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Ethnic textile enterprise founder wins award
Published on: Sunday, January 09, 2022
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­Anne receiving the Promising Woman Entrepreneur Award from Chief Minister Datuk Seri Hajiji Noor (right). Looking on at left is Minister of Community Development and People’s Well-being, Datuk Ir. Shahelmey Yahya.
FOUNDER of Chanteek Borneo (a small enterprise engaged in ethnic textile designing and printing on synthetic fabrics as a cottage industry at Tamparuli, Sabah), Anne Antah, 46, won the much-coveted Anugerah Usahawan Wanita Harapan (Promising Woman Entrepreneur Award) in conjunction with the State Women’s Day celebration 2021.

Now a household word, Chanteek Borneo is a small enterprise engaged in ethnic textile designing and printing on synthetic fabrics as a cottage industry at Tamparuli, Sabah.

The Kinarut-born entrepreneur talked to Daily Express on her entrepreneurial journey since the inception of the enterprise, why she ventured into textile designing and printing on a larger scale, and the challenges faced during this prolonged Covid-19 pandemic. 

Anne, who is also the Vice-President of Kadazandusun Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI), Malaysia, stamped her mark when Chanteek Borneo was conceived in 2011 primarily to sustain North Borneo’s cultural heritage for posterity by creating handcrafted products that truly reflect our cultural identity. 

“My vision is to promote and keep the heritage alive through innovation and creativity,” said the mother of three who graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science from Universiti Sains Malaysia, Penang in 1999. “My mission is to popularise North Borneo’s ethnic motifs in the international arena through textile designs and textile-based products.”

As the pioneer in spearheading Sabah’s ethnic textile designing and printing, Chanteek Borneo specialises in designing motifs of 36 ethnic and 200 sub-ethnic groups (that is, ethnic design patterns) for printing textiles.

“I am a textile designer. Since 2018, I have focused on designing textiles and printing them digitally. I would call myself an entrepreneur who devotes my time and energy to promoting Sabah’s ethnic heritage via digital application.

“I dedicate Chanteek Borneo as my legacy for the future generation,” Anne asserted, adding that she is empowering local youth economically by providing employment opportunities. 

From a humble beginning – making hair accessories using ‘kain sarung’ found in the local market, and local crafts - the founder, who is passionate about traditional costumes, mooted the idea of producing “Humee Akee” dolls, clad in hand-sewn traditional attire. For starters, these dolls made their debut in 2012 during the Sabah Fest, featuring costumes from 12 ethnic groups.

It is these unique dolls that catapulted the Chanteek Borneo Museum Gallery to fame, making it a “must visit” destination for domestic and international tourists alike in its infant years. Officially opened in 2014, the one-time crowd-pulling museum aimed to educate the public on North Borneo’s cultural heritage and promote its ethnic costumes by displaying the miniature dolls.

According to Anne, Sabahans’ lack of exposure to all ethnic communities’ traditional costumes prompted her to create a collection of Sabahan costumes for public education as well as for the souvenir shop housed at the museum. Her immersion in making dolls in miniature costumes (until 2015) did not go unnoticed.

Notably, in 2018, Chanteek Borneo 

entered the Malaysia Book of Records (MBR) as the first Miniature Indigenous Costume Museum boasting of  a record of 300 different traditional costumes found in North Borneo. This achievement motivated the textile designer to diversify into designing and printing textiles, culminating in the first production batch of “Kain Chanteek” by Chanteek Borneo in November that year. 

 

A range of fabrics printed with Sabah’s ethnic designs on display at Chanteek Borneo’s Textile Gallery. 

“By 2019, we had started the designing and printing business on a smaller scale to keep up the product supply for our souvenir shop. During the MCO in 2020, we went full swing with textile production. When I decided to grow the textile-based business, I realised that I need more space and time to successfully manage the production operations,” said Anne, who is a life member of Sabah Women Entrepreneurs and Professionals Association (Swepa).

