GEORGE TOWN: On his first day of work as prime minister, Anwar Ibrahim’s choice of footwear got tongues wagging: a pair of traditional Malay sandals known as “capal”.
Anwar may have been criticised for going against expectations, but for capal maker Badril Shahidan Hashim, it was a big boost for Malay culture.
“He brought capal-wearing culture back into the mainstream,” the 41-year-old tells FMT. “What’s more, the capal he wore on his first day were likely made by my late father.”
Badril runs Capal Jago, a store in Kepala Batas, Penang, which he took over from his dad Hashim Hassan 20 years ago. The brand is known for its handmade sandals, which are especially popular during Hari Raya and other festive seasons.
Entering his shop is like stepping back in time. A larger-than-life capal – the word derived from the Hindi word “chappal”, meaning “slipper” – hangs at the entrance. The walls are lined with wooden shelves, where stacks of leather and tools are neatly arranged.
In the centre of the space, Badril sits on a low chair, his eyes intently focused on the leather strap he is shaping.
As Badril works, he tells the story of how he learnt the craft from his late father, who first set up shop in 1948 near the Magazine Circus in George Town, having picked up shoemaking skills from a Minang native.
Ten years later, Hashim moved away from the island to the present shop on Jalan Perak. At the time, customs only allowed 20kg in parcels to be shipped off the island at the height of its free-port status; Hashim moved to the mainland to spare his business from having to deal with this limit.
Hashim passed away in 2008 at age 81, leaving his sons Badril and Amrul to take over. Amrul opted out.
Badril’s capal are typically made out of cowhide, goat and buffalo leather from Australia and India. He is touted to be one of the rare few that continues to make them by hand, at a time when most are assembled in factories.
His process is a meticulous one, involving a series of steps he has perfected over the course of his career.
First, he selects the leather for the soles, choosing the highest-quality pieces from his stockpile. Using a sharp knife, he then cuts it into the desired shape.
Next, he marks a pucuk rebung motif on the sole with an anvil before selecting the leather for the toe straps, which hold the capal to the feet.
He carefully measures and cuts each strap to ensure they are the perfect length and width, saying: “Getting the toe straps done is an art no factory can follow. Each person has their own custom design.”
With the materials prepared, Badril stitches the straps to the soles. He uses a needle and thread to create a tight, secure bond between the two pieces of leather, his skilled hands moving quickly and deftly.
As the sandals take shape, his focus intensifies. He inspects each stitch, making sure it is even and strong. He trims away excess leather and sands the edges so they are smooth.
Finally, he adds the finishing touches and gives the footwear a polish for extra shine. He places them on a rack with the contact number of the person who had ordered it.
The Raya period has pushed Badril on overdrive: during Ramadan, he worked two shifts daily from 12pm to 7pm, and 11pm to 6am.
Each pair takes an average of 10 days to complete, although with the number of simultaneous orders he has to fulfil at this time, it can take him up to four weeks to finish a pair.
Currently, he is rushing through 1,000 orders from all over the country, comprising two designs – the “Bendahara”, priced at RM150 a pair, and the “Diraja” at RM480. The more expensive version consists of 11 layers of leather all in all.
A ready stock of Bendahara often flies off the shelves daily. Badril also makes bespoke sandals for women and children.
His customers sing praises, with city council staffer Faidrol Radzi, 40, telling FMT he has bought three pairs since 2004, and all of them are still solid.
Giat Mara lecturer Azli Ariffin, 49, has placed his order for his fourth pair, saying only Badril’s capal can complement his baju Melayu and tanjak look.
“I don’t want any other shoes this Raya. If you give me a designer brand, a RM400 shoe, I will say no. I will only want capal, it is the best.”
And padi farmer Amran Hashim, 50, says he has bought many pairs over the years, all of them comfortable.
Badril modestly reveals he has made sandals for the likes of former Melaka chief minister Ali Rustam, and ex-Penang governor Rahman Abbas.
Then there’s Anwar, himself an existing Capal Jago customer – “we have his feet measurements and outline template” – which prompted Badril’s earlier speculation about the prime minister’s footwear.
As for the future, Badril hopes to expand the business and train new people, but only when he has enough funds to do so. For now, he is content.
Finishing the final pair of sandals for the day, he sets them aside with pride. “I am keeping our family tradition alive,” he concludes, “and I will continue to do so for as long as I am able.”
Capal Jago Kepala Batas
741, Jalan Perak
13200 Kepala Batas, Penang