The story of Baydar & Co is two-fold. The place is fairly known for its beautiful yet practical handicrafts. From shawls to pots Baydar products reflect the daily lives and creativity of people in rural Myanmar. The founder Htoo Thant Sin herself has an inspiring life story.
Born to civil servant parents, Htoo had spent the first 10 years of her life moving from place to place in the country. This humble beginning has a lasting effect on her life. During her stays in Myanmar’s modest communities in the 1990s, she noticed the wide gap in wealth and general standards of living between the rural and urban areas. It became one of the driving forces behind what she is doing right now.
As a teenager, she moved to Singapore for further studies at the goodwill of her uncle. She graduated in 2007 and started her career in human resources at a company there. After working for five years as an HR officer, she moved to a Japanese HR consulting firm in Singapore. She was now a unit head with expertise in organisational development such as training, skill assessment and training need analysis.
She came back to Myanmar in 2016 and helped Japanese companies with human resource management. Then, she started an HR consulting firm Panellist Business Services.
“You know what I first noticed when I started this business? Skill gap. We had two sects: one, the group of expats, repats and experienced talents; another, the group of fresh graduates. The payment gap was very significant too.”
She felt the lack – or the scarcity – of grooming culture for fresh graduates. With this feeling in mind, she initiated a civil society responsibility programme through Panellist. The Employability Development Skills Program targets fresh graduates and junior staff and hones their talents as they climb career ladders.
“We had launched this programme every month in provinces. The attendees were university students and youths. In 2017-18, we held 18 initiations,” she explains.
After listening to feedback, she realised that the programme could help only those who finished their academic training. Many rural youths did not graduate and had to work overseas. So, she had to come up with a plan that can help these youths. And this is how Baydar was born.
“I believe local talents are necessary if we’re to expand local industries. During my visits to provinces, I learnt about local products. What I noticed was each region only produced the products that had been time-tested and already popular with the customers. All the products that come from one region were the same. They had no unique identities. When I enquired about it, the producers said they feared the customers would not appreciate the change. They feared to take risk after all.”
Since most traditional businesses practise a piecework basis, the artisans focus more on quantity rather than quality. Htoo understood she had to produce value-added products if she wanted to market them internationally.
She recalls: “I started with silver- and earthenware, cottons, silks, etc. When I went abroad, I always bought souvenirs. They were aesthetically made and highly valued. I was very fond of cotton clothes and garments are woven by my grandmothers. So, I thought, ‘Why don’t we do something like that?’ The very first challenge was how to make local products internationally marketable. I struggled with limited resources, limited knowledge, etc while trying to manufacture quality products.”
She founded Baydar & Co with one of her friends three years ago. Together they made everything from material sourcing to an e-commerce website possible.
“Why did I choose baydar of all for the company’s name? First, I love this flower. They manage to survive in the harsh weather and adversaries. They always stay afloat and multiply. With this allegory in mind, I want my business and my community to survive come rain or snow and thrive. Like the poems by Sayar Zaw Gyi.”
The celebrated poet, enamoured by the nature of baydar or water hyacinth, wrote a series of poems about it. The poems are passed down by each generation and regarded as a symbol of resilience.
Baydar has three sectors: retail, artisan development programme and workshops. The retail line focuses on interior decorations and corporate gifts. Baydar has both local and foreign customers.
Some of the profits go to the development programme that gives free handicraft training to less fortunate families and women from IDP camps. The workshop is to share knowledge with art enthusiasts and provide crafting kits to the programme graduates. It is a part of their Craft for a Cause campaign.
The 10-day programme teaches three methods. Punch needle enables students to produce tablecloths, tapestries, bags, and so on. Frame loom weaving which involves a small portable loom to weave scarves, blankets, coasters, etc. Decoupage is primarily used to transform simple wares into exquisitely ornamented artworks.
“We teach not only art but business strategies such as creative thinking, price calculation and resource and time management.”
The cotton is locally sourced from Pakkoku, Amarapura and Meiktila. The creative process begins with making a prototype. Time, labour and resource consumption is calculated before marketing it.
Htoo says: “We train our artisans in quality control at every stage of production. When a product is rejected, we explain to them why. Quality control is taught during our programme too.
“Say, we’re going to produce a blanket. It must be hand-woven, cotton, embroidered and dyed with natural products. The whole process takes five to six people. We make sure they are paid reasonably.”
Most artisans are used to working almost 12 hours a day on a piecework basis. Baydar practises eight-hour workdays and so has to adjust the payment to a rate that is not lower than the amount the artisans made on a piecework basis. It is a tricky business since shorter hours also mean less work done.
“It wasn’t easy. We focus on quality not quantity and have to educate our artisans constantly. On the other hand, we want our customers to understand ethical production. We’re not just selling products you know. We’re building a culture of ethics and fair trade.”
Baydar became a cohort member of the Artisan Accelerator Program at the Nest Guild Organisation in 2021. Htoo took a short-term online social entrepreneurship programme by Oxford University in the same year.
“Baydar & Co is a socially responsible business that is doing its bit to help marginalised families and grow the art industry of Myanmar. That summed it up, I believe.”
The showroom is located on 38th Street (lower block) beside Myanmar National Airline Office. Visit their Facebook and website for more info and shopping. Call 09 777 001190 for a showroom appointment.