With a degree in a Public Administration in the bag, Aishah Jafaar returned from Cardiff, Wales a few years ago with a career in the civil service beckoning.
When she found opportunities to be scarce, she decided to ply her trade for a bank instead. But she had a lifelong interest towards fashion, courtesy of her mother, who owned a modest tailoring shop in Kiulap that had been running since 1997.
“Many of my best memories were in the shop,” said the 25-year-old on the sidelines of her booth at the Tampines Hari Raya Bazaar in Singapore, her first event outside the country.
Like many traditional establishments of its kind in the Sultanate, MasMariah received the bulk of their annual orders squeezed into a two to three month window surrounding the Hari Raya festivities – where paying a trip to your tailor to be measured for a bright, new baju kurung can almost be considered a cultural past-time.
Amongst customers, MasMariah was particularly popular for their use of manik embroidery, where beads are intricately sown onto the outfit, as well as stitched on floral patterns, which combined, would make an otherwise plain outfit stand out.
As she spent more and more time after returning from the UK, she began to have new ideas on how she could take a business set up 20 years ago and gear it towards the generation of millennials.
“The first thing I did was set up social media accounts on Instagram and Facebook,” said Aishah. “This wasn’t ground-breaking, but not too many businesses were leveraging on the internet. A lot of traditional tailors like us, if you Googled them, or searched for them online, you wouldn’t find much.”
While custom, made to measure is undoubtedly still the default choice for making Raya clothes for many Bruneians – would having a collection for the festivities that customers could choose from increase sales? And what about experimenting with ready-to-wear lines for the rest of the year? What about about bridal wear? Most importantly – could MasMariah develop itself into a brand, its own boutique?
In 2015, Aisha left her job with a plan to answer these questions.
She saved to spend six months in Paris – where her sister was working – to study fashion, returning with fresh ideas for MasMariah. Her mother handed over the reigns, and Aishah revamped the business into a bridal boutique, relocating from Kiulap to Tanjung Bunut last March, and released lines of ready-to-wear outfits.
“I tired to look for other segments outside raya, and wedding was the next biggest, followed by casual or professional (work),” said Aisha. “We’re trying to create a style that’s classy and contemporary, that’s based in our own culture but while also experimenting with Arabic and European influences.”
After getting her new line in the public eye through local pop up events, MasMariah are now inching towards a breakthrough, after being selected as one of the few local brands to sell at The Runway – a new luxury boutique in Kiulap housing mostly foreign labels – as well as for the Tampines Hari Raya Bazaar in Singapore.
“The feedback we’ve gotten so far in Singapore has been very encouraging,” said the 25-year-old. “People actually like the designs, and they’re selling well. We came here to test the market, and we’ll be going back with some valuable feedback. There’s still more to do to the capture the local market, but we eventually want to be able to sell and export our designs abroad.”
Masmariah is located at the 1st floor of Unit No.6, Block D at the Tanjung Bunut commercial area (above Boba Tea). To keep up to date follow @masmariah on Instagram and Masmariah Bridal Boutique & Tailoring on Facebook. You can also contact them directly at +6738777606 or email [email protected]