A home-based venture has made its mark in the sampin songket business, writes Nadia Badarudin
THE journey of traditional costume retailer Sofia Iman is a dream-come-true tale for entrepreneur and mother of five, Faralina Abd Wahab.
Just like most working mothers, Faralina wanted a career that allowed her to spend more time with her children and starting a home-based business seemed like a fair option for her.
With a passion for traditional Malay costume and textile heritage, particularly songket, the 37-year-old quit her job in advertising and established Sofia Iman in 2002. The business specialises in selling custom-made baju Melayu.
While her mornings and afternoons were spent with the kids, Faralina and her husband, Azan Ali, 41, would later spend the rest of the day visiting potential clients in their homes.
Armed with measuring tapes and piles of samples, the couple did their best to recommend the perfect baju Melayu and kain sampin to their customers, mainly VIPs and individuals who were too busy to shop.
Over the years, Faralina’s venture has grown by leaps and bounds. Its signature handmade songket and baju Melayu are the talk of the town, with dignitaries and members of royal families becoming regulars at Sofia Iman’s showroom in Kota Damansara.
Faralina fell in love with songket and its beautiful craftsmanship when she was a student in Terengganu where the weaving tradition is very much alive.
She says the passion has encouraged her to make traditional wear fashionable. Her ultimate aim is for the art to be appreciated by more people, especially the young generation.
Sofia Iman’s kain sampin songket is an exceptional piece of art. Handwoven in silk and cotton, its texture is soft and light, reflecting a masterpiece that can only be done by skilled weavers from the east coast.
Meticulously patterned with gold and silver threads, the shimmering cloth features a variety of interesting designs, ranging from traditional classics like bunga tabur to contemporary ones in various motifs.
Some designs may look complicated, but when paired with the right baju Melayu, the result is simply stunning.
Faralina has hired three designers, aged between 25 and 30 years old, to make the collections more appealing and fashionable to youth.
“It’s not easy to encourage young men to wear baju Melayu complete with sampin songket with pride and confidence. So ideas from these young designers are crucial,” says Faralina, adding that although the designs evolve, the essence of songket remains intact and recognisable.
Her kain sampin songket comes in various lengths (from 2m to 2.5m) and, therefore, can be worn by men of all sizes. The designs can also be customised to suit the clients’ taste.
STICK TO BASICS
Besides songket, Sofia Iman is also known for its classy baju Melayu made from linen, SB line (a synthetic material) as well as a fine quality fabric called Japanese khoshibu.
Styled for comfort and practicality, Sofia Iman’s baju Melayu boasts the traditional cut with the raised cekak musang collar.
“We stick to basics because most of our customers prefer traditional baju Melayu. The old school baju Melayu is good for any occasion, compared to trendy ones,” says Faralina.
This collection comes in a variety of interesting colours, ranging from soft pastels to vivid orange, peach and fuchsia.
To complete the traditional look, Sofia Iman also offers a selection of finely crafted butang baju Melayu presented in an exclusive box.
“Most of our buttons are made from zircon stones and Stellux Swarovski crystals imported from Austria. Each stone is perched on a stainless steel base,” says Faralina.
SELLING ART AND SERVICE
With quality materials and excellent workmanship, it is no surprise that each Sofia Iman’s product comes with a price to match. There is even a songket piece retailed at a whopping RM13,000.
How does Sofia Iman attract customers to spend on its products?
Faralina says: “The key is to convince them that their money is not spent on ordinary materials, but exclusive masterpieces. Songket, in particular, is not ordinary fabric, but timeless art. And buying an art piece is an investment.
“It’s also a way for us to appreciate the hard labour of skilled weavers who try to make ends meet while keeping the heritage alive,” she says.
In addition to good products, Sofia Iman’s ultimate strength is its excellent customer service.
“Our workers are well-trained, and our priority is to make customers feel welcomed and that their money is well-spent,” she says.
FARALINA Abd Wahab says the Sofia Iman label has moved one step further after its “royal breakthrough” recently. In May, the Yang di-Pertuan Agong Tuanku Abdul Halim Mu’adzam Shah, wore one of its lavish songket kain sampin at an official ceremony.
Faralina says: “We were approached by a palace official at a trade fair. We sent 20 songket for Tuanku to choose and he chose five, which was a huge number for us.”
Sofia Iman’s proud moment came when the ceremony was on the news.
“To see His Majesty wearing our creation was indescribable. It made us all proud,” she says.
FARALINA Abd Wahab says a piece of songket can last more than 50 years with proper care. Here are some tips:
• Send the songket for dry-cleaning. Do not hand wash.
• Songket is best kept by hanging it in a plastic cover or laundry bag, or by rolling it.
• Place tracing paper on the songket before folding it. This is to prevent the appearance of permanent creased fold lines.
• Do not spray perfume on songket.
• Try to air-dry the songket once every two months. This is to maintain its shine.
SOFIA Iman is having a Hari Raya Aidilfitri promotion at selected shopping malls in Kuala Lumpur. A special package comprising a set of baju Melayu, buttons and a songket kain sampin sells for as low as RM380. Details at www.sofiaiman.com or call 03-6150 3959.