Unique rattan face mask by the Penans

Tanoti Pic

By Emma Victoria

FASHION designers, brands and apparel manufacturers have turned face mask into something trendy as it has become a necessity as the world continues to fight against the Covid-19 pandemic.

A social enterprise in Sarawak has also got creative by producing face mask using rattan.

Tanoti Sdn Bhd director Jacqueline Fong said the three-ply face mask consists of a rattan ply, interface ply and a cotton pocket to be inserted with any filter.

“The project was an extension of our personal protective equipment (PPE) project for health workers and frontliners.

After that, we decided to do research and development (R&D) on rattan to see whether we can actually use rattan to make a face mask,” she told New Sarawak Tribune recently.

Fong said the rattan pieces were hand plaited by the Penan women while the elastic string ties and ear loops were sewn by the volunteers who made the PPE.

The social enterprise has been helping the Penan in Sarawak by encouraging their skilled women to weave rattan products since 2014.

They helped to promote the products to the world market while the profits from the sales went back to the Penan.

“We have worked with the Penan in Kubaan-Puak region of Ulu Tutoh and have reached out to 18 villages. However, it was very difficult for us to help them financially since the country imposed MCO and the Covid-19 pandemic has also affected us.”

“We found it hard to do retail sales but we knew that by making rattan masks, we would be able to help them,” she said.

Rattan is one of the most durable jungle products found in Borneo. It grows in the jungle for 15 to 20 years before it can be harvested. The rattan mask is unique and definitely safe to use as they are made of natural materials.

“We can do a lot of things with rattan. It is a sustainable material which can withstand any kind of weather. That is why we can put the rattan mask in hot water and wash it with detergent daily before and after use.”

The rattan masks are available in three sizes — small, medium and large.

They come in two colours — natural glossy beige rattan and dark which is achieved by using natural forest leaves.

For the finishing touches, the elastic ear loops and string ties come in various colours including maroon, green, blue, brown and black.

Fong said since she started promoting the rattan masks last week, she had already received more than 20 orders from the United Kingdom.

“I will be going back to the villages on July 6 to meet the Penan, to source for more rattan material. Hopefully we can have good sales and bring more money back to them.

Each piece purchased will be packed in a sealed packet. The weaver’s name will also be included in the packaging, which makes it very special,” she said.