Monday, July 22, 2013

Prospects for traditional wear still shine bright despite rising preference for tees and jeans

Of skills and patienc e: Workmanship for intricate cheongsams can cost me RM100 a day.
Of skills and patienc e: Workmanship for intricate cheongsams can cost me RM100 a day.
Whoever says traditional wear is only popular with the older set, should pay Kong Yoon Yoon, director and chief designer of Emerald Brilliant, a visit.
Captain of a six-branch cheongsam boutique, Kong may be 64 this year but the girls who don her outfits are half her age. Making a very sexy splash this year alone is the parading of some 100 pieces of Kong’s creations at the Miss Qipao and Miss Malaysia Kebaya pageants, where she has been wardrobe sponsor for two years. Her coterie of followers includes Leng Yein, an entrepreneur and model famed for her bombshell looks.
It all began when a customer stole nine pieces of her cheongsam put up for display 40 years ago.
“She was a rich lady who drove a BMW. Story has it that she became mentally unbalanced when her fiancee went overseas. This lady came in one day with some nasi lemak for my seamstresses and while they were distracted, she made off with my cheongsam. She confessed later, explaining the inability to resist because the dresses were so beautiful,” recalls Kong.


Brilliant and beautiful-Sticking to her roots has paid off for Kong (in shocking pink) and her youngest son, Ryan Sim (2nd from left).
Brilliant and beautiful: Sticking to her roots has paid off for Kong (in shocking pink) and her youngest son, Ryan Sim (second from left).


Instead of taking the episode negatively, Kong decided to go into making cheongsam full time, making custom-made orders her main income churner.
“It is not unusual for us to make RM10,000 from the sale of six to seven long gowns when you factor in the embroidery and sequin work. But costs can be higher too as some requirements may take a month to complete. In such cases, workmanship alone can cost me RM100 a day,” Kong said.
When it comes to fashion, it pays to stick to one’s roots. Today, 40 seamstresses work fulltime to churn out 30 pieces a day for Kong’s outlets.
Last year, sales reportedly touched RM2.1mil and the inventory in each outlet is kept at a par of RM50,000.
When it comes to tradition, one does not necessarily need to be an old-timer to get ahead.


By this Ramadhan, Sofia Iman will have 10 outlets spread out in Klang Valley. Each store will hold RM 1 million in product inventory.
Getting ready: Sofia Iman will soon have 10 outlets spread out in the Klang Valley, with each store costing up to RM1mil to renovate and stock.


Sofia Iman, which offers traditional songket and baju Melayu, is only 10 years old. Their first order, recalled founder Faralina Abdul Wahab, 37, was only 30 pieces worth RM30,000. This Ramadan, production is expected to reach 5,000 pieces of baju Melayu with an offering of 3,000 songket designs for the sampin. Annual turnover for 2012 was RM1.2mil and this year, they are targetting to hit the RM2.5mil mark.
Topping this up is the opening of 10 outlets in Bangsar, Subang Jaya, Ampang, Bandar Utama and Shah Alam.
Each outlet will cost Faralina close to RM1mil to stock and renovate. thThis move is expected to increase yearly sales by 30% to 40%.
Faralina explained that the market for traditional wear was evergreen.
“The baju Melayu and sampin are engrained in our culture. Occasions like the weekly Friday prayers, kenduri and weddings call for traditional wear. What one needs is a good marketing strategy,” Faralina said.
At Sofia Iman, sales are targetted at the middle income group and a peek into their client list reveals appointments with Malaysia Airports, Istana Negara and Maybank, among many others.
Prices may range from RM380 per set and up to RM20,000 to RM30,000 for 2.5 meters of the more exclusive, high-end songket designs.
Ultimately, quality and service will separate the wheat from the chaff.
At Sofia Iman, staff are given motivational talks and trained to understand the company’s philosophies on selling approaches, a one month process. In a landscape which puts them neck-and-neck with no less than 10 competitors, the winning edge will ultimately rely on providing clients with the ‘feel good’ experience.
Over at the Emerald Brilliant headquarters, though there is a big sign in her shop that says goods sold are not returnable, this will soon change.
“In our store, we have a policy — Every customer who wears our cheongsam should elicit a lot of oohs and aahs. This, in a way, is also word-of-mouth advertising for us. If the dress does not fit, the customer will keep our cheongsam hidden in her wardrobe. If this is the case, how is she going to do word-of-mouth advertising for us?” Kong asked.
Bringing modern elements to old school designs is another factor.
Kong is one who has given this plenty of thought.
“I have more than 1,000 designs in my shop at any one time so customers will always find something they like,” she said.
Her main concern now is in improving the sizing system for a better fit.
“Currently, we only have five standard sizes, carrying a difference of 2 inches between each size. By expanding the range to 10 sizes, we’ll be able to give our customers a better fit. This will come in use when we start operations in KLIA2, where there will be little time for alterations,” said Kong.
At Sofia Iman, colours are in the brightest hues. Neon greens, shocking pinks and bright orange shades are added into songket weaves, marrying the latest technology in Japanese thread and the expert weavers from the Losong village in Terengganu. At one go, a shopping bill for the purchase of thread easily touches RM50,000.
The hard part is dealing with the eccentric nature of the weavers.
“The weavers are very true to their craft and they refuse to be hurried.
“One piece can take up to four months as some of them are also silat teachers and housewives who have the tendency to leave their work to do other household chores. So you must be very patient with them. Of course, there are the speedy ones but their results are not as good,” Faralina said.
Prospects in traditional wear are equally bright for heirs and sales staff.
Kong revealed how she got her youngest son, Ryan Sim, 28, who is now marketing director interested in her business — by playing the numbers game.
“I knew if I only had one shop bringing in a revenue of only RM10,000 a month, it would not sound lucrative to him at all. So, 10 years ago, I decided to expand.
“The logic was if one shop could bring in RM10,000, then having six shops would multiply our revenue sixfold.
“That was how I got him to come in — by showing him how bright prospects can be for my cheongsam business,” smiled Kong.
Kong’s expansion plans are still ongoing as she is confident of a growing market. Her latest include the soon-to-be-opened KLIA2 in Sepang where she is seeking investors to pump in some RM300,000 as start-up capital.
Over at Sofia Iman, Faralina reveals commissions for the four members of their management team will easily touch RM30,000 each, in line with a compensation tier that includes giving individuals in management level up to 1.7% share in the company’s stakes.
Bonuses are calculated weekly based on overall sales by the team of 48 employees.

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