Bags of unique beauty from The Artisans Haven

Bags that are uniquely designed, stylish and at the same time, environment-friendly and functional, are much sought after these days. We may be staying at home during this EMCO in the Klang Valley and KL, and CMCO elsewhere, but with the pace in vaccinations picking up, we may enjoy using them once the economy reopens. As the trend in recycling gathers pace, coming up with art that is usable has also become the buzzword among artisans and artists/painters. Consumers like items that they can re-use as many times as possible, so as to reduce the impact on the environment.

The Artisans Haven, at a Facebook LIVE last Friday, offered a good selection of handwoven bags from the Penan weavers, bags from denim or reusable jeans, jute bags with hand-drawn designs on canvas, Happy Bags from recycled water bottles and embroidered cloth bags made by people with special needs.

Helping Hands Penan

Penan bags, at once fashionable and sturdy, come in a myriad of colours and designs, often depicting the beauty of the forests and seas around where the Penans live. The Penan weavers name these designs from their imagination; indeed, some of the names they have coined are original and creative. Among these are Juhit or flying birds, Mata Juhit or the eyes of the flying birds, Gula Batu or candy, Daun or leaf, Pucuk Paku which is a popular vegetable fern, Lidah Buaya or aloe vera, and Ombak or wave.

Even for simple daily use, a Penan bag enhances a person’s appearance with its quality and fashion statement especially with the bamboo handle where the usage of bamboo as a raw material, carries an element of the forest. Different designs and colours can be used to match outfits and occasions; they can be used for grocery shopping, storing food takeaways, outings and even for work.

During these times of pandemic, we may send groceries as a gift in a Penan bag, as a gesture of support for an affected family and also the Penan weavers. At small gatherings, a Penan bag can be a conversation starter as friends who like the design and craftsmanship may ask, for example, where and how to buy it, while discussion may then turn to the story behind the purchases of these bags.

Penan bags are durable, as a customer who recently bought one with a tiffin carrier, shared that she was still keeping her first bag that she bought 15 years ago.

The Penan weavers are organized by Helping Hands Penan (HH Penan). HH Penan director Tan Wei Kheng, who is also a freelance artist, comes up with the colour combinations and designs, and works with about 50 regular weavers in the Penan settlements around the Upper Tutoh River. (There are 150 weavers involved in the weaving project). The Upper Tutoh area is six to eight hours’ truck drive from Miri; Tan brings the PVC plastic strips to the weavers on a monthly basis and on his return trips, he brings back the finished products for sale.

For those in Ulu Limbang, HH Penan has organized its weavers into nuclear groups, each with a leader to help them manage raw materials, orders, delivery and payment, says HH Penan director Violette Tan. In 2011, Penan weavers had started using PVC strips in their weaving as demand for their craft increased; other indigenous tribes were already weaving with plastic strips, considered to be more popular, practical and durable. Besides supporting the Penan weavers, HH Penan runs, among others, an education sponsorship program, a medical fund and a solar lighting project to help Penan families. A recent Penan graduate, Dayang Ukau, had benefited from the three-year sponsorship from HH Penan; she has a degree in social science from UKM.

TAS Woman of Substance

Bright floral designs have been a hallmark of the intricately made bags by TAS at Woman of Substance. While customers find the bags spacious and attractive, with inner fabric matching the colour of the outer design, they are in for a refreshing change with new creations using denim fabric or jeans with linen.

Aiming to differentiate every bag with details and patterns, Linden Leong of TAS at Woman of Substance wants to hit on designs that are rather uncommon in Malaysia.

“Denim is always in vogue and it’s durable; linen adds a touch of sophistication while its coarse texture adds character,’’ says Linden.

Apart from new fabric or ready-sewn jeans, customers have a choice of using their favourite pair of jeans that they no longer wear. “It can be turned into a memory bag for them,’’ says Linden.

Imagine having the memory of a fun outing with a part of your favourite pair of jeans, now on a bag that you can hold everyday. As the process of making these bags is very laborious, they are mainly made-on-order.


Schools may be closed but Tassiny’s range of school bags still appeal to school children whose parents have been visiting Tassiny’s shops in Ampang for the last 20 years.

(These parents first knew Judy Lau of Tassiny when their own parents brought them to shop there).

School bags in bright pink, cat and teddy bear designs come with many compartments, enabling children to store their little items. Even during the lockdown, these bags can be used to keep children’s homework, school books and toys; with many styles and designs available, they are also a good gift for birthdays. Adults may also love the backpacks, for example, with the endearing cat and bear designs.

Tassiny offers a wide range of other backpacks that are suitable for storing laptops, documents and gadgets; they are also good for the adventurous traveller who in the current context of Covid-19, would be getting active once borders are re-opened.

They come in tones of pink and purple, grey and striking blue, or the more subtle colours of black and dark blue; affordable and of good quality, they also make a style statement with regards to the lifestyle and personality of the user.

