Every Aidilfitri, it was the same story – Razlan Dawood couldn’t keep his young son, Rheaz (now three-years-old), in his Baju Melayu for long. By mid-morning, the boy would be fussing and pulling at his clothes, a sign he was ready to ditch the traditional outfit for something he could tear around the house in.
Just like that, the kid’s new garment would be put away, never to be worn again.
So, Razlan approached his friends Sue Chan and Renesh Singh, who own a clothing accessories shop that sells contemporary butang Baju Melayu (shirt studs), and asked them to design more comfortable Baju Melayu for boys.
“I implored them to create a line of wearable traditional wear for boys,” says Razlan. “There are so many options for girls, but choices for boys are limited. My parents used to just get us a shirt and pants for Hari Raya, but parents these days want to buy Baju Melayu for their children.”
Chan and Renesh had already been toying with the idea of expanding their business, Zoo For People (www.zooforpeople.com). Razlan’s suggestion spurred them to roll out their first Baju Melayu collection for boys. “When Razlan approached us this year, we decided to go ahead and do it,” says Chan.
Razlan also requested that the clothes be made with materials that didn’t chafe his son’s skin. So, Chan and Renesh took a look at Rheaz’s stack of old Baju Melayu for reference.
In the end, they used 100% cotton for their collection and designed a loose fit to prioritise comfort. To extend the lifespan of the outfit, the pants have cuffs that can be taken down to accommodate growth spurts. The sleeves also have button tabs, so they can be folded up.
Renesh says the challenge was coming up with garments that looked good and addressed problems that parents like Razlan have when dressing their kids in traditional clothes.
“Our Baju Melayu for children is adjustable everywhere – the pants, the sleeves, the sampin. We made sure the tailoring was done well as it makes a difference in the overall look of the outfit,” he says. Renesh also adds that the garments are produced locally.
Zoo For People was founded in 2014, selling handmade accessories like cuff links, tie clips, knitted ties and bracelets for men. Their butang Baju Melayu is the most sought-after item. Their collection is contemporary and playful, different from the traditional gold or rhinestone studs.
“We noticed everyone wears the same classic studs on their Baju Melayu, so we thought we could offer a line that was different. We started with our Lego line and then motifs like ikat, songket, superheroes and geometric designs. Now, we also have studs with stones,” Renesh says.
The brand has quite a following, from 16 to 60 year olds, as more and more men look to add aesthetic value to their traditional outfits with unique studs. Razlan is one loyal customer, and he jokes that he sustains his friends’ business with his purchases.
“The one thing that makes you stand out in your Baju Melayu is the kain sampin. No one pays attention to the studs,“Razlan explains. “But when they came up with the Lego ones, people started to see studs as a way to make a statement without it being too expensive.“