After almost a decade offering batik pieces, Innai ventures into wedding gowns and evening dresses, writes Syida Lizta Amirul Ihsan
A FASHION brand typically has its business model fashioned from the top, starting with avant-garde pieces that grab both the attention and the budget. The rationale is to seduce the eyes first with design and craft.
Then the clothes are somehow clipped one notch lower with a diffusion line for, say, younger customers who may not yet have the financial might for the avant-garde pieces but still want to be “part of the brand”.
Valentino and Dolce & Gabbana, for example, have Valentino Red and D&G respectively as their ticket to entice the young and trendy.
But Nur Izrin Ismail Zakri, who started the brand Innai nine years ago, is doing the opposite.
She and her mother, Aishah Salleh, started out selling their batik pieces at flea markets but they slowly and steadily gained a following. “We opened in Bandar Utama’s Centrepoint in 2003 and was there for four years before relocating to Plaza Damas and Jalan Ampang’s Great Eastern Mall,” recalls Nur Izrin, 29.
Innai is known for its batik designs. But instead of giving these a contemporary twist, it opted for conservative but with unique touches such as beadwork, floral appliques and stones. The clothes are priced from RM200 to RM1,000.
Now Nur Izrin is looking to expand with Innai Red, a bespoke line which focuses on bridal wear and evening dresses which promise to be “elaborate but not tacky”.
“We won’t do the frou-frou and the frills. It’s clean lines, good silhouette and charming embellishments,” says Juliani Jamal, 25, one of two designers for the new line.
The wedding segment is a big market, says Juliani. “Few women go to a designer to shop for clothes, but they will for the most important day of their life. That’s also why it is hard to design wedding dresses. Brides can be very picky and that’s not easy to deal with.”
Her fellow designer, Arene P. Khairuddin, 29, is unfazed. She enjoys designing wedding and evening gowns. “We use crepe, double georgette and lace. We’d like to think that our dresses are simple and pretty, nothing too flashy.”
A sneak peek at their work a week before the launch showed that they could give well-known designers, who often tag a five-figure price to their wedding dresses, a run for their money.
My favourite is a short peplum top with sarong that has the right balance of structure and femininity. Another short kebaya is matched with a mermaid skirt that is heavily beaded to weigh the fabric down for a slim silhouette.
The price? Between RM2,500 and RM5,000, which is considered affordable by wedding dress standards.
Having Juliani and Arene join the team is how Nur Izrin hopes to assist young fashion talents.
“I hope they can flourish and start their own lines one day. Then I can go on to help another batch of new designers,” she says.
Nur Izrin uses the word “designer” sparingly. “They are,” she says, pointing at Juliani and Arene. “But I’m not. I studied textile and business.”
She adds: “There has to be a balance between the ability to sell and craftsmanship.”
Juliani chips in: “One reason why Christian Lacroix could not sustain his business was his inability to balance craft and commerce, and that is important.”
Though Innai is known for its batik fabric and kaftans, Nur Izrin says demand for the latter is waning.
“Five years ago, kaftan sold like hot cakes. I think people have grown tired of its flowy, shapeless style and gone back to a proper silhouette.
“But the baju kurung has to have beautiful fabric, embroidery and beadwork. The in-your-face kerrawang is not for the young as they prefer something more subtle.”
She thinks the baju kurung will make a big comeback this Hari Raya with younger customers wanting a different silhouette such as the peplum cut. “It’s now about enhancing the waist,” she says.
A graduate of the Royal Melbourne Institute Of Technology, Nur Izrin says she is proud to be able to make batik “younger”.
“More younger people wear batik today. We have customers as young as 4 — the clothes are ordered by their mothers, of course. Before, only those above 40 would wear batik.”
But this doesn't mean the brand is only targeting the young. Innai stocks clothes for those in their 20s up to those in their 40s. “Besides, those above 40 are the ones with the buying power,” says Nur Izrin.
Nur Izrin works closely with Perbadanan Kemajuan Kraftangan Malaysia and the National Trade Promotion Agency (Matrade). She has also taken part in trade shows in Paris.
“I think the best way to get exposure is to work with the agencies because they know the proper channels and have the platforms for new brands to grow. In fact, it was Kraftangan that introduced me to batik artisans in the Klang Valley and the East Coast.
“Batik is a national heritage and to bring it to the world, we can’t do it in isolation. There has to be synergy and co-operation so that the momentum won’t fizzle.”
• Innai sells cotton, silk and crepe kaftans, either plain or beaded and embellished, as well as baju kurung. Sarong is popular, too.
• Innai boutiques are located at Plaza Damas, Sri Hartamas and Great Eastern Mall in Jalan Ampang.
• NuurInnai is a publication house for religious books. It also conducts religious classes.
• Innai Red is a more sophisticated line of wedding dresses and evening gowns.