By Poovenraj Kanagaraj,
“I think when the MCO hit, it was all very abrupt. We had a 24-hour warning and we thought it would only last for a couple weeks,” says Amy Blair, founder of social enterprise, Batik Boutique.
While she and her team had started prepping everyone on the preparation to begin working from home during the movement restriction period, it was no easy feat considering that the team was juggling the management of two retail outlets, one sewing center and supporting over a 100 artisans.
Like any other businesses across the nation, the Batik Boutique was impacted financially. “We are a social enterprise but an enterprise is still an enterprise. It’s all about the numbers and you can’t help anybody if you don’t have the business,” Blair stresses.
The enterprise specialised on festive gifts and had plans to produce Raya and corporate gifts, but the plans surrounding Raya campaigns derailed with the arrival of the Covid-19 outbreak which ultimately affected the financials of companies. The budget planned for gifts were among the first to be cut from the corporate budget, Blair highlights.
That was not the only challenge Blair and her team faced. Plans for the rest of the year also surrounded the enterprise’s acceptance into the top 10 of Scale Up Malaysia. Out of 100 companies that had gone through the application rounds, Batik Boutique had made it among the ten that qualified and Blair was the only female CEO among the ten.
“All my business plans were built around that and we were ready to work on our B2B side,” Blair tells Business Today.
While the enterprise faced an unprecedented challenge, Blair told Business Today that the crisis has only paved the path for further improvement. “The first thing we did was digital marketing and we began to recover our losses via our online sale. We realised we couldn’t just sit around and wait for events that may or may not happen,” she adds.
During the three-month MCO period, Batik Boutique along with other social enterprises in the nation formed the Social Textile movement, a collaboration that brought together players in the field and served as a Covid-19 relief effort.
The initiative utilised a decentralised production platform to tackle an increasing demand of PPE equipment and had engaged various players, from producers and suppliers to logistics providers and designers among others.
“Dialogues took place among us in the industry and the bi-product was this collaboration,” Blair points out.
The Batik Boutique had also produced close to 20,000 masks and plans to continue doing so. What started as an initiative to sell the mask to tackle an issue in Malaysia soon saw an outreach of support from other cities and countries such as Dubai, Switzerland and Canada. Those who came for the masks eventually saw other offerings by the enterprise and added on.
“We also definitely learned the importance of SOPs. Our logistics were horrible when we wanted to move our business online, I thought we had decent SOPs but when the time came, we were stuck and the communication was horrible. We moved so much slower,” Blair says.
However, that did not deter Blair and her team, as the struggle only led the team to working on stronger SOPs. “I think if something like this happens out of your control, you have to pivot and pivot quickly,” Blair said, who added that the enterprise worked on putting in place a lot more SOPs, and stronger ones too.
And, with the economy reopening and companies are back to operating, Blair noted that the tenders and inquiries are now pouring in more than it was when the enterprise first re-opened.
Awareness to both the concept social entrepreneurship and Batik, has also grown since the enterprise’s establishment in 2009.
“The concept of social entrepreneurship along with our work has grown tremendously. It’s even being taught in universities now which just goes to show the changes that has taken place in the last 10 years,” Blair tells Business Today.
“Batik has also gotten more popular throughout the years. When we first started with scarves and homeware wrappings, most thought that nobody would buy plates wrapped in batik sarongs but the response we received proved otherwise,” says Blair.
The Batik Boutique has not only carved an everlasting presence in the local scene but has also gotten attention from abroad that has led the enterprise exporting its Batik products overseas.
While she believes Malaysia has a long way to go to appreciate the Batik, Blair is fully confident of the future she wants for both the enterprise and awareness of Batik to grow in.
“We are still going to push forward our digital presence globally and we are keen on building a lasting brand and legacy for Malaysia regardless of how long it takes to get there, Blair tells Business Today.