Telekung Siti Khadijah aims to uphold the Muslim lifestyle across the globe with the attire, writes Nadia Badarudin
ALL-white and plain: that’s the standard telekung, the prayer garment unique to Muslim women in the Malay archipelago.
The telekung has two pieces — a loose knee-length top plus a sarong — and is meant to cover the woman’s entire body, except for face and palms when she performs prayers.
The telekung is culturally identified with Muslim women in this part of the world especially in Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Brunei, Thailand and Vietnam, and treated as spare clothing to cover up during prayers.
As for women in Saudi Arabia, Iran, Afghanistan or Europe, the telekung seems unnecessary because their daily wear covers their entire body and can be can be described as “prayer-ready”.
Arab women, for instance, cover their body from top to toe in a burqa or a jubah complete with a face veil or niqab that leaves just the eyes uncovered when in public.
Muslimah in India, Pakistan and Iran wear the chador namaz, a cloak-style piece with no hand openings, which is tossed over the wearer’s head when they ready themselves for prayers, with the front held close or tucked under the arm.
Today, the telekung goes beyond all-white and plain.
Spurred by the Internet evolution, selling the prayer garment has become a lucrative business, with more entrepreneurs offering fashionable and pricey alternatives that range from coloured or fully printed telekung and groovy-looking tie-dye pieces to premium items with intricate embroideries, embellishments or studded with Swarovski crystals.
In Indonesia, where the telekung is called mukena, it is popular for such features, turning it into red carpet material.
Apart from cotton, fabric options now include chiffon, satin and even brocade, creatively tailored in a way that does not compromise the function of a telekung.
Telekung Siti Khadijah is a pioneering homegrown brand which has changed consumers’ perception of the telekung and spearheaded the rise of the branded telekung, changing the business into a different ballgame where a premium image, as well as innovative designs coupled with mega marketing strategies matter most.
The company was likely the first to promote the telekung with emotional and thought-provoking messages on billboards in the country.
Since its establishment in 2009, Siti Khadijah has grown by leaps and bounds, with more than 30 stores here. It has successfully penetrated the Indonesian market, with stores in Jakarta and Bandung. It also has an e-commerce platform in London where it first introduced telekung at London Modest Fashion Week in 2017.
It recently celebrated its 10th anniversary and rolled out new apparel collections including a voile tudung with SK monogram and a maroon telekung made of heavy chiffon with satin lining and decorated with Swarovski crystals. The special telekung retails at RM700.
“It’s all about changing the typical perception of telekung. If we can spend a lot to look good, smell good and feel good about ourselves and look presentable, why can’t we do the same when we face our Maker?
“Siti Khadijah works on that premise. My idea is to make the telekung a prayer item that should be valued just like any other daily wear,” says Siti Khadijah founder and designer Padzilah Enda Sulaiman who is from Perak.
Padzilah, in her 50s, started selling telekung from her home in Kajang, Selangor to support her family.
“My children were still small and schooling. I was a housewife. I knew I could put my sewing skills to good use. So, I started selling telekung that I sourced from local suppliers. But finding one where the face area fitted nicely was an issue, with customers always resorting to alterations. That was when I started offering such services to customers.
“However, business was slow to pick up as I had zero knowledge. But that changed when my family suggested I come up with a design that can solve the common face-fit issue and put a brand name to my telekung. The self-taught tailor is mother to six boys — Mohammad Muzammil Aminuddin, Mohammad Munzir, Mohammad Muhaimin, Mohammad Mukhlis, Mohammad Musyrif and Mohammad Muddathir.
With a brand named after the wife of Prophet Muhammad, Siti Khadijah, the company also produces various apparels for the comfort of Haj pilgrims such as veils, hand socks, jubah and accessories during pilgrimages.
Telekung Siti Khadijah is known for its innovative and patented face feature which is sewn with a lining on the forehead that will nicely fit any face shape and size. The feature is made of stretchable material which makes it comfortable to wear to pray.
The innovation, the first of its kind, is made possible through the use of quality materials including cotton and spun polyester and a well-thought research and design process by Padzilah and her team at the production plant in Bandar Baru Bangi, Selangor.
The innovation has made Siti Khadijah a target among counterfeiters.
“We value the hard work that is put into developing our telekung by our employees. That’s why our brand and designs are trademarked and patented under the Intellectual Property Corporation of Malaysia,” says Padzilah, who has numerous awards under her belt, including the prestigious Brand Laureate and Enterprise 50 Women Entrepreneur Award.
Unfortunately, having made the effort to safeguard her brand, Siti Khadijah has been criticised as an opportunist that goes overboard in marketing a generic wear like telekung.
“We have received negative remarks because we turned the telekung into a branded wear. We were also criticised for adding colours and embellishments to our collections. It’s not about the pride of wearing a branded outfit, and my intention can be traced back to my original idea. Such elements and efforts were meant to turn the telekung into a garment which can be cherished by the wearer.
“The colours, for instance, are meant to encourage the interest to pray. It’s not about attracting other people’s attention while praying. A mother, for instance, will find it easier to encourage her little girl to pray by making her wear a cute, colourful telekung. It’s all about one’s intention when buying the piece,” she says.
SRIKANDI SKILLS COLLEGE
Siti Khadijah is determined to continue its commitment to upgrade the technology and quality of designs and fabrics with sustainable fashion and skilled workforce, comprising only locals.
“Having my husband Aminuddin Md Nasir and four of my children onboard to run the business throughout the years has made the journey more meaningful,” says Padzilah.
“I still can’t believe that the Siti Khadijah brand produces 2,000 telekung a day today compared to only 200 pieces when I started 10 years ago. Thinking of the production issues I faced in the past such as lack of a local workforce with good tailoring skills has inspired me to set up Srikandi Skills College in Shah Alam, Selangor.
“The academy jives well with my vision to strengthen the economy of the society, especially among our own people.
“I wish to see Siti Khadijah upholding the Muslim lifestyle across the globe with a garment as basic as the telekung.”