I Love KL

At I Love KL, the full range of KL bags from tote, sling, clutch as well as wallet and backpack, may be good for visitors, in pre-pandemic times, to bring back a piece of KL with them. For local purchasers, the assorted colours and designs of these luminous bags are also appealing, especially as they change colour against a camera flash, creating a rainbow or hologram effect, says Aesos Lai of I Love KL.

Made of polyvinyl chloride or PVC material and bonded with polyester mesh, they come in matt and gloss finishing and also bling under the sunlight. Colours range from gold, silver, red, blue, black and green with modern polygon to geometric shapes such as triangles, ractangles and squares.

As a fashion bag, they are chic, anti-wrinkle with good texture and comfortable hand-feel; KL bags are great for a variety of occasions – from dating, gatherings, parties to work and business.

They may be sent to friends and family overseas, as a gift of love that represents Malaysia.

Giraffe In The City

Hand-drawn jute and canvas bags from Giraffe In The City have an identifiable style especially in its ethnic, tribal and ‘creepy’ designs.

Every design is unique so that whoever carries the bag, knows that it’s special – like him or her!

Some bags are fully canvas while some are jute bags with drawings on the canvas area. “My bags are like little packages of happiness that customers can carry with them.

“The feedback has shown different people relating to my work and their joy is an indication that my work touches them,’’ says Krissie Cee of Giraffe In The City. Some creations relate to the personal lives of her customers. A special one that got Krissie emotional was a daughter’s gift to her Dad for Father’s Day, with designs of musical instruments. The daughter, a singer and owner of a performing arts school, had ordered two bags for her father to use when he goes for his medical appointments; the father was also a musician who played in a band.

Krissie has included humour in some of her pieces. “I can’t save the world with my bags but I can spread a bit of cheer through them; I am all for a good laugh and so, I have included humour in some pieces too.’’ Krissie’s bags can be considered a work of art which, besides being used for shopping and carrying things, can also be a decorative piece that brings a different feel to the home.

The Happy Bag from Natural Life is an all-time favourite; made from recycled water bottles, this durable bag never gets dog-eared - it can be used forever.

As a never-ending journey, the message on ‘The Giving Bag’ says: ‘This bag is on a journey, please help it on its way … fill it with loving kindness while it is with you on this day.

‘Create a precious memory with your family and your friends … then pass it on to someone else so that its journey never ends.’

Natural Life Home Treasures

It’s also fun to personalize and gift the Happy Bag to your friends and family by filling it with treasures that they will love, such as mugs, jewellery or even car accessories. Gifting a Happy Bag together with a ‘Cup of Love’ or ‘Cup of Happy’ lends a personal touch to this thoughtful gesture.

There are Happy Bags for occasions such as ‘Happy Birthday’ and ‘Welcome Baby;’ get some today as we may suddenly remember a birthday among friends and family! The smaller bags can used to store water bottles or tidbits, while the bigger ones can be used for food takeaways, in line with the trend to reduce the usage of plastic.

The positive, inspirational messages on the Happy Bag makes it very popular,’’ says Rosalie Lin of Natural Life Malaysia. “Many people are struggling with the pandemic and need some motivation.’’

A simple message like ‘Be Happy’ and ‘Do More of What Makes You Happy’ can brighten the day while the Happy Bag designed with a rainbow burst of colours adds cheer to the surroundings.

The mission of Natural Life is to inspire people to ‘Give & Live Happy,’ a message that is very apt in these pandemic-laden times.

Community Excel Services

Embroidered cloth bags made by members of Community Excel Services (CES) are often used as gift bags.

Bottles of cookies are put into these bags as Christmas gifts; they are mainly used for putting cosmetics, toiletries, lingerie, wet ones and baby bibs, says Tracey Chan of CES, which comes under S.T.A.R. (Special Needs Training And Resources) Youth.

The convenience provided by this bag is that handphones, spectacles, tissues, laptop charges or power bank, can all be stored in just one bag, making them easy to retrieve. When the lockdowns are over, these simple but nice-looking embroidered bags can also be used as door gifts for gatherings. When framed, they lend a warm and cosy feel to the room.

There’s a special meaning to these bags that are embroidered by members of CES, where one of the occupational therapies is to improve their fine motor skills through embroidery.

Your purchase of these bags on The Artisans Haven is a great gesture of support for our artisans and small businesses as well as Shop for Good to help the Penan community and people with special needs.

They will be personally meaningful to you too, as most of them are Malaysian made, environment-friendly with unique designs and happy messages to inspire you.

By Yap Leng Kuen, Chief Storyteller, The Artisans Haven


- Helping Hands Penan https://bit.ly/2ScvK9K

- TAS Woman of Substance https://bit.ly/2VtAUQA

- Giraffe in the City https://bit.ly/3k0dMDl

- Community Excel Services https://bit.ly/2O31jAQ

- Natural Life Home Treasures https://bit.ly/3qj2ZUz


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