Nisa is the bravest woman I know. One time, she flew from her home city, Kuala Lumpur, across the country to a rural village in Kuala Terengganu to visit a friend. Little did she know, a wedding she attended there would later change life as she knew it. And from there, Nysakapas was born.
I met Nisa over breakfast at her humble studio, where we had nasi dagang, a delicious traditional Terengganu dish. During breakfast, she leisurely talked about her dreams and hopes of giving batik a fresh breath through Nysakapas. Once in a while, our conversation was interrupted by her sons — juggling family life and entrepreneurship is no easy task.
Nysakapas was born out of her love story and romantic passion towards batik. She was inspired by her daily life in Kampung Serada, interpreting it into her designs, which are slowly — but surely — getting recognition locally and internationally. Nysakapas is definitely making a mark beyond the batik industry, collaborating with other products like apparels and home decorations.
In this interview, Nisa reminisced her experience in learning how to make batik, the humble beginning and growth of Nysakapas, and her team of local artisans she’s proud of, as well as her challenges in running a business and a family at the same time.
Hi Nisa! It’s good to be here in the East Coast. Tell us about yourself.
Hi Kerol! My full name is actually Haniza binti Hisham, but around here in Kuala Terengganu [Malaysia], they call me Nisa. I’m from Ampang, Kuala Lumpur. My educational background is actually in architecture (from 2002 until 2006), but after working for a few years as an assistant architect, I decided it wasn’t the path for me.
In 2009, I visited a studio classmate from my university years in Kuala Terengganu. I enjoyed and embraced the relaxed, natural kampung (village) lifestyle. During that time, I attended a quaint wedding in Kampung Serada, where I unexpectedly met a lovely man 13 years older than me, by the name of Abdul Majid, under a duku tree. A year later, he became my husband and along came our three children — Muhammad Bilal, 8; Muhammad Khalil, 5, and; Khyra Naryssa, 10 months. In these nine years, life has changed so much for me, living and being a part of this little kampung.
From the big capital city of Kuala Lumpur to a humble town on the East Coast, how did you manage the transition and at the same time, develop your brand?
It’s hard! Creating [and developing] Nysakapas takes up all my energy, but at the same time, I need to devote myself to my husband and children. [Despite it all] I feel so blessed to have Nysakapas and my family. I think I’ve failed many times as a mother and a wife, but this is my destiny. So, [I tried to] transform my failures into small achievements. It’s a learning process.
Nysakapas is my life now, but my past in the big city of Kuala Lumpur is still relevant. [The transition] was hard, no doubt. I have had to learn to build a home in a 100-year-old wooden house, learn the ways and lifestyle of the Terengganu people, which includes living alongside chickens, iguanas, frogs, hornbills, hogs — you name it! But it’s all about blending in yet staying grounded, not losing sight of who we are and our purpose in life. Sometimes, I share about my personal life and Nysakapas on social media, too, because [I believe] a brand should reflect us, the good and the bad. Imperfections make transitions in life beautiful.
It was inspiring to see Nysakapas in action in your backyard studio, especially with the talented artisans working with you now. Share with us more about the project.
The idea came about when I noticed that Terengganu people incorporate batik in their everyday wear. It’s common to see men and women in sarong on a daily basis here. I became fascinated with the handcrafted art form, and even more so when I learnt that it was a dying art. I believe my architectural soul hadn’t withered, so I was this modern hippie, gallivanting from one batik maker’s home to another, slowly learning the art of batik terap (handblocked batik).
Back when I was studying architecture, I was exposed to conservation and heritage projects, so learning about Batik was like a case study for me. Learning and experimenting with batik was incredibly challenging. I did everything in my little kitchen during the wee hours of the night, when my children were asleep. In the quiet of the night, I was enveloped by the haunting smell of hot wax, and every night, I thought of how foolish I was, fiddling with a canting pen, drawing onions — I felt like I was going nowhere. During the day, I would be searching for answers from more experienced batik makers, but what they shared was not even close to how difficult it was to make batik on your own, especially if you’re a clueless amateur, despite having a deep passion for the art.
Finally, in 2016, I completed my first brass batik block motif, which I named Isobel, after my favourite Bjork song —a three-component flower motif with stems and leaves. I uploaded the design on Instagram with no intention of selling, but my work was quickly recognised by many batik lovers.
In 2017, I realised that making batik on my own is a monumental task. So, I trained some youngsters from Serada [in Kuala Terengganu] — [in a way], it made me a mother not just to my children, but also to my budding artisans.
At the same time, I was finding ways to simplify the process for mass production. The meticulous process [of making batik] by hand from a plain white cloth until we hang it to dry was a real struggle, but it was a satisfying craft done with pure love for the art.
[The process of] making batik taught me so much about fine craftsmanship, the people behind it and their spirit for the traditional art. Even visitors from all the way around the world often tell me the importance and beauty of making things from our bare hands.
This interview appeared in Malaysia & Indonesia Issue. To continue reading, you can buy print or digital.