Bead necklaces on display.
BY SARAH HAFIZAH CHANDRA & ALVERDTEKOSTER ANYAP

KUCHING: The Sarawak handicraft community continues to persevere despite the uncertainties brought by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The recent spike in Covid-19 cases nationwide saw stricter travel bans and procedures for visitors to enter Sarawak, thus continuing to affect the handicraft community’s livelihood.

Although the state’s Tourism, Arts and Culture Minister Datuk Abdul Karim Rahman Hamzah recently said that his ministry does not want entry into Sarawak to be controlled too strictly, there are still concerns on the demands for local handicrafts.

Abdul Malik Adenan.

A batik artisan from Maltik Enterprise, Abdul Malik Adenan, 56, said that he is still producing new art even though the pandemic has affected his business.

“I am still creating new art for my inventory and future sales. I know there are hardly any demands, but I think it is important to go on and continue producing.

“I believe this is a good approach because we will never know when things are going to get better. I am hopeful that when visitors are allowed to come to Sarawak in the future, more sales can be made to cover for this slow period,” he said.

Abdul Malik also mentioned that he had just started to promote his art online but admits that it is difficult to make sales. 

Abdul Malik’s outlet filled with his art.

“There are tourists from Australia and the Netherlands who used to come to Sarawak and bought my art. I have recently started using Facebook and I would like batik art enthusiasts from overseas to purchase my arts.

“However, the current situation interferes with businesses and disrupts delivery services in general. It is difficult for visitors even from Peninsular Malaysia, Labuan and Sabah to enter Sarawak, let alone international visitors,” he explained.

Margaret Anna Ibuh.

Margaret Anna Ibuh, 67, from Ragdoll Enterprise also said that the pandemic has affected her business because no customers were coming in.

“Before the pandemic and when I had a booth at the old handicraft bazaar at The Hills, I was able to make good sales. Now with Covid-19, nobody wants to come out because they are scared.

“Last time when we had tourists coming in all the time, international tourists used to come and look at my work. They would often buy them too,” she said.

According to Margaret, she finds it challenging to use digital marketing and online platforms to sell her products.

Margaret’s outlet displaying handicrafts made out of rattan.

“I have yet to set up an online platform to sell my handicrafts because I am struggling to use it. I am not very good at using technology and it is a learning process for me to get used to it.

“For the time being, I am still hoping that customers will visit my outlet located at Sarawak Craft Council (SCC) gallery at the Sarawak Steamship Building,” she added.

On utilising digital marketing and online platforms such as social media, some of the members in the handicraft community have been capitalising on this prior to the pandemic.

Dickson showing a Boyuh vest, a traditional Bidayuh cloth.

Dickson Noyen, 62, from Kodek Koleksi said that social media has contributed significantly to his business since its establishment.  

“When I first started my business in 2017, I did not know how to make the products so I used Facebook to look for companies that can produce them. However, I was not satisfied with the quality and it incurred quite a lot of cost.

“I eventually decided to learn how to sew and I signed up for online sewing classes on Facebook and watched tutorials from YouTube. Since then I have made my own products ranging from accessories like necklaces and hats to clothing,” he said.

While his outlet located in SSC gallery has not been generating much sales, Dickson said that he has generated a few sales from his business’s Facebook page.

Dickson showing the traditional Bidayuh costumes displayed on mannequins.

“Unfortunately, I have yet to make any sales this week from my outlet but there are sales from online. I think people are still afraid to come out because of Covid-19 which is why it is difficult to make sales in the outlet.

“For the time being I have to depend on online sales as it is more encouraging. However, I know that there are customers who would prefer to see the products in person so that they can see the workmanship and try the products that they are interested in buying,” he explained.

Lucille Awen Jon, 36, the managing director and jewellery designer of Pungu Borneo said that she has been using social media back when she first started her business in 2016.

Lucille Awen Jon.

“I am very fortunate that I have been using social media for a while now to market my products, so I do have a strong number of followers. I think it can be more challenging for those who have only just started to do so.

“I do advise my fellow handicraft artisans who are looking into utilising online platforms to market their products to select one or two platforms and not more. This is because it will be easier to manage and to build a strong set of followers,” she added.

Similar to Abdul Malik, Lucille mentioned that she is facing difficulties in accommodating buyers from overseas who are interested in her products.

Earrings and necklaces on display.

“I’ve had buyers from India and some European countries who are interested in buying my products but at the moment Pos Malaysia has ceased sending parcels overseas. I could use another courier service, but the price is too high.

“The items that they are interested in may be a necklace or a pair of earrings that cost around RM68. I would often advise my customers from overseas to either wait for the situation to get better or buy in a larger quantity in order to make the most out of the expensive courier service charges,” she explained.

Though digital marketing and online platforms have the potential to contribute in the generation of sales for the handicraft community, Dickson and Lucille both stated that previously they were able to generate sufficient sales from participating in events, bazaars, workshops and road shows.