However, July 2020 marked a turning-point when Chanteek Borneo was not spared the harsh effects of the global pandemic, crippling its business. “To cut the story short, we were struggling to stay afloat. I was forced to review our business operations but I did not have the heart to lay off any of the staff. We stick together through thick and thin.” 

Consequently, Anne had to close down both the museum and souvenir shop in May 2021, short of throwing in the towel.  “To prevent further losses, I made this bold but painful decision in favour of pursuing textile production on a bigger scale,” she recalled in sharing her experiences.

Asked on her main priority, she said efforts are being made to recover the losses incurred during the pandemic. At the same time, she wants to ensure that her enterprise is able to cater to the demand for its textile products or textile designing and printing services within the shortest possible time. 

My mission is to popularise 

North Borneo’s ethnic motifs in the 

international arena through textile 

designs and textile-based products.'


 

“Likewise, we want to attend to enquiries as promptly as we can, just in case there will be another lockdown. Who knows what will happen? Right now, we are in the midst of improving our internal system too to be more efficient, resilient and productive. Even though there are only 11 of us, including myself, we are able to perform the work of a 20-member workforce,” she said.

Rest of the interview: 

DE: Who nominated you for 


the award?

Anne
: Junior Chamber International (JCI) Intan. I am a past president of this all-ladies chapter...way back in 2012.

DE: Have you received any other 

similar award previously?

Anne:
This is my first award and I am thankful to the State government for the recognition. I appreciate JCI Intan too for the nomination.

DE: What does the accolade mean to you?

Anne:
The Anugerah Usahawan Harapan motivates me to work harder and to influence/inspire more entrepreneurs to be involved in the textile-based business, especially in garment-making that focuses on Sabah’s ethnic and indigenous textile designs.

It is a boost for me and my staff too to be back on track to execute our plans and to achieve our goals which we’ve been working on before the imposition of the 20-month Movement Control Order (MCO).

 

Anne at her workplace at Chanteek Borneo in Tamparuli.

 

Being a woman who started a business from scratch is very challenging; the real challenge is to develop and manage the human resources to be an excellent team as well as managing the business finances. I hope my winning the award would stimulate many women entrepreneurs out there that they too could go far in their business ventures. 

DE: How do you view your entrepreneurship?

Anne:
Entrepreneurship is a journey of discovering oneself. I got to know myself better and what I’m capable of each and every day as I navigate through my business direction.

DE: We understand you are sharing the joy of garnering the award with others close to you.

Anne:
Yes, we had our staff thanksgiving dinner recently to celebrate the occasion. Besides that, we will be organising our outreach charity activity to benefit 50 underprivileged primary students at Kanibongan, Pitas where Chanteek Borneo will be giving away school bags, books and stationery. We are planning for the outreach to get off the ground in March this year (2022) before school reopens. I strongly believe that education is the way out of the depths of poverty, and for us to prosper as a nation, our children need education because they will lead the country one day. This outreach would be Chanteek Borneo’s annual programme and I hope it would lighten the parents’ burden as well as motivate the kids to go to school.

DE: Presently, what business are you engaged in?

Anne:
At the moment, I am focusing on retailing of Sabah’s printed ethnic design textiles under the “Kain Chanteek” brand as well as supplying printed ethnic motifs while providing services on textile designing and digital textile printing. All this is made possible through operating our industrial machine at our premises in Tamparuli. In fact, we are selling this in-house textile brand (Kain Chanteek) too at our showroom gallery and via online platforms.

DE: Is ‘Kain Chanteek’ accepted by Sabahans?

Anne:
Basically, it is a collection of different types of fabric which are designed and printed with Sabah’s indigenous ethnic patterns and designs. From my observation, it is slowly but surely becoming a household fabric when it comes to making contemporary ethnic clothes.

DE: Tell us how the Covid-19 pandemic has adversely affected your business. 

