“Essence Design & Craft specializes in pairing and combination of different materials for more modern designs. If we had the opportunity to observe their production onsite, check out every step of their procedure, it would make our probe into the essence even deeper.” ── Lee Ya-Ching, Designer at Essence Design & Craft

“We told the Penans that we do not want to change your traditional technique. But we want your product to be sold to the people who can pay for it, so it has to be sold in the urban setting to fit the urban life.” ── Jacqueline Fong, coordinator of Tanoti Crafts

Designer and Craft Community

“Seeing the convergence of crafts and design, piling up the exploration and imagination of life.” As a young bamboo artist, Lee Ya-Ching, the founder of Essence Design & Craft, and her partner link the connection and relationship between nature, people, and lifestyle. For their products, they insist on collaborating with producers and artisans, applied with natural materials such as bamboo, glass, rattan, stone, pottery, metal, shell ginger. They believe when the design is in line with the basic needs of life, only simplicity can find authenticity, which is also the essence of objects.

The Penans are the last nomadic tribe in Sarawak, Malaysia, now settled into structured communities between 30 years ago to as recent as 5 years ago. They continue to maintain a deep connection with the rainforests which support their lives and supplement their livelihoods. Tanoti, a Malaysian accredited social enterprise, has been working with these remote forest communities to introduce sustainable income generation opportunities via their rattan craft, recognizing the capability of this material and the skills of the craftspeople. Their work has culminated in winning the World Crafts Council Award of Excellence for Handicrafts.


“We do not want to change your traditional technique. We are here to help you to produce some products that are more useful in urban living environment, like a laptop bag, rather than some baskets you use to hunt fox or wild boar, or carry vegetables.” Tanoti Crafts is located in Sarawak, and cooperates with over 100 local indigenous crafters. Coordinator Jacqueline mentions that the most interesting thing of this project was “timing,” that they wouldn’t have made the deadline if the project began a few months later. It turns out that the Penan people scattered in the woods of Sarawak live according to the seasons, and every September is their most sacred month for sowing seeds to make sure that they have enough food the next year.

Harvesting lands in turns and engaging in natural farming, the Penan people will find a piece of land every year in the woods, cut down the trees, and burn them down into ashes as fertilizer. They sow the seeds of crops and harvest them in the coming spring, returning to the same spot after five or six years.

The project began in August, and luckily avoided this season, allowing Jacqueline to venture into the woods and find cooperating crafters. This was not an easy trip, too, as it took four days via ferry, jeep, and raft, for Jacqueline to finally arrive at the village deep in the mountains. Tanoti’s partner of the co-creation project, Essence Design & Craft, not only specializes in the craft of bamboo weaving but also has extensive experience working with Taiwanese indigenous people. When talking about the most unforgettable thing of the cooperation, designer Lee Ya-Ching said that she was most impressed by the discovery of the cultural connectivity of the indigenous peoples and the strong bond within the community.


AJAT weaving

Focusing on the AJAT weaving of the Penan people, designer Lee Ya-Ching started with “form,” trying to take on the challenge of a new formation technique in addition to the circular form the community specialized in. Eventually, she proposed the idea of flat weaving of the AJAT technique, which was then combined with rattan handles, producing <SCROLL-IN HANDLE Bag>. Developing new possibilities for existing techniques was a new idea to the crafters, but not unachievable. This method of “changing one thing at a time” gave birth to a very urban rattan bag.

<AJAT Rattan Light> focuses on dyeing, using the original and black colors and the stretchable quality of rattan to create a combination of light and shadow. Due to the material and weather, they had limited time experimenting with the most suitable thickness of the rattan, and therefore would not achieve the roundness and smoothness of the original design in the final product, but it is already a precious experience for Tanoti Crafts.


Essence Design & Craft

Hi! I am the founder of Essence Design&Craft and designer Lee Ya-Ching!

Tanoti Crafts

Hi! I am the founder of Tanoti Crafts, Jacqueline Fong!

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