The Malay Heritage Foundation

Rethreading Pelikat

Pelikat, as a fashion motif, is repurposed from its traditional origins to vibrant statement pieces.

by Nur Diyanah Binti Razali

Janz Abdullah arranging his pelikat products in his showroom located at Widefield Building, Marsiling Industrial Estate.

Working alone in a showroom located at Marsiling Industrial Estate, no one would realise that he is actually brewing some designs to add on to his range of pelikat collections. Janz Abdullah, 25, a young designer and the second generation owner of Mona J, aspires to bring pelikat to whole new level.

Pelikat is known popularly as chequered designed kain sarong worn by men. Unlike in the past where it is multi-functional, pelikat is more suitable for home wear or for going to the mosque today. Hence pelikat is deemed by many as old school and incompatible to modern wear. However, Janz is striving to counter that.

He said, “I see that there is a dying of pelikat. I want to bring pelikat to a level that is unthinkable. I will try to create pelikat with new ideas, items, products and fabric.”

Thus Janz’s vision is to revive pelikat by rethreading it to suit practical modern times.

“Honestly, there isn’t any pelikat coat in Singapore or elsewhere. So since I always go to functions like weddings where the dress code is smart, it is a good and practical product that I find worth exploring.”

Janz finds that there is a need to change the function of pelikat to suit the owner’s lifestyle. With his newly designed pelikat products such as coat, long-sleeved shirt, baju kurung and jubah, he is trying to prove that pelikat can be versatile and practical.

The versatility of pelikat, as mentioned before, is not something new.

Hj. Hashim, 55, shop owner of Bin Hashim located on the 2nd floor of Geylang Serai.

Hj. Hashim, 55, shop owner of Bin Hashim, who has been in the textile industry for 30 years mentioned that pelikat has always been versatile. He said, “Pelikat can be used as baby swings, curtains, or even bed sheets. It depends on the creativity of the users.”

He also notes that there has been a gradual decline in demand for pelikat and other unstitched fabric. Hence he shifted his business to female apparel as there is a higher demand and wider market.

The varied functionality of pelikat does not only proves to show how creative pelikat users is but it also meant that the material itself is of good quality.

So what makes Pelikat a good quality cloth? 

To answer that question, we need to understand what pelikat is in the first place.

Hawa Ahamad, 43, shop keeper of Ahamad Collections and wife of a wholesale textile trader, managed to give me a crash course on the history of pelikat.

Hawa Ahamad, 43, shop keeper of Ahamad Collections restocking some of the products.

She said, “Pelikat originated from a place called Pulaicat in India. It is 100% cotton and manually woven by man. It is brought into the region through trade and was seamlessly adopted by the people. It is easily confused with Indonesian’s Tenun, which can have some content of polyester, and Samarinda, which has printed designs.”

Albeit the differences, these pelikats have something in common that all customers look out for – fineness in material, moisture absorbent and most importantly, comfort. These are the qualities that make pelikat a good quality cloth that is well-liked by its users.

So tapping on these qualities, Janz hopes that his pelikat products would be able to be well-received by the public whilst adapting well with the demands of contemporary fashion sense.

Moving Away From Chequered 

Being in the the 20s, Janz find that the general taste of the young generation is very much of minimalist type which is why he emphasised that “the design can’t be too traditional – too chequered or striped.”

Nor Rashidi, 23, an undergraduate who has been familiar with the pelikat trend reflected some points about it. “The modern pelikat designs are minimalist, plain and simple but with a good play of stripes, symmetry and criss-crossing lines. Contrasting colours are the ones that might attract the young more.”

So for Janz, he is very cautious in his product-making especially so after doing his research and market analysing.

Janz showing his pelikat tops collections.

He said, “When I want to make a pelikat shirt, I must know how to arrange the designs and colours well. The pockets, sleeves, collar, panel and everything must look nice and proper.”

He is very meticulous about each pelikat product that he painstakingly designed exclusively for his buyers. He calls himself picky but necessary so to ensure that each piece is of good quality.

“People thought that it is expensive but they didn’t know that I have to do it per piece,” he added.

Janz produced his monochrome series for his pelikat shirts which had overwhelming response from the public. “I introduced the monochrome series at Orange Coach exhibition. I was actually quite shocked that customers came with a screenshot of the particular product that I have publicised online. It has come to a level that I become scared because that it might disrupt the exclusivity since I only produce 1 shirt of 1 design only.”

Janz’s concept of exclusivity ensures that his products are not a mimic of a full traditional pelikat and it is one of a kind. His creative exploration manages to reorganise the patterns of pelikat and move away from the idea that pelikat products are only chequered pieces.

