Buying traditional Malay clothes for Raya – tailor or online?

Tailor Zainul Arifin Shamsuddin continues his family business of 120 years.

PETALING JAYA: Part of the excitement of Hari Raya is everyone gets to wear their brand new traditional Malay clothes.

Until not so long ago, this meant major family shopping expeditions to find the perfect baju kurung and baju Melayu.

But these days a growing number of people prefer to shop in the comfort of their own home, ordering from growing numbers of online boutiques and having their new clothes delivered right to their doorstep almost immediately.

So how is this affecting traditional tailors? Is business still booming or are they just hanging on by a thread?

Zainul Arifin Shamsuddin is a traditional tailor. His family opened Maroz Tailoring in the Masjid India area of Kuala Lumpur, nearly 120 years ago. He has been running the business himself for 35 years.

“Families have stayed loyal to us for generations,” he told FMT.

However, he admits that online shopping and the rising cost of living have cut into demand for made-to-measure Malay traditional wear.

“But there is still a steady market for tailor-made Malay clothing,” he said.

“People know you will never get the same quality online as something that is made to measure for you. We get customers coming in complaining about the poor quality of clothes they bought online.”

Although remaining traditional, Maroz Tailoring is not being left behind. It has several promotional videos on YouTube and even its own website.

It has not cast aside the traditional bricks and mortar business but has also become a modern clicks and mortar one.

Always looking for innovations, two years ago, influenced by online competition Zainul started a home tailoring service. He hopes this will be the ace up his sleeve.

“Nowadays people have groceries delivered to their doorstep. We thought we could do the same for tailored clothing.

A specially trained team visits customers at home to discuss designs and take measurements. “I still do it myself for our regular customers.”

Jenny Miow, 60, an alterations expert agreed.

“I started sewing to support my family. I found my niche in doing alterations. Today, I can make any kind of ethnic traditional clothing for any occasion. I’m anticipating a busy week ahead as Hari Raya draws closer,” she said.

Jenny Miow can make any kind of ethnic traditional clothing for any occasion, and is kept busy throughout the Hari Raya shopping season.

Miow said online sales complement rather than compete with her business because a lot of customers who bought clothes online come to her for alterations.

“I get many customers who come in and complain that what they saw online was different to what they received. That’s where I come in, altering off-the-rack clothes to fit the individual.”

She added there is still a strong demand for custom-made clothing which enables people to stand out and make an impression. She can alter off-the-rack clothing to make them less cookie-cutter and more individual.

“If you buy ready-made, the chances of you bumping into someone with the exact same piece of clothing is very high. Unique styling is something that people appreciate about tailor-made clothing,” she said.

How do customers feel? FMT canvassed opinions.

Avid online shopper Nuramalina Yaakob said one of the reasons why Malay traditional wear is popular online is because it caters to impatient consumers.

“Everybody wants everything done fast these days, including me. I love shopping online because it just takes a few clicks. There are risks, of course but to me it’s worth it.”

Fadzil Mohd said he buys clothes online and sometimes ends up with the wrong size, wrong colour or wrong design.

“Buying online is cheap, but there’s nobody to blame if something goes wrong and it will be difficult to get a refund.”

“But I’m willing to take the risk. I can buy many more designs for the same cost as just one tailor-made design,” he said.

Nurain Daud is plus size, and she prefers to buy her traditional wear online.

“There are more options for plus-size people online now. Tailor-made is of course the best but it’s just too expensive. I used to buy made-to-measure baju kurung, but now I buy online and spend much less,” she said.

Din Rosli said online boutiques are great, especially when kitting out his children for the celebrations. “The kids are less fussy than us and buying online has saved us a lot.”

But he admits that he likes his own clothes to be of high quality. “I’m a bit fussy and so I still prefer to get my clothes custom-made, especially for Hari Raya. The fit is just better.”

So although there is no one-size-fits-all solution, Din’s approach may suit many people: buy online for the kids and the less fussy, but get your own unique fashion statement professionally made by your local tailor.

That way kids, parents, and online merchants will all be happy.

And traditional tailors will stay in business for at least one more Raya.