Tanoti – A Beautiful Story From Sarawak

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The rich brocade tapestry that Tanoti is weaving is not your grandmother’s songket. The hand-threaded treasures from the Sarawak-based boutique songket atelier preserves its culture and heritage, but it also melds science with traditional art to bring about a much needed innovation for the 21st century. Their goal? To make songket a luxurious fashion fabric while retaining its soul.

Tanoti is a community of female artisans who are fine-tuning the art of this traditional handicraft for contemporary times. Established in 2012, the brand which had its starts in 2008 under the Tuanku Nur Zahirah Foundation of the ex-Malaysian Queen, has gone on to win the World Craft Council Award of Excellence 2014 and 2016. Not only is it preserving the ancient art of songket weaving, it has also empowered rural womenfolk with skills to generate viable income.

In conjunction with Tanoti’s debut at Malaysia Fashion Week, we spoke to the Director of Tanoti, Ms. Jacqueline Fong, and the Creative and Technical Director of Tanoti,

Associate Professor Dr June Ngo from the Faculty of Applied and Creative Arts, Universiti Malaysia Sarawak for an insider’s glimpse into the brand.

Tell us the story behind your design inspiration.

Tanoti’s collection at the Malaysian Fashion Week (MFW) 2016 Global Launch in Paris is called ‘Luminesque’, a projection of glow and radiance. Gemstone motifs like sapphire, citrine, diamonds, peridot, sandstones and aquamarine, flirt with the finest silk and dance with shimmery beads to emit luminescence from within in this exciting range of Luminesque shawls, collars and necklaces.

Who are your inspirations or role-models in the industry?

The idea of adding more dimensions and turning songket into exclusive fashion-wear for formal occasions is mainly inspired by the Nuno textiles created by the NUNO Corporation from Japan. By fusing science and technology into the Japanese traditional textiles, the NUNO Corporation has successfully created a range of innovative textiles.  

Based on the same principles, we have produced our Luminesque Collection which showcases our success in manipulating and exploiting the relationship between textile design and science to produce exquisite and high quality songket applicable to contemporary fashion.

Why is it important for you to manifest your heritage in your design?

Women of the younger generation are no longer interested in songket weaving as it is thought to be time-consuming and boring. Besides that, some weavers have stopped weaving after marriage while some have moved to the city hoping to land a better job. The rise of songket production costs due to price increment of silk, cotton yarns, dyes, and the metallic threads have affected the demand of songket as well.

The art of weaving songket may one day diminish. It is crucial to find ways of educating the younger generation and to innovate the process of songket weaving from traditional songket to contemporary songket weaving so that more interesting songket products can be produced to cater to today’s market.

We feel that there is a need for new dedicated songket weavers to give the craft of songket weaving a new zest of life. Hence, it is important to think of various approaches to value-add and innovate the Malaysian songket to broaden its usage to cater to today’s local and international market. For example, the traditional use of metallic threads in songket render the fabric rather stiff thereby causing it to be rather uncomfortable to be worn. So, its usage is limited. It is a pity that such a beautiful and unique fabric is not popularised as quality fashion-wear that can be worn on all occasions.

In order for songket to increase its usage as quality fashion fabrics and to capture a broader market base, it has to be innovated and transformed into a more comfortable songket as light-weight songket for apparel use.

Do you face any challenges in promoting your design inside and outside of Malaysia?

Yes, we do. The cost of producing a songket shawl is high as it is handwoven and depending on the types of threads, complexity of the designs and textile techniques used, the duration taken to complete a shawl will take at least 5 weeks or longer to complete it. Thus, songket shawls are premium and considered luxury products, a very niche market due to the high cost of production.

How receptive is your design outside of Malaysia? 

During the 2-day exhibition at the Maria Callas Suite at Hilton Paris Opera, we received very positive feedbacks especially regarding the textile designs and colours used for our collection. We received comments that our products are suitable for South of France e.g. Cannes. One potential buyer has advised us to use cashmere wool instead of silk threads.

What do you observe in the fashion design trend among Malaysian fashion designers?

There is a trend where Malaysian designers are using traditional handcrafted fabrics such as batik and songket fabrics in their fashion outfits. For example, during the Malaysian Fashion Week (MFW) 2016 Global Launch in Paris, fashion designers such as Bill Keith, Bon Zainal and Toi, used songket in their clothing line and Sakura, a Malaysian handbag brand used Tekad in their collection.

What is your objective in using MFW as platform for your brand?

As a songket atelier, we are grateful to MFW for the opportunity to expose songket to the world of high fashion. MFW provides Tanoti with the platform to debut our contemporary songket collection Luxe Handwoven; and offers us access to the relevant audience for our products, both locally and globally – from media to buyers to designers.

What do you say to the younger generation of fashion designers?

We hope to inspire many more students, young designers and songket weavers to value and cherish our cultural heritage by playing a more participatory role in preserving the craft of songket weaving.

We are proud to be able to present Tanoti to the global market and wish Tanoti all the best in their endeavours. You can learn more about Tanoti at http://tanoticrafts.com/.