He then started to launch more series slowly, one after another, such as colour series, colour block and colour contrast for Hari Raya edition as well. Surprisingly, most of his products were sold out and received positive responses during the Ramadhan sale at Woodlands bazaar.

Branching into the Women’s Apparel

Female Baju Kurung Monochrome Series v2
(Picture taken from Mona J Facebook.)

Monochrome Breastfeeding Dress
(Picture taken from Mona J Facebook.)

The new pelikat products are no longer solely male apparel. Janz have started to venture into female apparel too. This is to further embrace pelikat’s versatility.

With increasing trend among women who are more receptive to wearing new pelikat products such as pelikat pants, it is easier for Janz to appropriate pelikat for females.

Janz created baju kurung pelikat for females to suit the festive season of Hari Raya. It had a match of pelikat top with Indian silk bottom. What made it interesting is that, the tops had front pelikat pockets to recreate the fashion of old school female front-pocketed tops that was really common in the past.

Amira Asrori, 20, fashion student at Lasalle, provided her views on such pelikat products. “It retains the traditional aspect. Females would wear it for Hari Raya. But more could be done to make pelikat more contemporary.”

Hence, Janz introduced pelikat wear that are contemporary and friendly for even breastfeeding mothers. Equipped with zippers, these breastfeeding-friendly dresses allow mothers to experience lesser hassle in feeding their children. It is very practical, accommodating and sensitive towards the mothers comfort.
Catering to the Young 
Janz also branch out his pelikat fashion to suit the youngest generation in the society – children.

Kids’ pelikat tops for 3 years old (left) and 1 years old (right). (Picture taken from Mona J Facebook.)

He usually takes personal orders for such young buyers as he will customise and tailor made it to suit the preference of the buyers. He is very sensitive of the children’s development and investment in his products thus he ensures that the pelikat products can be worn for a long time.

The youngest that he have made was for a 6 month old infant whose parents bought a jubah pelikat for him. But he ensures that the jubah pelikat is suitable for the infant up till the age of 10-11 months old. For children about 1 year old, he will do up to 1.5 years old.

He noted that “kids are outgrowing their clothes very fast. So I will always try to make their shirts slightly bigger so that they can wear it more than once.”

With such meticulous and detailed effort in producing the pelikat shirts, he ensures that the products are not only versatile for varied events but also for all ages and sensitive to their developments.

Looking Forward to More Pelikat Innovations 

With various creations and revamps, pelikat has seemed to repurpose itself to suit modern day pressures. This will further extend the lifespan of pelikat thus avoiding the death of the fashion.

Janz envisioned that pelikat to be well-received by people beyond the Malay Archipelago. He has his ears open wide for any exhibition callings elsewhere and eyes for spaces especially in some western countries. He feels that by doing so, he is able to promote Malay culture to the western countries.

“I want them to know what is Malay culture and fashion. We know their fashion trend but they don’t know ours. So why don’t we introduce this to them.” He asserted.

However as usual, in any business, a product is an investment that is risky, “a gamble”, and “tried and tested” as mentioned by Hawa Ahmad which is echoed as by all the pelikat sellers interviewed. But patience is always seen as the key to success.
She said, “Sometimes at first, it might not be selling. But afterwards, it slowly pick up.”

She notes that branding is really crucial in pushing the products to greater level. Hence it is important to invest in a good marketing strategy to publicise the products well. Some would use traditional method in advertising via newspapers or some would utilise the social media by creating a huge number of following online from just uploading pictures of their products.

Janz also subscribed to this method to market his products. Initially, he was hesitant but over time he was convinced. “The power of social media is fantastic. I gained a lot of sales from social media. It is a good platform to promote my pelikat products especially since my showroom is a bit isolated.” He added.

Besides that, he also did product placement for his Baju Kurung Pelikat on television programmes especially on Mediacorp Suria such as Sinar Lebaran 2015 and Papahan Film’s drama, 93m². Such marketing strategies are very effective for any products.

Hawa Ahmad recalled the effectiveness of advertisement and branding. “A pelikat brand Wadimor which was at first was not selling very well at all until Malaysia started the advertisement every Thursday night during Forum Perdana. The jingle attracted a lot of people.”

So needless to say, branding is very important to promote the products. Thankfully too, such marketing strategies are able to re-establish pelikat as a different form to the popular mind. Hence someday, hopefully, it will become a norm to see pelikat in more vibrant statement pieces in the future.

Simply said, pelikat has never stopped to ignite the creative juices of designers such as Janz.

Just like Hj. Hashim said, “there will always be a changing fashion cycle of pelikat. We have no idea what will be next.”

English (UK)
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