Making Songkok in Brunei

Monday, April 20, 2015

“PRACTICE makes perfect”, was an old adage emphasised by Siti Aishah Salleh, 52, the manager of Syarikat Aisma Aishah, when she gave The Brunei Times an insight into the songkok-making craft.

Songkok is a traditional headgear worn by males, primarily in Malay community, to complete a customary attire, especially during formal occasion or any religious events. The headgear is also part of the school uniform worn by male students.

Siti Aishah, who was the overall winner in the Compulsory Sinjang (traditional woven cloth worn around the waist for males) and Creative Sinjang Category at the Making and Wearing of Dastarand Sinjang National Competition last year, saw a niche in the local market that was worth investing for its uniqueness.

According to her, she was inspired to learn the craft by her cousin, who she spent some time observing making the songkok, when she was young.

However, the idea to turn this into a business came later in life, after she and her former husband separated; she was left pondering on the means to support her children — five sons and a daughter.

“I have no opportunity to continue my studies to secondary hence it was difficult for me to find a secure job, however, it does not mean I cannot find my own income,” Siti Aishah.

She grabbed the opportunity to learn at Advanced Education Section (BPL) in Gadong, where she learned various skills and craftmanship namely, cooking, flower decoration, sewing, dressmaking and saloon course at the Youth Centre, to name a few.

During the course of studies, she promoted a few of the songkok pieces that she had made to the male teachers, and this was received well.

Seeing that Siti Aishah had potential in the business, she was recommended to become a participant for the business incubator programme under the Ministry of Industry and Primary Resources’s Entreprenurial Development Centre in 2005. She used this time to focus on establishing herself in the market while learning the essentials of becoming a entrepreneur ranging from acccounting, promoting, selling her products.

The first few years of her journey were among the hardest, she said, and will be forever etched in her mind, but she perservered. She knew that it would take constant practice and intricate observation to make one of the most well-known traditional apparel for the Malay community.

The structure of a songkok is made up of two components: atap (roof or the top) and dinding (wall or the sides). The first step of making a songkok is to first create its inner frame using newspapers. One will be cut into an oval shape according to the customer’s head in diameter for the atap, and the other into a long rectangular piece for the dinding.

Siti Aishah will sew the edges of the rectangular piece together to form the dinding (the main body of the songkok) before attaching the atap. A black cloth is further sewn along the bottom half of the dinding to cover the newspapers.

At this point, she will use a small hammer to knock on the edges to flatten and soften it to shape. She then cuts a velvet fabric into the shape of the atap, giving an additional allowance of a few inches, to sew over the (newspaper) atap.

The leftover fabric is later used to cover the dinding. She reinforces the frame by sewing on a piece of manila card — cut according to size — before slipping the velvet fabric over it. Siti Aishah will stretch the fabric over the frame before stitching everything into place by hand.

On average, it only takes her less than an hour to produce one songkok, and in a day, she can assemble 30 pieces, providing the atap and dinding were prepared in advance.

“It needs a lot patience. There are timed when the demands were quite low back in the day, but it never deterred my goal to stock up until that very one day, one of the government uniform officers requested 500 (pieces) within a duration of six months, and then another for 300 items within three months, which was not a hassle for me as I already had a lot in stock.”

From there, she gained a profit of around $10,000, and she used this as funding to buy sewing machines, shelves, and other equipments needed to establish the business which is now based in Beribi Industrial Complex.

When asked about recruiting workers to assist her, she shared a valuable advice for all business entrepreneurs: “In order to be successful, an owner needs to have the initial specialised skills in making the product before the workers. It’s better to learn by ourselves from all aspects, so we know how to manage the finance and administration, queries and so forth.”

Her workers were mainly employed on a part-time basis, to assist her in completing the tender requests.

She welcomes those who are willing to work part-time at her boutique, and also students who are interested in conducting their industrial attachment in learning the fundamentals of making songkok.

She explained that there are two types of songkok made by her namely Gunung (slightly curved outward) or Rata (flat); both ranging from $25 to $35, depending on the request and type of fabric used.

At the same time, she also produces a variety of unique songkok covered in various colourful patterns and thick fabrics as well ornaments, to decorate the head gear which would mainly be used for showcasing in exhibitions.

“The profit is nonetheless seasonal, however, I’m blessed that the request is still there, especially from those who want a uniformed headgear for weddings, formal occasions, as well before school term starts,” Siti Aishah said.

Despite the limitation in selling to a wider sphere of customers as it only caters to the male population, Siti Aishah is determined to market her product, and is now updating her Facebook page under ‘Aisma Salleh’. The response has been encouraging as word of her quality songkok has reached customers all the way up to Belait district.

To know more about the selections of songkok available at Syarikat Aisma Aishah, contact Siti Aishah at 8884600 or email at Alternatively, you can visit her shop located at Block C, No 8 at Beribi Industrial Complex, which opens from 9am to 9pm daily.

Courtesy of The Brunei Times


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