Of tree-bark cloth, tie-dye garments and rattan hats


Ong taking a wefie with FashionTV station manager director Cosimo Scialpi.

SARAWAK-born designer Edric Ong is making headlines in the fashion industry following his international tour promoting his latest collection that highlights the use of tree-bark cloth.

His ‘Sarawak Barks’ showcase was featured at the International Fashion Awards in Brindisi, Italy on Sept 13, the London Fashion Week on Sept 16, and the International Crafts Festival in Kokand, Uzbekistan on Sept 23.

Ong’s ‘Spring/Summer 2024 Collection’ celebrates the indigenous tree-bark cloth from Sarawak of the Malaysian Borneo, beautifully manipulated through ‘shibori’ (tie-dyeing) and origami techniques, adorned with natural indigo dye.

The collection presents vests, skirts, loincloths and accessories that have been ingeniously reimagined for contemporary fashion.

A vest-and-palazzo outfit featured by Ong during the London Fashion Week 2023.

‘Cross-cultural influences’ 

Ong’s passion for integrating traditional craftsmanship is evident in his collaborations with local communities.

He said the longhouse folks of Rumah Garie assisted him in weaving the naturally-dyed ‘pua kumbu ikat’ textiles, while the craftswomen of Rumah Ensong and Senia Jugi collaborated with him in creating the signature ‘topi tunjang’ rattan hats.

This ensemble can easily be a ready-to-wear number.

The talented Juliana Embrose worked on the intricate beadworks for Ong’s striking accessories.

“These collaborations not only preserve the traditional skills, but also promote socio-economic empowerment within the communities,” said Ong.

In addition to incorporating Sarawakian artistry, Ong surprised the audience by showcasing a revival of the Paracas double-loop knitted neckpieces from Peru — a seemingly unconventional blend that signified his creative vision and passion for cross-cultural influences.

Ong said Geoffrey Cox, the organiser of Fashion London, praised his collection as the latter highlighted the innovative and creative approach, particularly the mesmerising use of the tree-bark cloth.

This number reflects Ong’s passion for integrating traditional craftsmanship into his collection, as can be seen from the tree-bark cloth used as the shoulder wrap.

In addition, Mariana Micelli from Mad Mood Milano Fashion Week had selected Ong’s collection as the opening act for the International Fashion Awards in Italy in view of the captivating textures and vibrant colours of the garments.

Aidar Khan, founder of Aspara Fashion Week in Central Asia, also lauded the work presented by Ong.

‘More to come’

Looking ahead, Ong is eager to showcase more ‘never-before-seen’ designs that are not part of the collection for his international tour.

The distinct outfits will be part of a special exhibition, ‘Textures and Colours’, run by What About Kuching (WAK). Open to the public, it is currently being staged at The Spring Mall in Kuching until this Oct 31.

This exhibition represents Ong’s lifetime love for fashion.

This model looks very bohemian in this number.

“I love being a fashion designer because I can be a trendsetter, instead of a trend follower.

“My journey as a designer is not only meant to celebrate Sarawak’s rich culture, as it also highlights the transformative power of sustainable fashion.

“During last year’s London Fashion Week, I showcased the unique techniques used by the Iban women weavers of Sarawak, including the ‘pua kumbu ikat’ (tie-weave), ‘pua sungkit’ (discontinuous supplementary weft), ‘pua pilih’ (floating weft), and ‘pua karap’ (continuous weft).

This vest-and-palazzo match combines Ong’s signature usage of tree-bark cloth, ‘pua kumbu’-inspired fabric and rattan hat.

“Each piece featured in the collection was one-of-a-kind, utilising hand-spun, hand-woven silks and knitted hemp,” he said, adding that the collection also highlighted his signature style with the inclusion of the distinctive ‘topi tunjang’ and handmade accessories.

He said for last year’s show, Sarawakian model Paris Lai from Kuching served as the muse for his collection.

Asked if there would be more shows for him in the future, he happily revealed that he had once again been invited to showcase his work at London Fashion Week, set for Sept 14 next year.

This simple design still hints haute couture.

In February 2024, he would present a new collection of his natural dye and hand-woven outfits at the ‘SANGAMAM International Event’ in Chennai, India.

