Q&A with Poya Boutique

1. How do you see traditional Malay fashion fitting in with urban life? Was it difficult balancing the classic elements and modernity?

From what we see, the current younger generation often overlooks the differences and versatility of traditional Malay clothing. They miss to see that due to their comfort and wearing ease, these clothes can be worn for almost any occasion – from going shopping, lunch affairs, high tea, dinners or weddings.

The possibilities are endless, it just depends on how you style them.

One of the reasons for this lack of awareness is probably because the limited number of tailors available. There are always new styles coming up, so authentic traditional Malay wear is slowly becoming quite a rare finding in the market.

While more and more people are opting for the new, trendier choice of fashion, we as Malaysians should not let traditional attire to simply fade. This is one heritage we should always be proud of… And what better way for us to showcase our pride for it other than wearing it with love and confidence, right?

Hence, in order to promote traditional wear in this age or urbanity, POYA creates a line of clothing that is versatile enough to appear both traditional and modern. And how do we do this? Through various cuttings, fabric choices, prints and colours.

POYA strives to combat this perception – traditional is boring. Because it’s not! You just have to find the right style to spice things up and stand out.

In terms of balancing classic elements and modernity… Well, it’s about the harmony. The classic, traditional design can always be revamped to suit the demands of current fashion evolution, like incorporating modern prints or using bright colours.

These days, people also go for things are value for money. They want something versatile, like the Baju Kedah. You can wear it as full set with its skirt for a traditional look, or wear the top as blouse to match with jeans or pants.

2. Can we go into the specifics of your traditional Malay designs? Traditional Malay outfits differ from state to state. Where would you say yours take inspiration from?

The inspiration comes from my mother’s side of the family, who originated from Terengganu. Back in the years, the ladies were always sporting such attire, looking very modest yet stylish. Some designs are also inspired by vintage pictures and P. Ramlee films.

I just wanted to ensure that the current generation also gets to experience the same fashion, to instil a sense of appreciation and connection with their older generation.

While traditional Malay wear varies from state to state, the main types are the Baju Kurung, Baju Kebaya and Baju Kedah which have so, so many variations themselves! Here are some of the variations:

• Baju Kurung – Baju Kurung Pahang, Baju Riau Pahang, Baju Kurung Johor, Baju Kurung Cekak Musang
• Baju Kebaya – Kebaya Pendek, Kebaya Kota Bharu, Kebaya Labuh, Kebarung
• Baju Kedah – Baju Kedah, Baju Kedah Berpesak

Different people have different body types. Only by trying clothes on will you know what looks best on you. But there are some general ideas. For example, the Baju Kurung Johor is perfect for those who prefer loose cutting, Baju Kurung Pahang are for people who are pear-shaped and heavier on the bottom while the Baju Kedah is for those who are heavier on the top or have a short torso.

Other than cutting, fabric is also plays an important role. And when it comes to quality, POYA simply doesn’t compromise. We offer a wide selection – cotton for ease and comfort, silk and brocade for exclusivity. We also have good taste for prints and colour choices.

We have also started to bring in a handsome collection of Batik Shirts for the gents. Various prints, colours and materials so the gentlemen will also get the classic touch of tradition while staying in style.

But one thing that truly separates us is exclusivity. We do not mass-produce our clothes, so each piece is carefully crafted from start to finish. As our line is also created in limited numbers, our customers will probably never have to face the embarrassment of bumping into someone wearing the same clothes!

3. How did the name for your label come about? Or rather, if I may ask, how did you come to be known as Poya by your family and friends?

My full name is Sharifah Naemah Khalidza binti Syed Hassan. And I have 14 siblings, 8 girls and 6 boys. So in order to call all of my siblings easily, my mother shortened our names. Due to the Terengganu dialect, our names became Poh Nor, Poh Ni, Poh Moh and me, Pohya. Over time, it became Poya, which has really given me the luck as to set up and grow this brand.

4. Tell us a little about yourself. How did you get involved in fashion? Was it something you’ve always been interested in? Did you study fashion design?

I have no fashion background at all. I was a banker at Bank Bumiputera for over 20 over years then, when technology took over and a lot of things were becoming too techy at work. I had a hard time catching up in learning the new system and there was a pressure for me to perform. Thankfully, I was offered a VSS by the company.

After getting some money from that, we started opening a booth at bazaars in shopping malls when Bangsar Shopping Centre’s management offered us a lot, but insisted us to sell only traditional Malay clothing. We felt compelled to take the challenge and the rest was history.

I didn’t know how to sew or design, but I had a strong will to earn money to supplement the family’s income then. So, every day, I worked hard to sustain the business. As it was starting to grow, I began travelling to different countries like India, Pakistan, China and Indonesia to source for materials.

My daughter is now 34 and she is heavily involved in the business, being my partner in managing it, handling most of the advertising, and contributing idea for a more up-to-date and current selection to stay relevant in the industry.

We’re here to help more and more people to understand what traditional Malay wear is all about and appreciate its beauty. And we will continue to do this until even more people will wear this heritage. Our customers come from all walks of life and races and most of them will only come looking for us on an occasional basis – weddings, formal events, Raya, etc. Our aim is to make them embrace this line of clothing as daily wear.

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