It all began as early as when Wahidah Mustafa was five years old. She has a great passion for crafts, especially sewing. In primary school, she started making pencil cases and sold them to schoolmates upon request. As her skills developed, she made sling bags and clutches for friends in university. Although she had a small business going on while studying, it did not cross her mind to establish a formal enterprise.
“My friends encouraged me to start my own business and I thought I should give it a try. I didn’t have a solid background or knowledge in business, so it was definitely a learning experience in the beginning.” After she made the necessary plans to start her brand, she wanted a unique product that would fit a niche in the market. “I needed to think of something that was not already in the market, or at least, a little different so it could have an impact on my business.”
While doing some research, she stumbled upon unused leftover songket textile at home. She tried making a clutch using the material and listed it on Carousell, a platform for selling and buying new and secondhand goods. The customer who bought the item requested for more bags. “The buyer told me many Malaysians are looking for handmade songket bags,” says Wahidah.
Upon receiving the welcomed feedback, she decided on clutches and bags made of songket — a shimmering handwoven fabric intricately patterned with gold or silver threads — for her brand’s products. “I chose to work with songket because a lot of people love the material for its traditional and classic design, which makes it unique and sophisticated.”
After she was certain of what to sell, Wahidah started taking online classes to acquire a better understanding of online business, besides attending bag making courses. She also began looking for suppliers to source the materials needed — most of the fabrics she gets are from Pakistan and India because they are more reasonably priced.
Launched in 2018, weezhandmade.my — a name playfully made up with a friend — is well-received by songket lovers. The brand has clients from neighbouring countries such as Singapore, Brunei, Indonesia and even beyond, as Malaysians who live abroad also support the homegrown enterprise. “Customers really like the clutches compared with the other items. Sometimes, they buy them as gifts for loved ones.”
Wahidah makes clutches, wristlets, wallets, handbags, shoulder bags and sling bags in different sizes and shapes to offer customers a variety of options. She also accepts customised orders. “I usually list ready stocks for sale at the end of every month. I also make customised bags for those who want something different from what I have. They can provide me with samples and I will see whether I can fulfil their request.”
According to Wahidah, the design process is not the hardest. “Bag making is my passion. Even when I was not selling them, I would make them for myself. I usually imagine what the end product would look like and try to draw the pattern. It is certainly a trial-and-error process because sometimes it works, other times, it doesn’t. Every now and then, bag makers I know on Facebook from around the world would sell their patterns and I would buy them. With their permission, I use the patterns to make my bags.”
A one-woman show, Wahidah does everything herself, while working a full-time job as a lecturer in a private institution. She spends most of her weekends managing the business. Each piece takes about six hours to finish, from designing and fabric cutting to sewing and stitching. “If I work from early morning till late night, I can make up to eight clutches. For framed bags, I can only produce two in a day. So it is really time-consuming and I cannot make them in bulk. That is why pre-orders can only be completed between three and four weeks.”
Wahidah will first sew the fabric using a machine before switching to hand stitches to finish the edges. “Songket fabric can be tricky to work with because the threads and texture are fragile. I am really particular about the quality of my products. I have to be careful and make sure I stitch them to perfection so I don’t upset my customers.” She finds the bigger bags harder to make because they are not the regular designs she is accustomed to.
When the pandemic hit, Wahidah was not spared from its impact. She lost her job and had to rely on weezhandmade.my to sustain herself. Unfortunately, as a small business, the brand faced a rapid drop in sales and she had to come up with new products to engage more customers. “The market seems to have recovered and my business is in a much better place now.”
As someone who studied tourism, she dreams of collaborating with the Ministry of Tourism Malaysia to put a spotlight on our culture. “I want people to know that songket is our traditional heritage and it can be worn not just as a wedding attire, but also used in everyday accessories,” says Wahidah, who is already planning to expand her range of products to men’s accessories, which include ties and shoes.
This article first appeared on Feb 21, 2022 in The Edge Malaysia.