PETALING JAYA: A pair of well-fitted jeans, a figure-flattering dress, and a good pair of shoes are among the many fashion essentials women want in their closet.
A handbag, particularly one that is fashionable and functional – completes the ensemble. As it turns out, the handmade bags by Jutozi, a Penang-based business, are just the perfect buy.
Available in various shapes and colours, the bags are meticulously woven with paper rattan. There are classic geometric patterns as well as elegant floral themes, each eye-catching in its own way.
There is also a great deal of work that goes into the intricate weaving, a testament of the artisan’s creativity and patience.
Speaking to FMT Lifestyle, founders Lee Yik Chiat, better known as Zax, and Koay Ji Tong share that their product range includes bucket, basket, cross body and laptop bags.
“We each have our own style. I like my designs simple and clean while Koay enjoys coming up with fun, happy and colourful designs,” Lee, 32, said.
One such example is Koay’s cross body bag shaped like a watermelon.
Lee said they use paper rattan from Japan to make their bags. This high-quality material is produced from eco-friendly recycled paper pulp, is waterproof, and also light and durable.
The rattan also comes in a variety of colours, added Koay, 28, which gives them room to exercise their creative muscles and make the bags more attractive.
One of the ways they do this is by decorating the bags with other materials such as lace and batik. The latter, Lee added, was used to “promote Malaysia’s culture”.
Diving into weaving
The duo said they started the business in July 2020 with a friend, Ang Mow Tien, who is better known as Jeff.
Their foray into the craft of weaving started only in May that year. Noticing a boom in handmade bags during the pandemic, they jumped on the bandwagon, learning the craft from a local weaver.
Koay was already running a handicraft business selling earrings and necklaces among others, so she already had some experience. But Lee was a hairstylist!
The transition from cutting hair to weaving can be drastic for some, but Lee was not deterred. “It is always difficult at the beginning, but you have to keep going,” he said.
After mastering the basics of weaving, they practised tirelessly and along the way, fell in love with the craft.
Once confident enough to market their bags, they sold it over social media and at Heritage House 25, an arts and craft centre in George Town.
Although many people were still impacted by the aftermath of the pandemic, Lee expressed gratitude that the local community supported them. Today they have local and overseas customers.
But the duo admitted that being in the creative line isn’t always easy. For example, constantly creating new designs has been challenging, and they have been stuck creatively more than once. When this happens, Lee will step away from the work to clear his head. Koay meanwhile will go online for inspiration or combine the designs of different bags.
But they are not just artisans – they are also entrepreneurs. Devoting time to other aspects of the business such as marketing is crucial to keep their brand relevant.
Hence, the support of Persatuan Pembangunan Artisans (PPA) has been timely. The NGO has been instrumental in helping many local artisans increase their distribution channels and this is done through its online platform, physical stores in the Klang Valley and various pop-up events.
“I am so proud that our products have made it to The Starhill and Pavilion KL,” Lee said.
Reflecting on the journey, they shared that among the things that keep them going is the joy they experience when weaving and the satisfaction they feel after completing a bag.
Yet another motivating factor is the reaction from their customers after all the hard work. “We are so proud when customers tell us that they really like it and that it’s really unique,” Lee said.
Jutozi’s bags are also available at:
25, Lebuh Armenian
10200 George Town
Business hours: 10am to 7pm (daily)
Read more PPA stories and get to know its artisans here.