Stitched in tradition

Most tailors are deluged with orders in the pre-Raya rush to sew a new suit of traditional baju melayu for the festive season and it’s no different with Jamil Sukaimi of Teluk Belanga Design.  

Jamil Sukaimi at Teluk Belanga Design
in Galleria@Kotaraya JB
I arranged to meet Jamil on Friday and he lived up to my expectation because he meets me smartly dressed in baju melayu Teluk Belanga, in the traditional Johor dagang luar way, with his shirt over the samping or sarong.  We are in his Galleria@Kotaraya outlet where tall shelves are stacked with bales of fabrics and racks neatly display ready-made men’s suits and traditional baju melayu.

Then I learnt that the serene ambiance here is the exact opposite to what’s happening at his Danga City Mall outlet where his sewing team is working at full steam to meet the Raya tailoring orders.  

Jamil Sukaimi at his Galleria@Kotaraya outlet in JB
As we are getting acquainted, a customer walks into the shop to enquire about tailoring baju melayu for Raya and Jamil politely explains with regret that he cannot accept any more orders.

Getting Skilled

A Johorean from Simpang Renggam, Jamil, 49, is the eighth in a family of 12 children.  He fondly remembers how his father used to say that it’s better if you have your own business.  From a young age, he aspired to have his own business and when he was choosing his career, the prevailing economic downturn helped him to decide on acquiring marketable skills by pursuing a course in Tailoring & Design at the MARA Skills Institute, Jasin.  His father and mother, a homemaker, were supportive of his decision to pursue tailoring as a career.

Jamil Sukaimi [Standing Right] with some family members
With his father as his inspiration, Jamil thought that if his father could make a decent living with his skills as a barber, he too should be able to do well when he acquired the necessary skills to be a tailor.  While he was undergoing training, Jamil was deeply motivated not only to be a good tailor but to be an extraordinary one.

Part of his course was to have practical experience from a job attachment and Jamil recalls joining a tailoring shop in JB’s Komplex Tun Abdul Razak.  When he completed the attachment period, Jamil was delighted to get a job offer from the employer.  Even though the salary was meagre, Jamil gained much experience and developed further skills and knowledge in the two years working with them.

Jamil [Right] with his mother [next to him] and sisters
at the official opening of Teluk Belanga Design
in Galleria@Kotaraya JB
The entrepreneur in him patiently saved every available sen for capital to start his own business someday and when an opportunity presented itself, he plucked up his courage and resigned to set up his own shop.  He rented a space in the former Kotaraya mall, invested in one sewing machine and happily established his tailoring business simply named, Jamil Tailor.  When the mall closed for upgrading work, he moved Teluk Belanga Designs to Danga City Mall and after the refurbished mall re-opened as Galleria@Kotaraya, he established his latest outlet here.

Growing Trend

Jamil specialises in tailoring Johor
traditional costumes
The traditional Teluk Belanga style of dressing was regarded as Johor’s traditional attire since the 19th Century as it was widely worn during the reign of Temenggong Abu Bakar Sri Maharaja and remains popular today.  In 1862 this style was recognised as the baju kurung and baju melayu Teluk Belanga because when his royal highness succeeded the throne, he was residing in Teluk Belanga, Singapore.  In 1866, Temenggong Abu Bakar Sri Maharaja took the title of Sultan Abu Bakar and developed Tanjung Puteri, the former name of Johor Baru, as the capital of Johor.

The timeless elegance of Johor’s traditional baju kurung and baju melayu Teluk Belanga continues to be worn in honour of Sultan Abu Bakar and the many orders Jamil receives to sew traditional costumes in the Teluk Belanga style is proof that this style is still very much in vogue.  This costume is a popular choice to wear at Government and corporate events and the baju melayu Teluk Belanga remains the official outfit to wear for an audience with his royal highness, the Sultan of Johor.  In 2001 Jamil decided to rebrand his business as Teluk Belanga Design as his products are synonymous with the Johor style of traditional baju melayu.

A signature hand-stitched round collar in tulang belut or
eel bone stitches, for traditional Baju Melayu Teluk Belanga
“Our skills are in taking the customer’s measurements and hand-sewing the round collar that opens with a front slit in tulang belut or eel bone stitches,” said Jamil, modestly explaining his special touch in creating traditional costumes in the Teluk Belanga style.  “Some customers insist on completely hand-sewn garments and it takes a special skill to hand sew the double panels of seams for the bodice, fastened with pesak or gussets in the underarms,” he added.

The baju melayu shirt features three patch pockets – one small pocket on the left breast and two palm-size, right and left pockets on the front bottom edge of the shirt.  The shirt is matched by a pair of trousers cut in a loose Chinese design.  Jamil tells me that experienced tailors can complete hand-sewing tulang belut stitches on the hem of just two or three pieces of collars a day because it takes skills and patience to do fine handiwork.  And to sew an entire baju melayu Teluk Belanga by hand may take up to three weeks!

Going Forward

A customer being measured by Jamil to
tailor a traditional set of Baju Melayu
Jamil is both proud and humbled that royalty, dignitaries and TV personalities are among his regular customers for authentic baju melayu Teluk Belanga.  Some customers visit him from Singapore and Brunei and he has even sent tailored garments by courier to customers who have moved to the UK.  He is pleased that these men take pride in wearing the traditional costume in the uniquely Johor dagang luar style with the shirt over the samping or sarong, complete with the 4” high songkok or velvet hat and leather thong sandals or capal.

The art of hand-sewing traditional costumes belong to the older generation and Jamil taps on them from time to time by offering work consignments to skilled senior citizens and single mothers.  These are meticulous skills that Jamil is actively keeping alive by recruiting tailoring graduates from local colleges and giving opportunities to them to hone their sewing skills. 

Teluk Belanga Design stocks a range of
fabrics and ready-made Baju Melayu
Jamil agreed that hand-sewing baju melayu Teluk Belanga is certainly a dying art that may be lost in time.  But he has a novel way to identify and groom gifted tailors for the future.  For the past three years, Teluk Belanga Design has held annual sewing contests where participants are given sewing projects and judged on the hand-sewn garments.  This friendly competition keeps the sewing team focused on achieving the reputation as the best and challenges everyone to keep the sewing standards high at all times.

Aware that it takes time and skills to sew the minute stitches to complete the collar of baju melayu Teluk Belanga, Jamil pays a good rate that matches with the effort put in by the skilled tailors.  With ten tailors in his sewing team, Jamil is working hard to meet the high demand for tailored baju melayu Teluk Belanga this festive season.  In spite of changing trends, this distinctly Johor Malay traditional costume is certainly here to stay.  For more info, visit website:

A version of this was published in The New Sunday Times, Life & Times on 12 July 2015
Jamil Sukaimi [Standing 2nd from Left] at home with his family for Hari Raya 2015 celebration!
Thanks for sharing the photo, Jamil.   Selamat Hari Raya Aidil Fitri to you and yours! 

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