Fashion items from Penan artisan weavers

Penan weavers, as organized under Helping Hands Penan (HH Penan), are coming up with new designs and colour combinations that lend a contemporary feel to their products.

Still in good demand, the bags have gained popularity in the market that also supports a good cause.

“The beautiful, practical and affordable products speak for themselves,’’ said HH Penan director Violette Tan. “People buy our products to support our work and cause of helping the Penan community.’’

There are 150 weavers involved in the weaving project, with about 50 on a regular basis.

HH Penan products are available online at The Artisans Haven at and its own online shop, managed by its Penang network, at

There are also networks and sellers operating from homes, social media and other platforms, pop-up stalls and bazaars in Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Johor, Ipoh, Cyberjaya, Malacca, Kota Kinabalu and Kuching.

Internationally, its networks span from Singapore, Hong Kong, the US, UK, Australia and the Netherlands.

The core team in Brunei hold pop-up sales at homes and bazaars, as well as collaborate with shops and cafes with a nominal rebate to cover overheads and logistics costs.

HH Penan buys the craft upfront and 100% of the net profit, which is about 20% of the retail price, is channeled back to the Penan community especially in the sponsorship of the education of Penan children and youth, from primary to tertiary levels.

Lending a helping hand is the other director of HH Penan, Tan Wei Kheng, who is based in Miri.

Also an artist and the designer of the bags, Tan brings the raw materials, which are PVC strips supplied by a hardware shop, to weavers living in the Upper Tutoh area, which is about six to eight hours drive from Miri.

Weavers living in Ulu Limbang are organized into nuclear groups, each with a leader, to help them manage the raw materials, orders, delivery and payments.

HH Penan buys the products at fair trade prices from the weavers who would set the price; the less able weavers are provided with free PVC strips.

“With competition and price wars in the market these days, we are seeking bulk orders from companies, selling online and other platforms as well as collaborating with other retail shops,’’ said Violette.

It was back In 2007 when Violette and a group of parents at Jerudong International School in Brunei, went to Limbang, Sarawak, to visit the Penans who were staying at the half-way house called ‘Rumah Sakai.’

As they came to Limbang for medical treatment or essential shopping, the Penans would bring their rattan craft with them to sell.

While the group of parents brought them donations of clothing and foodstuff, they also bought the rattan craft from the Penans.

But in place of rattan, other tribes were already weaving with plastic strips that were more popular, practical and durable.

The year 2011 was the turning point when the Penan weavers borrowed the idea, and started to use PVC plastic strips to weave the craft as rattan was becoming hard to obtain, while there was an increasing demand for PVC craft.

“The beginning was challenging as the material was harder to weave and the Penans were not used to the myriad of colours,’’ said Violette.

Today, they are brave enough to try out new colours and patterns while being motivated by all the assistance rendered to them.

To purchase Penan bags at, double click at ALL STORES, search for HH Penan and press GO.

Helping Penans to move forward

Besides the weaving and marketing of bags and other decorative items, HH Penan runs five other programs aimed at further helping the Penans.

These efforts are based on HH Penan’s mission to empower Penan women through weaving and their children, through education.

Under the education sponsorship program, HH Penan is sponsoring children and youth from pre-primary to tertiary levels, and a student pursuing a Masters degree and planning to go on the PhD level.

At Limbang, 32 students from Primary One to Form Five are given school transport fees of RM50-80 each, and RM30 stationery vouchers.

There are 35 students at Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan Medamit, who come from five villages in Ulu Limbang, getting RM50 monthly allowance each, and given school uniforms, stationery and toiletries.

A total of 70 students who are boarding at Sekolah Long Seridan, are given school uniforms, shoes, toiletries and school supplies; HH Penan also donated a washing machine and a professional hair trimmer to the school.

At Sekolah Menengah Kubong, Limbang, there are three students being sponsored to study Form Six.

Under higher education, HH Penan is sponsoring three students pursuing bachelor’s degrees in entrepreneurship and economics;education and social science; two are taking  diplomas in forestry management.

In recent years, a total of 21 students have completed their courses in hospitality, system information, graphic design, nursing, teaching, administrative science, technology management, welding, electrical engineering and social science.

Those interested to partner HH Penan under the ‘Sponsor a Child’ program, kindly get in touch with their committee at

Under Project Light, HH Penan has fully lit up eight Penan villages in Ulu Limbang and Ulu Baram/Upper Tutoh, with solar lighting.

In terms of community development, it had helped build a home stay, bought chain saws and rice milling machines, and completed a clean water project.

HH Penan also provides medical and welfare aid as well as support via a feeding scheme for babies, a comatose patient and the sick and elderly.

As the Penan weavers get to earn a livelihood for their families, more young women are keen to learn the art of weaving.

While its education sponsorship programs had cut out the drop-out rate and long absenteeism from school, more Penan parents are more willing to send their children to school.

Seeing the success of their efforts, the team at HH Penan is motivated to further help to improve the lives of the Penan people.

By Yap Leng Kuen, Chief Storyteller, The Artisans Haven


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