Wesley Juntan, also known as Wesley Hilton, was recently recognised by the Ministry of Tourism, Arts, and Culture (MOTAC) for his dazzling Bornean-inspired Barbie dolls
In a Facebook post on 8 July, Tourism Minister Datuk Sri Hajah Nancy Haji Shukri wrote, "What Wesley created has given me the idea to turn his handiwork into new tourism products based on arts and culture."
A report by Bernama also revealed that MOTAC is hoping to connect talented artists, such as Wesley, with the Malaysian Handicraft Development Corporation in order to expand their product range.
The Sibu native first began making the Bornean-inspired dolls during the Movement Control Order (MCO) in celebration of Gawai Dayak
Unable to go back to Sarawak in time for Gawai Dayak, Wesley told SAYS that he and his housemate decided to work on their first customised traditional dress to bring some of that celebration spirit into their own home.
The festival is celebrated annually by the Dayak people of Sarawak, Malaysia and West Kalimantan, Indonesia on 1 and 2 June each year.
After receiving an overwhelming positive response on social media, Wesley decided to continue designing miniature versions of the many traditional Bornean outfits
He even received requests for purchase! Each doll costs between RM350 and RM650, and typically sells out the moment they are released.
However, the price is completely reflective of Wesley's effort as he spends up to three days completing one detailed look
Speaking to SAYS, Wesley explained why he is extremely dedicated to handcrafting each doll with such attention to detail.
"I've told myself… it has to be as close to the real ones as possible. This is important because the accessories play a part in creating the ethnic or cultural identity for each costume," he said.
Wesley recounted how he would spend hours in craft stores looking for the most suitable materials.
Recently, he auctioned off an Orang Ulu inspired doll to raise funds for the rebuilding of the Long Sela'an longhouse that burned down in June.
The dolls themselves are actually the product of much tinkering and experimentation
This was the case for his latest creation of an Iban lady from Batang Rajang, which required beading skills Wesley was unfamiliar with.
Even so, the final product is strikingly beautiful - from the doll's Dujung Marik headdress right down to the delicately beaded Baju Ujan dress.
Long before customising outfits for dolls, Wesley spent his downtime designing dresses for women
He revealed that his sewing skills have proved to be very helpful in making the miniature dresses.
Wesley first dabbled into dressmaking for Barbie dolls in 2017 when he recreated the signature baju kebaya worn by Malaysia Airlines (MAS) flight attendants.
Wesley, who is actually a flight attendant for MAS, hopes to showcase his dolls for people across the world to see
The flight attendant was honoured that the Tourism Minister had recognised his work in preserving Bornean culture and heritage.
He hopes to raise awareness about our country's rich culture saying, "It would be my pleasure to share our beautiful Malaysia to the rest of the world."
In the past, fashion designers have shown off our rich culture by incorporating elements of it into Miss Universe Malaysia's costumes: