Weaving Technology Into The Songket Supply Chain

An international team of researchers suggests that technology could help reduce the exploitation of traditional weavers in Malaysia.

AsianScientist (May 17, 2019) – Traditional weavers in poor rural regions of Malaysia could benefit from smartphone apps and greater use of social media, say researchers in Malaysia and the UK. Their findings are published in the Proceedings of the 2019 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems.

Songket is the traditional Malay fabric worn at special occasions, such as weddings and parties. A simple piece of songket can take a skilled weaver a month to make, with more elaborate designs taking much longer.

Many songket weavers work from home in isolated rural villages and they are often commissioned on an exclusive basis by merchants from large towns or cities. These merchants deal directly with the customers and also receive most of the profits from the sale of the garments. The weavers, who are overwhelmingly women, often have limited education levels, lack ownership of their raw materials or equipment, have limited welfare provision and are often only paid subsistence wages.

In the present study, researchers in Malaysia and the UK wanted to know whether the use of new social technology could help weavers connect more directly with customers, reducing the need to deal exclusively with merchants.

“Our findings indicate that weavers are invisible in both the physical world, due to their remoteness to customers, and the digital world because their relationships with customers are predominantly mediated by their merchants,” said Professor Corina Sas of Lancaster University, UK, who co-authored the research. “Weavers have limited awareness of their vulnerable position because of their longstanding relationships with merchants, which for some has been built over several generations.”

The team also noted that despite their exploitative nature, the relationships between weavers and merchants are, in fact, consensual and perceived as beneficial by most weavers. The researchers point out that new designs of digital technology could help weavers to transition to selling their wares directly.

“Technological solutions will increase weavers’ visibility in the market, and they will learn of the less exploitative transactions available, such as weaving for their own customers,” said Dr Zhang Min of Lancaster University. “However gaining independence will take time and therefore, to ensure no loss of wages, the new solutions should co-exist, for a while, alongside the current exploitative relationships.”

The article can be found at: Zhang et al. (2019) Designing for the Infrastructure of the Supply Chain of Malay Handwoven Songket in Terengganu.


Source: Lancaster University; Photo: Universiti Teknologi MARA.
Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of AsianScientist or its staff.

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