It's not everyday that you get to meet someone so absolutely passionate about her ethics and proud of her roots, that's what I thought when I met Francisca Turner Shaik, the Founder and Creative Director of Frankitas, a modern Malaysian ethical fashion brand that designs and produces boho-chic handbags, stylish home accessories and more.
I had met Franki many years ago at a HALAL certification conference, back when I was still working as a consultant in public relations and marketing, and even then I was struck by her friendly and warm demeanor. Fast forward to 2016 and here she is, the proud owner of Frankitas and doing extremely well with her unique ethnic-chic handbags and home accessory line. So Batik&Bubbles curious as ever, went along to interview Franki at her bright and cheery showroom in a quiet leafy neighbourhood in Damansara Heights, to ask her on how she came upon this amazing journey .
Batik&Bubbles (B&B): Franki, tell us a little bit about your background and how it led you to launch FRANKITAS?
Franki: I actually come from a publishing background. Having studied mass communications as my degree, I worked in publishing as an editorial assistant and then a reporter. I was an expatriate child (Franki is of Indonesian-English parentage) having lived in both Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Indonesia and the United Kingdom so was I fairly used to moving around. Soon after, I started a new job writing social economic reports which resulted in me travelling the world for 3 years. I think that's where my interest in history, art and heritage was piqued. I spent 6 months in Syria, where the history and tradition is so rich and I was naturally drawn to the modern progressive Islamic culture of the region.
When I returned to Malaysia, i worked in the the Halal publishing industry specializing in branding, marketing and pr. It was after some time that I got pretty jaded by the corporate culture and the hectic lifestyle. I had become a mother by that time and I was feeling both exhausted and tired; I desperately needed a break so I took a year off to look after my family. However, having worked all my life it was hard for me to sit still for too long, so in 2011 I started Francisca & D with a partner, where we custom tailored bespoke clothing. It was not long after my 3rd child when I decided to quit working there as again it was too challenging and tiring. That company is still doing well and still operates today with my former partner still in charge.
By the time the kids were already older and settled, I was finally ready to start a new project having itchy feet once again. I had found that being in the clothing industry was both competitive and challenging, so going down the handbags and accessories route seemed the best way forward for me. The heritage and culture of Indonesia and Central Asia had always been a strong influence in my life and we first started making our bags using Indonesian ikat. So in 2014, Frankitas was born!
I started small by showcasing my products at bazaars and pop up stores, and from there business picked up and we now have our showroom here in Damansara Heights. Our products can also be found at various speciality stores around the Klang Valley. I have always loved travelling, so in a way by creating Frankitas, it has helped me go back to my roots and created my own special bubble of colours, which help me reach back to the happy days of my childhood and revisit my travels around the world. It's a comforting place to be in!
(B&B): Can you explain the design process?
Franki: I have always and will always be inspired by the textile first! We at Frankitas see ourselves as communicating the heritage, culture and tradition of the design in a modern way. The artisans who make the textiles are making their fabrics using traditional and ancient methods which is something I love! For the ikat, our artisanal weavers in Uzbekistan use organic dye which is environmentally friendly as it doesn't hold any chemical components in them. We get our ikat from Uzbekistan and Indonesia, songket and batik from Malaysia and other textiles from India and Africa.
Let me impart that our artisans are our heroes, and they get to decide on the colours of the textiles. I am just the orchestrator of it all. The whole process of making the textiles are both intricate, complex and time consuming, so therefore it truly is an artisanal talent which has been honed and passed from generation to generation. Once in a while I do give colour guidance. However, it is a struggle when I work with local artisans when i ask them to use a different colour, for example, you normally only see songket in green, blue, silver and white so I am trying to give it more of a modern twist, which can be hard to explain to an artisan who has been taught to use these colours all their life!
What we at Frankitas are trying to communicate to the world is that there is this dying heritage which needs to be preserved. The world today believes in volume and mass production, which leads to wastage and consumerism where everyone is searching for the best bargain. I personally don't believe in wastage and I guess this is due to having spent 9 years growing up in a kampung (village) in Bogor, West Java, which is the agricultural hub of Indonesia. Our family are all farmers and we are used to growing our own vegetables and fruits. In fact, my mum still lives there today and she continues to grow her own produce. This in turn has had a huge influence on me, and I have a great deal of respect for the earth and the world. I am a bit of a tree hugger in that sense and care immensely for the environment.
(B&B): Tell us more about how the Frankitas concept of ethical and fair trade applies to your products?
