Covid-19: Malaysia Airlines employees turn passion of making Borneo-themed dolls and handicrafts into income-generating projects

PETALING JAYA : Malaysia Airlines cabin crew Wesley Anak Juntan is a self-taught designer who used to make wedding dresses in his free time.

The Covid-19 pandemic however put a halt to his hobby and side-hustle as events such as weddings were cancelled.

Now, he makes Borneo-inspired dolls to showcase his proud heritage after receiving positive responses from the people around him.

His switch to making dolls came from the lack of dolls in traditional Borneo outfits he observed as he travelled the world.

Wesley (left) with his collection of Borneo dolls and Agnes with her creation of the Kebaya Girl keychain. — Picture courtesy of Malaysia Airlines
Wesley (left) with his collection of Borneo dolls and Agnes with her creation of the Kebaya Girl keychain. — Picture courtesy of Malaysia Airlines

“As a doll collector, I collect dolls from around the world and I’ve seen dolls of different cultures – except a Borneo-themed doll.

“For last year’s Gawai celebration, I designed my first Borneo doll and I never expected people to be impressed by my design.

“Some were also amazed at my designs that I started designing different costumes for the dolls.”

His designs for the first few dolls are the Kumang Doll clad in Ngepan (traditional Iban costume) and the Dayung Doll in traditional Bidayuh costume.

Pua Kumbu, a traditional multi-coloured cloth is one of the materials he uses for his dolls including other materials such as multi-coloured beads, wires, and lace.

“I’ve referred to pictures and videos of dolls on the internet for inspiration.

“One to two weeks is how long I’ll usually take to complete the dolls from the ideation stage right up to designing and packing them.”

To date, he has created more than 100 dolls of different ethnicities such as Iban, Bidayuh, Orang Ulu, Dayak Salako, Melanau, Dusun Liwan, and Lun Bawang.

Wesley, who hails from Sibu said that it was important to add details to the costumes of the dolls as it reflects the status of the wearer or describes the origins of a particular tribe.

“I hope more people will appreciate the beauty of our heritage especially the younger generation so that they will be aware of the richness of our culture.

“Not many also know about the various ethnicities there are in Sabah and Sarawak – which is why I hope to share the knowledge of Borneo culture through the dolls,” he said.

Apart from the Borneo-inspired dolls, Wesley also made the Kebaya Girl doll – which gets its name from the iconic kebaya with batik motifs worn by the air stewardess.

Designing handicrafts such as keychains and sticker sets

Formerly a graphic designer prior to joining Malaysia Airlines, Agnes ‘Aggie’ Yap embarked on a creative journey making memorabilia such as sticker sets, keychains, and protective mask folders.

She told Malay Mail that despite flying around the world, she did not put down her creative cap and continues to paint, draw and design graphic work during her free time.

“Flying around the world has helped me open my eyes and inspired me to get more creative ideas.”

One of her handicrafts include the keychain that features Malaysian airlines cabin crew clad in their iconic kebaya costumes.

Yap said that the batik motifs used in her keychains are important and symbolic.

“Keeping to this essence, I would make many layouts to make sure that the drawings of the girls fit the criteria of being pretty, cute and stylish.

“However, the toughest part is drawing the batik kebaya outfit worn by the Kebaya Girls.

“Every detail from the base pattern to the tiny flowers batik print has to be drawn from scratch to ensure the silhouette flows nicely on the Kebaya Girls figure.”

Yap added that while the process was a meticulous one, it is important to take pride in the details of the kebaya.

Both Wesley and Yap’s handicrafts were launched as part of Malaysia Airlines MHartisans to encourage employee’s entrepreneurial spirit who have transformed their hobbies and passion into income-generating projects amid trying times.

Malaysia Airlines Berhad group chief marketing and customer experience officer Lau Yin May said that with MHartisans, there is now a platform created to showcase our internal homegrown talents and innovations.

MHartisans is also an avenue for its employees to create, produce and sell their own range of handcrafted items via the airline’s flagship e-retail store, Temptations.

“We believe that this new initiative is more than just an opportunity for us to support our colleagues.

“It also allows us to feature Malaysian-made products which embody our nation’s diverse cultures and heritage,” she said.


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