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I used to know Irina many years back during her internship in Bates. She contacted me recently asking if I am interested to share my craft journey with audience for her organisation called thinklab

Whoaaa, I dont think I am the right candidate, and it's been 3 years since I've done any public speaking. And it makes me realise that I've been living in my own shell since then. Maybe I just need to overcome the situation, and the talk does make me looking back, and it felt like connecting the dot. With not much preparation, YES I agreed to share my humble journey. Here are my speech for last night:

Craft is not the dirty word.

“Skill without imagination is craftsmanship and gives us many useful objects such as wickerwork picnic baskets. Imagination without skill gives us modern art.” ~Tom Stoppard~

“He who works with his hands is a laborer.
He who works with his hands and his head is a craftsman.
He who works with his hands and his head and his heart is an artist.”

~St. Francis of Assisi~

So, what the hell is craft? 
Being a crafter doesn’t sounds as glam as designer. Perception of craft is a dirty word doesn’t apply to me at all. Craft for me just a terminology. Deep inside it has a deeper meaning than just doing craft as a hobby. Making craft is not a syok sendiri business, crafter have to be expert and sensitive of current trend, what’s on demands. It was like putting the touch of your personal style in the right place and make it relevant.
Can you earn a living as a crafter?
Basic principle are very simple, first question you should ask yourself is are you making craft for hobby or for business. What the hell are you doing this if you could not even earn a living out of it?

Here are my simple formula:
Of course it involving a skill in making things by hand but the sexy part is you got to blend your instinct & imagination mix it with passion add on a bit love:) taaadaaa

In bigger perspective nowadays people start to use the word craft to define almost anything related to fine skill. We do have handcrafted music; 8tracks, or have you heard about the “Fine Handcrafted Beers” as an advertising headline? 

Craft’ is a dirty word is no longer relevance. The word craft are becoming hip. Consumer are hungry for personal touch craft could offer, something local, something unique, something independently-made, more like buying because the story behind it. 

Here I would like to share my story, how it begins, what make me jump from earning a comfortable salary to become a crafter. Am I crazy? Am I crazy enough?

Looking back, I always enjoy making art & craft at the very young age. When I got offer to further my study to New Zealand, when all my friends, more excited about exploring into multimedia or animation, I was going to opposite direction, took packaging or illustration class, book binding or paper making. I remember when one of the summer holiday I had applied for a grant to attend a pottery workshop. When there are event like Malaysian day I will busy making craft so I can sell to earn a pocket money.

When I came back I landed into a job in advertising agency in Bates. I am more thrill designing something when I could craft the design and having my personal style in it. That job lasted me for 8 years and I felt it is time for me to move, before I become part of furniture.

In 2006 I joined Aquaria as their Creative Designer. My task are taking care of company branding, advertisement, directional signages, everything just name it. One of the task was to help out retail shop with souvenir products, that’s for me was quite interesting, to realise your design until it became the end products.

After 2 years in Aquaria KLCC, I joined PETRONAS as a creative executive under Corporate Communications Department. I was in charge of taking care the design team with all design job related.

In 2008 I had another job offer as a design manager at Design Development Centre, to manage a design team. The function of DDEC is to assist a local entreprenuer to build up a brand & product design.

In between this 4 jobs I never stop crafting either making book, selling it in some shop or join craft bazaar whenever possible. Not for money but for my own satifaction, persuing my passion. It kind of help balancing my life, that has to deal with computer all the time.

At one point in my career path I realized I had to make a decision whether  this is what I want; working in corporate world or should I just quit and follow my passion. Working for people doesn’t excite me anymore. I believe there are a better mechanisme, where I can taking care of my family and at the same time earn a living doing something out of what I passionate about which is craft.
I know I have something to offer. I have skill, I love the creating process, and obviously I have bit of experience.... not much but good enough for a start.

The Roller Coaster Ride begins 
I quit my job on May 2010. It such a coincidence when I quit my job, KL Design Week 2010, are calling for participant. With less than 2 weeks time I get myself ready exhibiting my craft product and introduce my brand Little Syam to public for the first time.
It's been such a beautiful struggle since then. It is not always a smooth transition at the very beginning, I might facing bit of hic-up thinking how could I earning the same amount of money like before and also crawling learning to penetrate my product into craft market.

I know I wont be able to depends 100% from craft income, not yet. For a started I hop in from one craft bazaar to another. At the same time I am running my book binding workshop in smaller scale. I don't have many students like I had now.. and sometimes, I organise it from home where I could save cost of renting a space. I am so lucky through my workshop I get to know few wonderful clients that interested to collaborate either by doing some design job for them or hiring me as an illustrator.

I also got a job offer as a guest lecturer in Dasein Academy of Art, teaching Applied Design subject once a week which I felt is so relevant with what I am doing. I need to guide the student to explore a different possible craft method to solve a design problem.

By doing all this I am enjoying the freedom to do something without being dictate by anyone, not following the rigidness of working hour or endless meeting. Every single penny seems worth, because I really work and sweat earning each of it. I am glad that I am not the type of person who need luxuries to make myself happy. What matter as long as I do not have outstanding bill, then I am OK.

It's going to be my third year this month. Looking back it seems the hard work are all pay off. I don't have problem getting jobs. There are always something interesting that I work on, small tiny job without much hassle. So far I have more than 500 students from various background. Sharing the skill with others is the only way to give back.

The only obstacle when crafting probably the time constrain and speed because every single craft was produced by my two hands. The only way to keep the passion spark is by open up myself trying out new skill, keep creating new stuff, hungry for knowledge. It was like the more I know, the more I know I don't know.

Last 5 months ago I quit my lecturing job, reduce number of workshop and bazaar, because I had an opportunity to open up a shop at Art Row Publika.

Together with another 7 local crafters; Gigi Gee, Lina, Oh&Ah (five of them in the group) I decided to join Art Row, Publika on Dec 15, 2012. We are bunch of home grown crafter trying to penetrate into the craft market. We are there to fill up the gap, offerring for more contemporary feel kind of craft rather than conventional.

People evolve, and I personally think the craft should be evolved too. To be in Art Row for almost 6 months we create the sense of belonging like one community. As for LAPAN we help each other, to be amongst LAPAN is such a valuable experience. We support each other in so many ways. Art Row such a good platform for a local crafter or artist to show case and sale. For that I feel so grateful, blessed and thankful.

So what's next? 
Eventhough our products proven to have a very good feedback from local, expat and tourist, imagining the amount of time and hardwork to create everything manually to cover the monthly expenses for a retail shop make it almost impossible to join commercial market.
It was pretty sad, going commercial meaning I will lose all the handmade essense. The only logic is sending our product under consignment basis to a potential shops or tourist attraction. Other possibilities is selling it online through fb, blog or shopping online engine.

It is the time we start to look at craft more seriously. Here are 2 facts I would like to share:
When ETSY was launched in 2005, sales reportedly posted around 100 million. in 2008 the ETSY company generating over $1 million per month in revenue. So tell me if craft even being considered as a dirty word anymore?

Malaysia Scenario
Looking at how our craft product, competing tightly with our neighbour country in our own airport souvenir shop show how pathetic the scenario of craft in Malaysia. Total of tourist on 2012 was around 25.03 million. Huge potential as all of us can see.

Can someone answer me how many design graduate we are producing every year? Where are they? Does our local designer or crafter not good enough? Don't they are being equipped by all design knowledge by so called our sophisticated education system so that they can give back, utilise what they had learn for betterment.

Honestly I don't have any answer for this scenario, but something for all of us to think about.

Terima Kasih


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