A real fantastic article from New Straits Times
The founder of one of the first Muslimah clothing brands in the country talks to Lili Lajman about being an early player in the business
WHILE there are lots of options for jubah and tudung today, it has not always been so. Two decades ago, they did not come in much choice or style.
One of the trailblazing companies in local Muslimah fashion industry is Munawwarah, started in 1992 by Datuk Tuan Hasnah Tuan Yusoff.
A family business built from scratch, the company has grown from strength to strength and, even with the influx of traders selling Muslim clothing, Munawwarah still holds its own.
“It has been a journey of 23 years for me and my family. We built the business together — we grew together and enjoyed our success and suffered without money together,” she says at an interview in its store in Taman Tun Dr Ismail, KL.
“We were the first boutique specialising in Muslimah wear then. The rest of the traders were just selling haj and Muslimah clothes on the side, alongside their other regular clothing,” she says.
From Kota Baru, Kelantan, Hasnah says she has been a “fan of fashion since young”.
Previously a government servant, she says fashion had always been a part of her, like a hobby. She learnt design at a polytechnic in Wellington, New Zealand, when she followed her husband who was posted there.
“Before that, I also picked up some fashion skills from Malays, Chinese and the Japanese,” she says.
At 43, she started Munawwarah as a home business before moving into a shoplot in Taman Tun Dr Ismail.
“I am now 65, past the age of retirement!” she says. “This legacy will go to my daughter Haslina Mohd Ali. She has been with me in this business for a long time. She joined me two years after I started and I have trained her to take on the business.”
GENERATION TO GENERATION
Haslina is now Munawwarah director of marketing and corporate communications.
“My children know that once I do something, I do it seriously. I am passionate about this legacy,” says Hasnah.
“Haslina is now in her 40s, and it is her time to lead. She also has five daughters and she is getting the eldest involved in the business too. The business development and the transfer between generations is organic.”
Hasnah shares a close relationship with her children, evident from the way she interacts with those who are present in the boutique during this interview.
“Our concept is easy. Our designs are special. We find the right materials and fabrics and we make the right cut. When I do an elaborate cutting, I do not cut cost by manipulating the fabric and using less of it. Quality is important,” she says.
The trick in choosing the best fabric is by rubbing it against your cheek. If you feel warm or itchy after a few minutes, the fabric should not be used.
“I only use materials ‘compatible’ with my cheek. I started using lycra 15 years ago, when it wasn’t popular yet in the country. I am so aware of the characteristics of lycra by now,” she says, adding that for lycra, the right cut is very important since the clothing needs to cover the aurah and must be syariah-compliant.
“If you skimp on fabrics, the clothes will stick to your skin and become figure-hugging. For the recent Raya collection for example, we used a lot of lycra because we know that people who go back to their kampung don’t want to worry about having to iron their clothes,” she says. “We only produce simple designs and in limited quantities but the response from customers has been very encouraging.”
Hasnah travels to London twice yearly to get inspiration for her designs. The growth of ideas, she says, is on-going.
“I observe people, what they wear and the fashion trends there. I will then bring the suitable trends and ideas back and tailor them to suit local needs,” she says.
“I observe human nature — what do people want? And I will introduce designs for that.”
At one point, Laura Ashley’s English country designs inspired her.
The Munawwarah tudung was designed 12 years ago for Tuanku Nur Zahirah. “She wears the design, even today,” says Hasnah.
“Business soared when Tuanku Nur Zahirah became Raja Permaisuri Agong and wore our designs. Our customers include royalty and political leaders and customers from countries such as Brunei, Indonesia, Singapore, Dubai, England and South Africa.”
EGGS IN A BASKET
Hasnah put her own capital as investment when she first started.
“I did approach banks for financing initially, but they did not have any confidence and wanted collateral. So I told myself, never mind and promised myself I will prove that I can make it with my own money. We managed to start the business anyway, and continuously roll our own income to fund the business. I am proud that it is all my own sweat and blood,” she says.
“Always do something that’s your own idea. Try to be original. It will be more fulfilling that way.”
She knows that with anything worth its value, imitation is inevitable.
“People can try to copy the Munawwarah design — and we have seen this happening too many times. But I tell my children, it’s okay, while they can have the body, they can never have the soul of Munawwarah.”
“ONE of the people I look up to is the late Azah Aziz for her tireless efforts in elevating the status of the baju kurung. I am so proud that she did that. We must preserve our identity — if not, we are lost. We need to admire and love our clothes and our fashion.”— Tuan Hasnah Tuan Yusoff
MUNAWWARAH outlets are at 31 & 33 Jalan Tun Mohd Fuad 3 (03-7727 0244) and 14-16 Persiaran Zaaba (03-7726 7244), both in Taman Tun Dr Ismail, KL.
Trailblazer of Muslim fashion
• Munawwarah is founded by Datuk Tuan Hasnah Tuan Yusoff in 1992 in Taman Tun Dr Ismail, KL.
• A pioneer in Muslim lifestyle apparel, its products range from women’s wear to menswear, haj and umrah apparel and accessories.
• It also specialises in consultation and support for Muslim lifestyle and Muslim wear including consultation on image and fashion, haj and umrah wear, tudung and hijab styling and fundamentals of daily Islamic fashion.
• The Munawwarah men’s collection includes shirt, baju Melayu and jubah.
• Sporting bold and vibrant colours, Munawwarah Kids offers baju kurung or baju Melayu, dresses and mini jubah. Sizes are available from two years old and above.
• The brand has also extended its business to homeware products like kitchenware, rugs and vases and even wedding gifts.
• Take off your shoes before entering its outlets for a comfortable shopping experience and a sense of homeliness.
• The company engages women and single mothers from Temerloh, Pahang to sew its clothes.