Malaysian designer Edric Ong's Iban Ikat Collection is all about cross-cultural influences

Malaysian designer, Edric Ong, tells us more about his latest Ikat collection, shares his optimism in seeing the integration of traditional techniques with modern fashion and how the collection can be a bridge that links Indian and Iban cultures
Designer Edric Ong with the models during the Chennai showcase
Designer Edric Ong with the models during the Chennai showcase

Designer Edric Ong is making headlines in the fashion industry following his international tour promoting his latest collection that highlights the use of bark cloth. EO brand by Edric is at the forefront of eco-fashion and slow fashion, consciously working with communities of weavers and crafts artists to create and market hand-made designs.

Based out of Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo, the unique fashion of Edric combines a touch of the ethnic and the oriental with contemporary; innovative styles with the creative use of hand-woven silks and cottons. He has won the American Aid to Artisans Advocate Award, the Australia Culture Award, Penyokong Kraf Negara (Malaysia’s National Crafts Award) for Best Non-Government Organisation, the Sarawak State Pegawai Bintang Sarawak Award, as well as the Seals of Excellence from Unesco-Ahpada, and the Japanese G-Mark for his exemplary designs in the arts and crafts realm.

Designer Edric Ong with the models during the Chennai showcase
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As part of his tour, Edric showcased his latest Spring/Summer 2024 Collection, which comprises natural dye and hand-woven outfits, at the Sangamam international event in Chennai. The collection is an amalgamation of vests, skirts, loincloths and accessories that have been ingeniously reimagined for contemporary fashion. It celebrates the indigenous tree-bark cloth from Sarawak of Malaysian Borneo, which is given a unique look through shibori (tie-dyeing) and origami techniques, adorned with natural indigo dye.

His collections have been featured at the International Fashion Awards in Brindisi, Italy, at the London Fashion Week, and the International Crafts Festival in Kokand, Uzbekistan. We caught up with the designer to know more about his latest ikat textiles; the challenges in merging traditional ikat weaving techniques with contemporary fashion design, circular fashion and more.

“My community of Iban weavers, who are mostly women, are extremely happy and proud that their works are getting showcased in India. I am happy that the audiences were impressed with the overall look of the collection and the beauty of the textiles,” he says.

Lens jacket with tree bark cloth applique accessorised with Topi Tunjang, handcrafted rattan hat
Lens jacket with tree bark cloth applique accessorised with Topi Tunjang, handcrafted rattan hat

Cross-cultural influences

Edric’s passion for integrating traditional craftsmanship is evident in his collaborations with local communities. He tells us that longhouse folks of Rumah Garie assisted him in weaving the naturally-dyed pua kumbu ikat textiles, while the craftswomen of Rumah Ensong and Senia Jugi collaborated with him in creating the signature topi tunjang rattan hats. Meanwhile, the talented Juliana Embrose worked on the intricate beadworks for Edric’s striking accessories. “These collaborations not only preserve the traditional skill, but also promote socio-economic empowerment within the communities,” says Edric, who is the president of the Ahpada, an organisation that oversees the prestigious Unesco-Ahpada Craft Seal of Excellence. He is also an honourary member of the World Crafts Council International and World Crafts Council Asia Pacific.

Tree bark cloth vests worn with natural dyed ikat flare skirts
Tree bark cloth vests worn with natural dyed ikat flare skirts

The Iban Ikat Collection

The Iban Ikat Collection showcases the latest innovative Sarawak Iban pua kumbu warp ikats woven in cotton, silk and tencel yarn using natural dyes sourced locally. They are worn with handwoven natural dyed cotton, linen and hand-knitted hemp. The accessories are designed by Edric, and include hand-crafted rattan topi tunjang hats and necklaces of glass, rattan beads and natural gourds made by rural communities in Sarawak. “My inspiration is the beauty and uniqueness of the latest ikat textiles handwoven by my community of Iban women weavers of Rumah Garie longhouse in the remote Kapit region of Sarawak. After spending over a year collaborating with them in creating these new designs and colours in a new fiber — tencel yarn — I wanted to showcase them combined with my other natural dye fashion for the runway show,” the designer elaborates.

Tree bark cloth vests worn with natural dyed ikat flare skirts
Tree bark cloth vests worn with natural dyed ikat flare skirts

Indian ikat vs Iban ikat

Ikat is one of the oldest known patterned textiles in the world. Edric tells us that the ikat dyeing technique used to pattern textiles by Indian designers is different from the techniques that he uses. “Most Indian ikat textiles are woven on standing looms or pit looms using the patterns created on weft horizontal threads. Iban ikats, on the other hand, are patterned on the vertical threads, and woven on a back strap tension floor loom,” he explains.

All about circular fashion

A notable aspect of Edric’s collection is the use of natural dyes. Elaborating on the importance of this choice and its impact on the environment, he says, “The natural dyes are uniquely traditional dyes such as the engkudu (Morinda Citrifolia) brown, tarum (Marsdenia Tinctoria) indigo, and akar penawar landak (Fibraurea Tinctoria) yellow. I have combined them with handwoven cotton dyed in wild figs, and natural knitted hemp as well as tree bark cloth. All these are sourced locally. This is now labelled as circular fashion — low carbon footprint, and respectful of SDGs.”


Innovation in design

The collection not only serves as a promotion of the beautiful and unique Iban textile traditions, but also as a showcase of the innovation in designs, which has a more contemporary appeal for fashion. “My aim is to give a contemporary twist to traditional textiles and make them more appealing to modern lifestyle.”

Not without challenges

Merging traditional ikat weaving techniques with contemporary fashion design posed its challenges for the designer. Elaborating on the same, he says, “In designing the new colour combinations, our weavers were challenged to a more tedious method of additional tying of the warp yarns to preserve the brown colour or the yellow ground colours. Additionally, the revival of the technique of adding slit tapestry borders at the textile ends was something that only our master weaver, Bangie Embol, knew. So, she had to teach others this technique known as Panggit.”

The collection features cotton and silk. While silk shawls have been used for more formal looks, as in long skirts, cotton has been used in the less formal-looking hand-knitted hemp dresses.

Tony Lee

Figs to the fore

In this collection, you will find a predominance of brown tones derived from natural dyes — wild figs dye and the engkudu (Morinda Citrifolia) as well as the natural tree-bark cloth. The secondary colour used is natural indigo dye as seen in the cotton denim jacket and handwoven skirt and harem pants. Natural yellow from the wild vines of akar penawar landak (Fibraurea Tinctoria) are seen in the beautiful Pua kumbu ikat shawls matched with the indigo outfits. Edric recollects a memorable moment while working with the weavers and how they ended up discovering a new colour from natural dyes. “My weaver, Helen Manjan, created a new natural colour tone of a turquoise blue in the tencel fiber ikat shawl accidentally when she blended the fresh indigo leaves instead of just hand-crushing the leaves. The result was a never-seen-before new and unique colour,” he says.

Ties that link

Looking to the future, Edric is optimistic about seeing the integration of traditional techniques and modern fashion evolving. “Iban Ikat textiles will be used for creating haute couture because each piece is unique and individually hand-woven. The patterns were traditionally derived from dreams. For fashion, patterns are innovative and non-ritual, or spiritual or taboo motifs of Iban culture. Ties that link — that is how I would describe this collection,” adds Edric, who believes that the Iban Ikat Collection can be a bridge that links Indian and Iban cultures.

Looking ahead, Edric is eager to showcase more never-seen-before designs during his international tour.


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