Anne:
Covid-19 had forced me to divert my business direction in 2020. Before the MCO, Chanteek Borneo’s main business activity was operating the indigenous miniature costume museum tour while textile production was the supporting business to cater for any demand from tourists.


During the MCO, seeing that the tourism industry was badly hit, I decided to re-strategise and propel our business path towards the textile and fashion industry. The pandemic shifted my business focus from tourism to textile light manufacturing with emphasis on textile designing and printing.

DE: What steps did you take to minimise the negative impact on your business?

Anne:
It was quite difficult during the pandemic that I eventually decided to permanently close the Chanteek Borneo Indigenous Museum in April 2021 as it had been closed to visitors since March 2020. Rather than keep on losing on non-operational business, I trained our existing staff to handle the textile sales and production operations.

In an effort to reduce our expenses, we worked three days a week only during this particular trying period. We went online and fully utilised the online platform, not only for selling our fabrics but also for doing textile designing consultation with our clients. 

DE: Did you have to resort to retrenching any of your staff during the pandemic?

Anne:
Thank goodness, I didn’t have to.

DE: So how did you cope with the situation?

Anne:
It was a tough time but I kept my staff and retrained them for the purpose of performing other tasks, moving from the realm of museum operation to textile production. During the MCO, they took turns taking unpaid leave and “balik kampung” for the break. So during this rough patch, our workforce capacity was down by half.

DE: Did you obtain any government aid to keep your business afloat? If so, what type of economic stimulus?

Anne:
Yes, we did. We had received the Wage Subsidy Program (WSP) by Perkeso since the first MCO. It really helped us to keep afloat during the initial 20 months as our sales took a sharp dip. It was drastically low, especially during the time when people were forced to “duduk rumah” (stay at home) and thus did not need any new clothing.

DE: Were there any moments during the pandemic that you felt like calling it a day?

Anne:
Yes, to be honest, I almost gave up. First, it was during the first three weeks of the first MCO which began in March 2020.  I was really stressed with the unprecedented situation that I secluded myself from all social media platforms. However, I got back on my feet by mid-April to re-strategise and reset the business.

Then in May 2021 when we experienced the MCO again for the third time, I was hugely disappointed as our business was just picking up, and we had to close down again. Actually, I lost my momentum during the period up until September as we were only operating three days a week. What a great relief when the Government reopened the economic sector by October 2021 as we were practically suffering not only financially but also emotionally during the health crisis (which has since abated, thankfully).

DE: Despite the setbacks, what is the main factor that keeps you going until today?

Anne:
Well, let me put it this way. It is the joy of seeing our Sabahans embracing our own cultural identity, wearing it, using it and being proud of it. The joy of helping our local entrepreneurs to come up with their own ideas on creating their own fashion and product brand. It is also the joy of meeting with the ethnic communities to help them promote their ethnic identity through textiles.

DE:  Do you have anything in the pipeline?

Anne:
Yes. My plan for next year is to help many more entrepreneurs in their fashion business by providing them the material. As for Chanteek Borneo, we hope we will be able to expand our storage for our raw materials and to buy roller inspection machines to increase our productivity. Currently, we roll and inspect our fabric manually which is a very tedious and time-consuming process.

Prior to the MCO period, I had a total of nine staff members. Earlier in 2020, I added one more staff. This year (2022), two people will be joining us. These new recruits were our internship students from UiTM who did their industrial training with us during the MCO last year (2021). I usually get fresh graduates who did their internship with us, based on their work performance during their attachment. Before the MCO, we had recruited two trainees from the local universities as our permanent staff.

 

Flashback To April 23, 2021: Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture (Motac), Datuk Nancy Shukri (left) being briefed by Anne during her official visit to Chanteek Borneo’s Textile Design & Printing Factory in Tamparuli. Note the industrial machine (centre) which forms part of the components for digital textile printing. 





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