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In the serene village of Kampung Pulau Keladi located along the Pahang River, Hajjah Nortipah and her daughter are a part of a small community of weavers, who strive to preserve the heritage of handwoven songket passed down from their ancestors. Similarly, in the central highlands of Vietnam, six ethnic minority groups form a network to preserve the traditional weaving heritage of local communities. Meanwhile, situated in West Sumatra and the volcanic Indonesian island of Lombok are the weavers of ASPPUK - women who are victims of violence and disaster, female heads of families and migrant workers.

While the stories and craft of these communities are unique, they aren’t exclusive to themselves. Like them, hundreds of weaving communities exist throughout Southeast Asia, where textile weaving is traditionally taken up by women, forming a virtually untold but vital part of the region’s traditional fashion, culture and shared heritage. With humble hands, these women meticulously produce intricate fabrics – from exquisite material produced for royal courts to vivid cloths encompassing a tremendous range of imagery, demonstrating considerable technical prowess. 

Although these beautiful works of art continue to stand the test of time, the women who create them find it hard to survive in modern times.

With this stark reality in mind, the Maybank Foundation, through its Women Eco-Weavers programme, has teamed up with the ASEAN Handicraft Promotion and Development Association (AHPADA) and Tanoti – a Malaysian social enterprise dedicated to heritage craft preservation, women empowerment and rural community-building – to create TENUN Fashion Week. Taking on a digital format, the three-day event will be screened online from 15 to 17 October 2021. 

Celebrating weaving communities in Southeast Asia, TENUN will be the first fashion event of its kind dedicated completely to these handweaves, reimagining their continued relevance by exploring their use in modern fashion.

“It is with great pleasure that Maybank is hosting the TENUN Fashion Week that brings together spectacular fabrics, for the first time, to a live audience. By using fashion to shine a light on the intricacies of the textile traditions, it is our hope that this helps sustain the region’s weaving communities and preserve its rich cultural heritage,” said Maybank Chairman Tan Sri Dato’ Sri Zamzamzairani Mohd Isa.

Featuring 45 participating weaving communities from Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam, TENUN will not only be the first event of its kind, but also the largest. The event has even captured the attention of the Malaysian Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture, Yang Berhormat Dato’ Sri Nancy Shukri, who herself hails from a lineage of weavers. 

“Hand-woven textiles are the core of our culture. We need to support our traditional hand weaves because without them, an important part of our people will be lost. The hand weaving industry is a big part of our cultural export. It has the power to feed families, sustain communities and contribute to the national economy,” she said in a recorded message to promote TENUN Fashion Week. 

Unlike typical fashion events, what makes TENUN truly unique is its particular focus on the creation of handwoven textiles in Southeast Asia, while shining a large spotlight on the participating communities that produce them and their unique stories. 

“TENUN is all about showcasing the communities who make the textile that goes into the fashion. We want to showcase Southeast Asia as a centre of excellence for textile and innovation, using community-centric methodology to produce woven cloth. A lot of the communities that produce these fabrics do not have adequate resources. They neither have access to markets nor the funds or necessary support required. What they do have, however, is their unique craft and the amazing stories that go along with them. So, this platform aims to bring them out into the open for all to see, improving their visibility and subsequently, their marketability and profitability,” said Edric Ong, Honorary President of AHPADA.

“We have a truly veritable programme lined up. Besides fashion showcases featuring fabrics handwoven by these communities, we will also have panel discussions, story sessions and even a fireside chat session with a master weaver herself. We invite anyone and everyone even remotely interested in the art, fashion and heritage of handwoven textiles to participate and experience the creations and makers of these fabrics. TENUN truly celebrates the ways of life and means of livelihood of these communities, many of which are set against the most stunning backdrops of Southeast Asia,” he added, highlighting that the digital nature of the event will enable anyone, anywhere to view the event for free from the event’s website and YouTube channel.

By supporting these communities, TENUN will also champion a number of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These include No Poverty (SDG 1), Gender Equality (SDG 5), Reduced Inequalities (SDG 10), Sustainable Cities and Communities (SDG 11) and Responsible Consumption and Production (SDG 12). The event also bolsters ASEAN’s Strategic Plan on Culture and Arts 2016-2025 by facilitating intercultural contact and collaboration, engendering a sense of ownership for the cultural heritage of ASEAN, and leveraging on culture for inclusive and sustainable development.

Besides showcasing their creations and getting their stories told, all the 45 participating communities will also compete in three awards – a People’s Choice Award, Lakumas Most Innovative Weaves Award and the TENUN Best Collection Award. The winners in all three categories will each receive cash prizes and six kilograms of Candimas Tencel yarn, sponsored by PT Lakumas, who will also sponsor the cash prize for the Most Innovative Weaves Award.

TENUN will also be accompanied by an online shop, available on the event’s website, and will culminate in a live fashion show (subject to allowable COVID-19 protocols) in Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysia. The TENUN Fashion Week project is also expected to receive financial support from the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture Sarawak.

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