Tanoti : Putting the Soul Back into the Fabric of Society
Songket - which means "to hook" in the Malay language, is a handmade fabric historically worn by royalties from Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei. With its raw materials traditionally sourced from India and China, Songket is a mark of luxury with much history and culture embedded.
Jackie, founder of Tanoti shares with us her organization that produces the Sarawakian Songket - an ancient craft kept alive and successfully maintained by the Artisans of Tanoti.
B: Borneo Art Collective T: Tanoti
B: Could you describe your group and project title in brief?
T: Tanoti is a congregation of women weavers dedicated towards the preservation of songket weaving. Young ladies join this community to acquire skills in this heritage craft so that they have the ability to earn viable income from this skill at every stage of their lives. More importantly, through them, songket survives for yet another generation. The Tanoti story is about women empowerment, changing lives and rural community building. As at the present time, we have 21 artisans : 19 weavers (full time and trainee weavers) and 2 textile designers. Apart from the staff, Tanoti has 2 directors and one technical & creative consultant.
The title Tanoti is Sanskrit for 'weave' or 'entwine'. We wanted to pay homage to the Hindus who brought the technique of supplementary weft patterning (ie. songket) to the Malay archipelago and as such, based our name on the reference to this activity in their classical language.
B: Why and how did you start this project?
T: The project was commenced out of a sheer sense of urgency, when the objective was to save a workshop of weavers from disbanding when funding had discontinued by their previous organization, the Yayasan Tuanku Nur Zahirah. My partner and I incorporated a company - Tanoti - to assume the entire community, and swiftly thereafter, proceeded to develop a business around them.
We started operations as Tanoti on 1 May 2012. Four years hence, we have achieved much more than we ever imagined. Tanoti has achieved visibility more than we expected. The quality of our Tanoti products, the principles which we espouse and the cause which we pursue have put us in the forefront of various fields : our craft and our social impact. We have also recently received approval by the Government to fund our expansion plans in the form of Borneo744.
B: What influenced you to begin this project?
T: At that time, we felt that it was critical to save the weavers from dispersing and finding other jobs. That was our motivator also, to market our products and make sales so that the weavers have the opportunity to stay employed with us and practise this skill.
B: What was on your radar when you were creating this project/group?
T: Our radar of target market was contacts or acquaintances whom we had met earlier who had understood and appreciated the value of songket. These group of clients remain as our most valued clients until today.
In terms of developing our weaving team, we generally recruited girls from villages of our current weavers. In that way, they would be entering an environment which they would be more comfortable despite being away from home.
B: Where do you see your project evolving in the near future? What are you busy working on at the moment?
T: We have undertaken the songket project with relative success at Tanoti by achieving much more visibility than we expected. The quality of our Tanoti products, the principles which we espouse and the cause which we pursue have put us in the forefront of various fields : our craft and our social impact. We would like to embrace all craft and produce an entire spectrum of sophisticated and high value craft products for Malaysia.
Tanoti is also one-third of a team managing the development of the proposed Borneo744, a creative hub which will nurture the creative community of Sarawak and help them monetize the creativity, to which we have recently received approval by the Government to fund our expansion plans in the form of Borneo744.
B: How does Tanoti's design / material of the Songket unique compared to the ones made in the other parts of Malaysia?
T: In Sarawak, the process of making songket from start to finish is carried out by the weaver herself. Unlike in the Peninsular, songket weavers specialised in only one of the many processes such as warping, design and menyongket bunga (process of counting the warp ends according to the design of the songket motifs on the graph paper) and weaving.
The songket weaving process in Sarawak is similar to that in Peninsular Malaysia. However, there are some differences in the process of menyongket bunga from Sarawak and Peninsular Malaysia. In the Peninsular, weavers create motifs based on the gigi belalang system. The weaver counts the gigi belalang by lifting up three or 5 (tekat 3 or tekat 5) warp yarns and in between each set an end is dropped. [Excerpt from thesis by Dr June Ngo Siok Kheng's - technical and creative director or Tanoti]
B: As a social enterprise, are there any ongoing / past challenges? and how will / did you overcome them?
T: We are a social enterprise because of the nature of our work - our objectives are to preserve a heritage craft, to empower women, to change lives and to build communities. Each of our objectives present to us challenges insofar as we do not wish to compromise on our principles in the course of our work.
Cashflow is always a problem. We overcome it by investing resources in marketing ourselves and evolving our designs and production so as to ensure constant sales of our Tanoti pieces.
B: How do you see Borneo crafts at the moment?
T: Malaysian crafts need to evolve much more and become more relevant to the present day. Borneo crafts are very unique in design and motif, but they too need to evolve.
B: How could people access your project at the moment? Is there any public participation/volunteer you allow into your project?
T: Tanoti invites volunteers and interns to participate in our work. We also invite designers to visit and collaborate together with us.
B: Please recommend stories/projects/individuals/groups that we should reach out to in order to expand the Borneo Art Collective network.
B: What would be your message to aspiring fellow Borneo Entrepreneur / Craftsmanship?
T: Keep at it, if it gives you joy.
Check out what the Tanoti Process entails in the video below:
An interview with Tanoti co-founder, Jackie: