It all started when Wahidah Mustafa was five years old. She has a great passion for crafts, especially sewing. In elementary school, she started making pencil cases and sold them to classmates on request. As her skills developed, she made shoulder bags and clutches for friends in college. Although she had a small business during her studies, the idea of starting a formal business did not cross her mind.
“My friends encouraged me to start my own business and I thought I should give it a try. I didn’t have a strong business background or knowledge, so it was definitely a learning experience at first. After having made the necessary plans to start her brand, she wanted a unique product that would suit a niche in the market “I needed to think of something that was not already on the market, or at least, a little different so that it could have an impact on my business.”
While researching, she came across unused scraps of songket textiles at home. She tried to make a pouch using the material and listed it on Carousell, a platform for selling and buying new and used goods. The customer who purchased the item requested more bags. “The buyer told me that many Malaysians are looking for handmade songket bags,” says Wahidah.
After receiving welcome feedback, she opted for pouches and bags made of songket — a shimmering hand-woven fabric with intricate patterns of gold or silver threads — for her brand’s products. “I chose to work with songket because many people love the material for its traditional and classic design, which makes it unique and sophisticated.”
After being certain of what to sell, Wahidah started taking online courses to gain a better understanding of e-commerce, in addition to taking bag-making courses. She has also started looking for suppliers to source the necessary materials – most of the fabrics she gets are from Pakistan and India as they are more reasonably priced.
Launched in 2018, weezhandmade.mon – a name playfully invented with a friend – is well received by songket lovers. The brand has customers from neighboring countries such as Singapore, Brunei, Indonesia and even beyond as Malaysians who live abroad also support the local business. “Customers really like the clutches over other items. Sometimes they buy them as gifts for their loved ones.
Wahidah manufactures clutches, bracelets, wallets, purses, crossbody bags and crossbody bags in various sizes and shapes to provide customers with a variety of options. She also accepts custom orders. “I usually list inventory ready to sell at the end of each month. I also do custom bags for those who want something different from what I have. They can provide me with samples and I’ll see if I can accommodate. at their request.
According to Wahidah, the design process isn’t the most difficult. “Making bags is my passion. Even when I wasn’t selling them, I made them myself. I usually imagine what the final product would look like and try to draw the design. It’s definitely a trial and error process because sometimes it works, other times it doesn’t. From time to time, the bag makers I know on Facebook around the world would sell their patterns and I would buy them. With their permission, I use the patterns to make my bags.
One woman show, Wahidah does everything herself, while working full time as a lecturer in a private institution. She spends most of her weekends managing the business. Each piece takes about six hours to complete, from designing and cutting the fabric to stitching and sewing. “If I work from early morning until late evening, I can make up to eight broods. For framed bags, I can only produce two per day. So it takes a lot of time and I can’t do them in bulk. This is why pre-orders can only be made between three and four weeks.
Wahidah will first sew the fabric using a machine before moving on to hand stitching to finish the edges. “Songket fabric can be tricky to work with because the threads and texture are fragile. I am very demanding on the quality of my products. I have to be careful and make sure I sew them perfectly so as not to disturb my customers. She finds the larger bags more difficult to make because they are not the usual designs she is used to.
When the pandemic hit, Wahidah was not spared its impact. She lost her job and had to rely on weezhandmade.my to support her. Unfortunately, as a small business, the brand faced a rapid decline in sales and had to come up with new products to attract more customers. “The market seems to have recovered and my business is doing much better now.”
Having studied tourism, she dreams of collaborating with the Ministry of Tourism of Malaysia to highlight our culture. “I want people to know that the songket is our traditional heritage and can be worn not only as wedding attire but also as an everyday accessory,” says Wahidah, who is already planning to expand her line of products to men’s accessories, which include ties and shoes.
This article was first published on February 21, 2022 in The Edge Malaysia.