Moreover, in collaboration with Society Atelier Sarawak and Asean Handicraft Promotion and Development Association (Ahpada), Ong would be involved in organising the ‘Sarawak Eco-Fashion Gala’, set to take place in Kuching this Dec 2 and 3.

The Gala would be a prominent event of the upcoming Atelier/Ahpada Forum, highlighting the theme, ‘Crafting The Next Generation’.

Ong said the runway would feature designs from Sarawak and Malaysian designers, as well as several invited international designers from Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore, Laos, Myanmar, India, China and Kazakhstan.

“This gala will also serve as a prelude to the ‘International Eco-Fashion Awards’, scheduled to be hosted in Kuching next year.

“The event’s criteria specify that only hand-woven or handcrafted textiles could be used, and all accessories including jewellery pieces, handbags and hats, must be hand-crafted,” he added.

The designer

Ong is the president of the Ahpada, an organisation that oversees the prestigious Unesco-Ahpada Craft Seal of Excellence since 2000.

He is also advisor to and a past president of Society Atelier Sarawak, the arts and crafts society of Sarawak.

Ong being interviewed during his show at the London Fashion Week 2023.

An honorary member of World Crafts Council International and World Crafts Council Asia Pacific, Ong currently sits on the advisory board.  He also administers an online group, International Crafts and Arts Network (ICAN).

Trained as an architect, Ong has contributed to the designs of several iconic landmarks in Sarawak, including the Sarawak Cultural Village and the Kuching International Airport.

He has showcased his deep interest in his country’s heritage through authoring various books such as ‘Sarawak Style’ and ‘Pua-Kumbu-Iban Textiles; Woven Dreams-Ikat Textiles of Sarawak’.

Ong has gained recognition as a sought-after speaker at international conferences and established the World Eco-Fibre and Textile (WEFT) Network to advocate for natural fibres and dyes. He also convened the WEFT Forum in 1999, 2001 and 2003.

Throughout his career, he has received many honours including the American Aid to Artisans ‘Advocate Award’, Australia Culture Award, ‘Penyokong Kraf Negara’ (Malaysia’s National Crafts Award) for Best Non-Government Organisation, the Sarawak State ‘Pegawai Bintang Sarawak’ Award, as well as the ‘Seals of Excellence’ from Unesco-Ahpada and the Japanese G-Mark for his exemplary designs in the arts and crafts realm.

His expertise extends to curating exhibitions, having organised displays in Malaysia and other countries such as Singapore, Thailand, the Philippines, Korea, Japan, India, Australia, France, Sweden, the UK, and the US.

Under the brand-name ‘EO-EDRIC ONG’, Ong’s own company, EON COMPANY, based in Kuching, was established in 1986 to revive traditional arts and crafts in Sarawak, and also to innovate further the designs for contemporary applications in fashion, decorations and interiors.

For years, Ong has engaged various ethnic groups in his work, working closely with the Ibans, the Bidayuhs, the Lun Bawangs, the Kelabits, the Penans, the Chinese, the Malays, the Orang Ulu and the Melanaus and utilising each community’s unique crafts such as ‘ikat’ weavings, basketry, pottery, terracotta ceramics, batik, beadworks, and wood-carving.

This clean-cut dress is made avant-garde with embellishments of tree-bark cloth and beads accessories.

Today, the EO label focuses on eco-textiles crafted from natural fibres like silk and cotton, utilising natural dyes inspired by the designs and motifs of Malaysian and Sarawakian ethnicities.

Ong’s dedication to reviving the ‘ikat’-weaving textiles of the Iban folks is well-known, and he also incorporates the motifs of the Orang Ulu people in hand-printed and painted textiles exclusively using natural dyes.

These creations are transformed into an exquisite collection of hand-printed and painted scarves, stoles and clothing options for both men and women.

The colours of his fabrics are derived from the earth, offering natural tones reminiscent of the rainforest. Each piece is meticulously handmade, from the batik block-printed designs to the handcrafted tree-bark cloth and rattan buttons sourced from the Borneo jungles.

Ong’s exceptional talents and dedication to preserving traditional crafts and promoting sustainability have made him a prominent figure in the fashion and arts industry.

His creations not only embody the rich heritage of Malaysia, but also showcase the beauty and elegance of eco-friendly fashion.