Founder & CEO, Tokokita Pte Ltd
(In her 40's)
Her story (as shared by her nominator)
‘Baju by Oniatta’ started in 2016 and was at first offered at pop-ups ,in between school semesters as Oniatta was teaching then. As a connoisseur of traditional textile, founder Oniatta Effendi fell in love with the rich symbolisms and narratives behind the fabric and its craft. Driven by her passion to re-tell these stories and make alive the traditions and heritage found in the artform of batik to a contemporary audience, she officially launched Galeri Tokokita at Joo Chiat/Katong in 2019. Galeri Tokokita is conceptualised as a love letter to batik. Here, Oniatta fills the space with a library of publications on Batik and Nusantara cultures, Batik art and conversations are held every August as part of batik education in an effort to engage and encourage discourse about the Nusantara cultures and cloths.
She has succeeded in many fields - educator, theatre practitioner, fashion designer and cultural entrepreneur. On top of this, she is a mother of 5 kids. She is inspirational and exemplary, as a role model.
In her own words:
A defining moment was firmly deciding to turn my love for batik as a professional endeavour.
The endeavour was born out of necessity, in mid-August 2019 when my husband’s overseas posting was retracted after we had completed the arrangements to move which included my resignation as an educator of over 21 years.
While deciding what to do next, I recall seeing my big black suitcase at the entrance of my house. This suitcase was filled with ‘Baju by Oniatta’ pieces that my clients would look through whenever they missed a weekend pop-up event, which used to be my side hustle while I was teaching. These clients would come over to view the batik pieces and it was hours of wonderful conversations about the pieces, and my design process and cultural research.
When you’re forced to reinvent, that’s when the best ideas come to mind so that August, I formally registered my company and started looking for a physical space to start a little boutique where my batiks pieces would be able to reach an audience that has since embraced and supported my journey as a cultural entrepreneur.
Through this work that I now do, I realise how many hats I used to wear and the breadth of my experience as an educator, a theatre actress, a TV presenter and an applied drama practitioner has truly prepared me for what and who I am today. Through traditional textiles like batik, I am able to reaffirm my identity as a child of the region, an ‘’Anak Nusantara’. Through my interactions with batik craftsmen, I am able to build stronger bonds and friendships with our neighbours in the region. Through designing the modern wardrobe using traditional textiles, I am able to reimagine how we are heighten our appreciation for batik and share this with other batik lovers.
Despite the accomplishments, both big and small, that have come since the brand and boutique were founded, I feel there is always something new to learn everyday.
Biggest challenge thus far
When we opened the boutique in October 2019, I was over the moon. Some months into it, we were told to shut our doors in April 2020 because of COVID. The euphoria was short-lived. And we were left to figure out how to stay afloat having just started the business. We were told our rent was waived for 4 months, but I had teams in Indonesia - my batik makers and my sewing team - who had it worse.
There was a shortage of masks and I decided to use off-cuts from previous productions to make masks which I sold online. I am not very tech savvy so my small team came up with a simple form which we would release at stipulated times online. I wasn't sure what to expect from this - so it came as a huge surprise when we closed the order form only to realise that our expected orders exceeded the number of masks we had planned to make - by four times!
My team in Jakarta immediately started on the orders and this tied us through those very challenging months. Through steady sales, we managed to raise funds to keep the work going for our sewing team. We were also able to commission a new design for our next line and our batik makers were able to start rolling again - all these, through small pieces of batik offcuts that found their way to people's homes in Singapore and beyond. We received orders from Abu Dhabi, London, Australia, America, Malaysia, and even Scotland! As any business during covid, it was a challenging time but out of this, something beautiful emerged as new clients who had bought or were gifted the batik masks started coming to our little boutique in Joo Chiat because they had wanted to meet us and our batiks - in person.
what judges say
5 kids and a lovely business, loved the mask re-use idea. I also came across a feature of her in the local schools' Social Studies textbook - highlighting her ability to fuse culture with fashion.