The Tuanku Nur Zahirah Foundation (YTNZ) was established in 2007 under the royal patronage of Her Majesty the Queen of Malaysia, Seri Paduka Baginda Raja Pemaisuri Agong Tuanku Nur Zahirah, to improve the livelihood of artisans through the promotion and development of Malaysian heritage craft.
The flagship programme undertaken by the YTNZ is to bring about the revival of the Songket, a rich and luxurious hand-woven fabric with a long and close relationship with the Royal Malay Courts. Under the heritage brand of Royal Terengganu Songket, the YTNZ is engaged in product innovation, training, quality enhancement and marketing of its unique range of fine Songket creations.
Songket-weaving as a viable career
To revitalise the songket-weaving industry, YTNZ began by identifying the main problems affecting rural weavers. Despite years of perfecting their craft, many highly-skilled songket continued to live in poverty. They also had to work in unhealthy and uncomfortable conditions, such as cramped environment and poor lighting.
To address these difficulties, YTNZ established production centres in Terengganu and Sarawak which employ and train full-time weavers. Employed weavers earn a fixed monthly income and are provided with pension and social insurance benefits. Through a productivity-linked remuneration structure, weavers also have the opportunity to increase their earning potential through overtime pay, performance-related bonuses as well as participate in skills and knowledge-enhancement programmes.
At the production centres, weavers are able to work in well-lit studios using regularly-maintained looms. Through peer interaction, they also benefit from the sharing of techniques and pattern ideas as an alternative channel to skills-development.
Innovation in Tradition
To increase the appeal and versatility of songket, the YTNZ enlisted the help of textile specialist Dr June Ngo and funded research and development aimed at contemporarising songket designs, texture and applications. Within a year, the YTNZ launched its modern and stunning collection under the Royal Terengganu Songket label.
Among the achievements of this award-winning label is the creation of a light-weight songket that retains the luxuriousness of the original fabric but is still woven using techniques that have been passed down generations. While light-weight songket is used for fashion items, sturdier variations were also developed to be used to produce gift items and soft furnishings. For the first time, songket is used not only to produce apparel and accessories but also in interior design. These innovations have enabled the YTNZ to tap on new demand for Malaysian-made heritage craft.