The elegance of wooden ‘baju melayu’ buttons

 |Jun 21, 2017
Pic credit Facebook page Kayan.

Written by Sakini Mohd Said (Bernama)

It was in one Ramadan three years ago that Shahmin Razali and his wife Sharifah Nursabrina Syed Hassan scoured dozens of stores and Aidilfitri bazaars all over Ampang, Shah Alam and Bangi in search of the perfect ‘butang’ (button studs) for his baju Melayu.

However, their search proved to be an exercise in futility.

“I am someone who likes to distinguish myself on Hari Raya. So that year I wanted to wear my ‘baju Melayu cekak musang’ (a stiff-collared baju Melayu with plackets) with wooden butang so that my outfit would stand out and look more traditional. I already have the usual kinds of studs that are made of gem, silver or brass.

“However, none of the stores we visited then carried butang baju Melayu that are made of wood. In fact, many seemed surprised that we would even ask for it,” the 29-year-old told Bernama.

Who would have thought that the chain of events would result in the birth of the Kayan brand, which manufactures baju Melayu button studs made from premium wood and steel. It was the first of its kind in the country.

When met at their woodworking shop Jalan Reko, Kajang, Shahmin said his adamance to own the wooden version of the baju Melayu accessory eventually inspired him to make one himself.

“I made the first set to wear on Aidilfitri in 2015. However, I did not expect it to be such a hit among friends.

“They said it was beautiful and unique and asked me to trademark it as at the time, there was nothing of the kind in the market,” he said.

Shahmin clearly had a passion for all things wood. While demonstrating the making of a wooden butang, this writer could not help but notice that even his watch was made from wood.

This was because he believed that things made of wood had a quality of timeless elegance. It was that unique element and the belief that the product had high market value that drove Shahmin and his wife to follow through with their dream of becoming the first to invent wooden button studs for baju Melayu.

At the beginning of their business, they turned the dining room of Shahmin’s mother’s house in Kajang into a makeshift workshop as they could not own one yet due to financial constraints.

“For two years we operated from my mother’s dining room. We would only clean up when my mother is hosting a function or when Hari Raya draws near.

“Thankfully, after three years in the business we were able to own three workshops with dedicated carving machines, polisher and a laser cutter to ease the process of crafting premium wooden butang baju Melayu” he said.

Seeing how at ease he was with woodworking tools, one might that he had prior experience before venturing into the business or knowledge passed down by skilled family members.

That, however, was not the case. Neither Shahmin nor his wife had even basic knowledge of woodworking prior to the venture, much less in crafting accessories for baju Melayu. Even their academic qualifications had nothing to do with their business.

Shahmin graduated with a degree in Computer Science from the New South Wales University in Australia while his wife had a degree in Accounting and Finance from the same university.

“We had no teacher or mentor who taught us how to make the accessory. We mostly learned from YouTube videos or sourced information from the internet.

“However, we did gain some knowledge from friends with background in design. For six months we experimented to come up with a final product that is lasting and of high quality,” said Shahmin.

Crafting a butang baju Melayu requires a high degree of patience and attention to detail due to its miniature size.

The tinier a product is, the harder it is to make it, said Sharifah Nursabrina, 28.

It starts with the selection of suitable wood, followed by employing the right wood cutting technique. Then there is the search for a strong and lasting adhesive and the drying and polishing process, all of which would contribute to the high quality of a Kayan product.

“Not all types of wood are suitable to be made into butang baju Melayu. Some wood becomes splintered when you cut it into tiny sizes and that makes it unsuitable for the purpose. For example, the kemuning wood has a beautiful orangey yellow hue but it easily fragments when cut too small,” she explained.

The more suitable wood types include those grown locally and overseas but Shahmin had to travel quite a bit to find a local supplier.

“My husband had to go as far as to Kedah and Terengganu to source for the right kind of wood. Among our favourites are maple, walnut, rosewood, oak, jati, kembang semangkuk and nyireh batu.

“We also had difficulty finding the right kind of adhesive. Many available baju Melayu button studs are made almost entirely out of steel and so crafters use the soldering process to join pieces together. However, ours is a wooden product that has to be adhered to steel, so we cannot use that process. Instead, we have to find the right kind of glue strong enough to hold the two elements together for a long time,” he said.

She added that the polishing process was also an intricate procedure so as to ensure that each Kayan product was uniform in size, without even the slightest of variation.

The fine craftsmanship of Kayan products is the reason that it is selling like hot cakes since it first hit the market. It started with only four designs and today boasts 21 exclusive designs.

​​​​Kayan is registered with Kraftangan Malaysia and is now also involved in the production of brooches and cufflinks.

“In addition to selling on our website and Instagram page, our products can also be found on Zalora, Fashion Valet and at Mood Republic. There is also a demand for our products in Brunei and Singapore.

“Due to the huge demand for Kayan products, we decided to quit our jobs so that we could focus entirely on developing Kayan products.

“Before that, we had dedicated our nights and weekends to working on our products,” said the mother of one who previously worked in the banking sector while her husband, in logistics.

This Aidilfitri, Kayan is featuring four new and exclusive designs namely Legend, Ombre, Duo and Maple, sold at between RM70 and RM149 a set. – Bernama