Franki: We pay directly to the weavers we work with or either the NGOs who represent them. We ensure that the money is fairly distributed and no mass production is involved. Our handbag and accessory designs are outsourced over in Indonesia but we are planning to produce more designs locally here in Malaysia. I guess ethics is of a huge importance to me in my life as personally, in the Islamic faith we are taught to be fair and good and reasonable, that is why it is common sense for me to ensure that our artisans are paid fairly. I don't believe in unfairly marking up the price for my benefit as greed and wastage are things I personally abhor.
One of the artisans so happens to be my aunt, Titin Martini who now lives in Kuala Lumpur with her Malaysian husband and she visits our showroom every week and is extremely motivated and excited when she sees all the final products. It's pretty encouraging for our artisans to see the end result of their products in the showroom.
(B&B): What kind of woman do you envision carrying a Frankitas handbag?
Franki: My ideal woman would be Queen Rania of Jordan! She is elegant and speaks moderately, and seems to consider thoughtfully before she buys. We generally have quite a mixed group of customers of both expatriate and Malaysians. I would say the prime group of customers are aged between 26 - 47 years old.
(B&B): What is your favourite piece from your current collection?
Franki: It would have to be the Tiyya bag which is a sling bag. As a busy mum of three, I always need my hands free and even though it looks small it is pretty roomy and I can keep quite alot of things in it.
(B&B): Do you sell internationally or sell in any stores internationally?
Yes, we started to organically sell our products through Facebook and Instagram however, one interesting story to tell you is how we got contacted by the new CEO of Tangs department store in Singapore, Kevin M. Dyson. He had seen our products on Instagram and decided to fly up to meet with me. He loved our story and our designs, and now we have our products located on Level 4, the home floor of Tangs in Singapore which is dedicated solely to artisans. Kevin is revamping Tangs department store which has been an institution in its own right and is definitely shaking thing up over there! We've even become good friends! So never underestimate the power of the internet, Instagram especially!
Our new website is also up and we ship our products internationally. We have so far shipped to the USA, Brunei, Maldives, Bali, Australia, S. America, Japan, Spain and Italy.
(B&B): We noticed your accessories are 'coming soon' on the website, what are you planning for that line?
Franki: Aside from our cushion covers, lampshades and Uzbek carpets that we are now selling, we will be starting a jewellery line very soon which will include statement pieces such as necklaces, earrings and rings. We will also be using textiles with metal such as silver and gold plating.
(B&B): What are the challenges you face so far in your job?
Franki: I've always hated structure, especially when I look back to my days working in the corporate world. However, I do realize that in any business it is important to have a structure and policies in place. I also struggled in the past convincing my staff on who we as a company are and what we do. It's my duty to teach them that doing menial work such as watering the plants is not a task but merely a responsibility and a commitment. Friends always tell me that I am too hippyish and too romantic in my ways, but I guess that's just the way I am.
Some other challenges I face are such as communicating with my bagmaker on the details of how I want things to be done. It can be hard to translate to them on how I would like things to be done differently. It's hard to try and persuade them to shift and revive their mindset on designs for Frankitas. Furthermore, it is my duty to promote the Malaysian heritage as both my husband and my children are Malaysian and we reside here in Malaysia. Again, I struggle with the Batik and Songket artisans when I ask them to make something different. For example, when I want a particular motif to be done in songket I am often questioned on why I choose to do this. I guess it is rather hard for them to change their mindset after being taught to work on the same pattern and colours for generations.
(B&B): Any words of wisdom for aspiring designers who wish to start their own fashion or accessory line?
Franki: I've personally made many mistakes and learned a few lessons along the way, however, my one big piece of advice or knowledge I would like to impart is that social media is an amazing platform. It's the easiest and least expensive way to to showcase your brand to the world! With social media, the world is your oyster. For food and fashion, Instagram and Facebook are a sure-fire and vital way to sell your products.
Furthermore, when you create an online network, be consistent about your posts and photos you are sharing. Be sure about sharing the right images and don't post for the sake of posting as this will tarnish your image in the long run. If you don't have any photos to share, post a quote or hashtag someone else. Instagram in this modern age is the most powerful tool you can use!
After our conversation with Franki, I went home feeling altered in my ethos when it comes to approaching fashion, and I now feel I need to be a bit more considerate and thoughtful when making any purchase. I am also now the proud owner of a Frankitas bag and it makes me feel good, knowing that in my own little way, I am helping to preserve the artistic tradition of a culture which has been around for generations.
On this note, we would like to say a big thanks to Franki from Frankitas on sharing her story with us! We're looking forward to the launch of your jewellery line and other amazing adventures you have ahead of you! Bravo!
- Farena x
To get your mitts on some of Frankitas gorgeous fashion accessories or home interiors, go to their website www.frankitas.com or make an appointment to visit their showroom at (012) 3708524. Frankitas can also be found at Kita-Kita, Tangs Department Singapore, The Datai Langkawi and The Andaman Langkawi.