPUR, 27 March 2013: A new Malaysian heritage-inspired lifestyle brand is launched that promises to inspire contemporary designs for the songket as a way to keep the traditional textile weaving craft alive. Senijari, which in Malay means “art by hand”, was launched as a social enterprise by its founder and creative director, Suryani Senja Alias, at a gallery in Kuala Lumpur tonight.

“I founded Senijari because I wanted to find ways to make Malaysian traditional crafts like the songket viable as a means of livelihood for expert weavers and artisans. Most of these weavers are women who live below the poverty line or artisans who don’t enjoy fair and equitable business relationships with those who market their craft,” she said.

She noted that artisans around the world face challenges in creating sustainable livelihoods especially as generic, factory-made products can be made faster, in larger quantities and with better profit margins. “Malaysian artisans and craftspeople face the same challenges hence resulting in a loss of Malaysian culture, heritage and craft skills,” she added.

At the launch, Senijari unveiled several new products including textile art inspired by Japanese vintage motifs and Islamic mosaics from the Louvre, double-sided cushions and placemat sets using Senijari songket and European fabrics, and jewellery using songket fabric elements.

The products, which retailed from RM150 to RM18,000, were limited edition products that showcased modern designs and contemporary uses for the traditional songket.

Suryani said the songket was sourced from Malaysian weavers and artisans, mostly women, who live in Sarawak and Kelantan. She said Senijari was committed towards providing opportunities and offering partnerships to artisans and master craftspeople to preserve their heritage, elevate their craftsmanship into works of art, and improve their livelihood.

“It is only when these traditional crafts are a viable way of making a living that we can ensure they remain a vital part of our culture. The challenge Senijari is taking up is in breathing new life into traditional designs. By providing con-temporary designs and new uses for traditional craft, we aim to encourage the continued vitality of these craft in our modern day-to-day living,” she added.

“My vision is to one day retail our uniquely-designed products at the top retail outlets in major cities of the world. That would mean that the songket, for example, stands a very good chance of surviving and thriving as a craft into the future,” Suryani said.

Premium products

Even before the launch, she said, Senijari had collaborated with and employed a community of designers and weavers to produce the enterprise’s first product lines. The company is aiming to release new collections twice a year. Suryani said Senijari also provides clients with customised designs and products for interior design projects or special events.

“Each item is either a limited edition or one-of-its-kind because the skills involved in handmade artistry is so unique to each craftsperson. By virtue of its uniqueness, each product carries a premium not only in value but also in style,” she said.

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