ProjekBrunei.com - Everyone has a Story
Dk Hanisah Lia Pg Hj Mohd Salleh, 30, or Ness as she’s usually known (“I got this name when I was studying in Australia. Ozzies couldn’t pronounce “Hanisah,” so Ness it was!”) is a Human Biology graduate from the University of Southern Queensland, Australia, and the co-founder of HayaaMusfirah (http://www.hayaamusfirah.com), local online retailer of clothing for Muslim women.
On a background in business.
I have no background in business except I think it is in my blood. My maternal late grandfather had a mini mart back in the day and my mom had a tailoring business as well. I didn’t have any interest then in “inheriting” my mother’s business and after I got married, my husband said he didn’t want me to work, but he did influence me to dip my feet in the business world so I decided to take up business just to fill in the time.
So! How was HayaaMusfirah born?
It was the brain child of Nabilah Taif and myself. A few years ago before we started in 2010, it was really difficult to find syariah-compliant hijabs (Syariah compliant here meaning to cover the chest as well as hair) - we had to order our hijabs from overseas. So we came together and pooled our money and started the business in April 2010. We both decided on the name as well. Hayaa’ means modest / modesty and Musfirah means elegant in Arabic. Our motto was you can still look elegant while covering up and maintaining your modesty.
In the last 5-7 years there's been a huge upswing of interest regionally (and globally!) in both Muslimah-friendly fashion, and the digital market. Where do you think HayaaMusfirah fits into this scene?
In comparison, I personally think that HayaaMusfirah’s standards are not similar to most local Muslimah businesses but maybe have more in common with a few regional businesses. My personal opinion on the “Muslimah Friendly” fashion trend is that most are not quite syariah-compliant. There are only a few global companies that I am aware of that sell syariah-compliant clothing (i.e. loose clothing, hijabs covering the chest, etc). Two of them are Shukr (http://www.shukr.co.uk) (UK-based, I think) and Indonesian brand Kivitz (http://kivitz.blogspot.co.uk) (OK, I’m biased. I love Kivitz!!!). Most regional Muslimah companies sell a mixed clothing line, of syariah-compliant and not-so-syariah-compliant clothing, unlike Shukr and Kivitz.
HayaaMusfirah's particular niche of the market is focused on syariah-compliance. Can you tell me a bit about how HayaaMusfirah has interpreted this compliance? How important is this to you, and has there ever been a point when you've been tempted to expand or bend what this compliance means?
Before we started we did extensive reading on how to make sure the business does not deviate from the teachings of the Quran and Hadith. We did some research on the attire of a Muslimah, the dos and donts, what is admissible and what isn’t. While there are differences in opinion by different scholars on the attire of the Muslimah, we decided to take the middle stand which is to follow the modern trend but if it goes to a point that the trend goes against the ruling we hold on to, then we will not continue that line.
Yes, many times we’ve been tempted to “bend the rules” and we did a few times but every time we did, we found that we would make fewer sales than usual. Even when the clothing line was in demand in other Muslimah businesses, it wouldn’t sell as well with us.
Strange but true. I suppose it turns off our customers because what appeals to them, I think, is the uniqueness of the business, how we focus mainly on syariah-compliant hijabs and attire. But once we deviate from that, we lose our appeal and become “normal”. I think. Hehe.
Jacqueline Liew, 29, became the 10th recipient of the prestigious Fulbright scholarship in 2013, winning a place on the MA programme in Educational Theatre at the New York University Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development. Jackie, who is currently an education officer at Sekolah Menengah Rimba, is no stranger to either overseas education or prestigious scholarships, having previously won the Brunei Government Special Scheme Scholarship in 2001 to pursue her A-Levels and a degree in English Literature in the United Kingdom. I talked to Jackie about her time in England, her time in America (to date) and what it means to go abroad.
You were a Special Scheme Scholar from 2001-2006. Can you tell me a little bit about what that was like?
It was the best time of my life! Just the opportunity to study in UK is every Bruneian teenager’s dream. I was really naïve though at that time, despite having visited UK several times before on holiday. I was certainly unprepared for life in a boarding house and being away from family for such a long period of time. Going to boarding school was stuff that I’d only read about in Enid Blyton’s “Naughtiest girl in School” series. I suffered culture shock, it certainly took some time to adjust to life in a boarding house full of girls: sharing a room with someone from another country and waking up super early so I don’t have to queue for the bathroom and getting used to listening to other people’s “business” (hahaha!).
In the months that led up to it, I was just so excited and couldn’t wait to leave. I started packing like months before, just throwing clothes into my suitcase and telling the other scholars about it and getting laughed at. But I didn’t care; I was going to study in UK! One thing I remember most clearly was filling in the form. I can still remember the three boxes we had to fill in for our choices. Initially, I had put Medicine as my first choice but after much discussion with the family and deep thought, I put Physics as my first choice, Maths as my second and English as my last one. It was after a talk with you that I changed my choice. I think I changed it quite a few times and the boxes had so many layers of Tippex on it that you could crack the paper in half if you folded it. I finally decided on English as my first choice because I believed that it would give me a better chance of getting the scholarship.
On adjusting to a different academic system.
It was a bit difficult getting used to school there, the girls were very outspoken and confident, they were brought up to be vocal and that is something I am still struggling with today. Students were encouraged to speak up in class and voice their opinions and to argue their points. Something I was completely unused to…here I was coming from a non-English literature background and I couldn’t tell my metaphors from my similes. I was quite an avid reader but read mostly for fun and would have never thought about analyzing or reading in between the lines. Or learning about the context in which a text was written or appreciate how and why it was written. I didn’t know how to ‘read’.
My forte had always been Maths and the sciences and I was suddenly plunged into the world of English literature, I was drowning in a sea of terminology. I remember breaking down in tears one time over a poem by Ivor Gurney. We had to spend 15 minutes analyzing it and nothing came to my mind. I burst into tears and ran into the toilet. My teacher had to run in after me to talk me out of the stall. What followed was extra classes with her and “Why didn’t you say you needed help?” A stupid mentality I took with me from Brunei of not asking for help from the teacher because I had too much pride. I learnt how to use a library, how to write and reference properly and to just have the confidence to ask my teachers questions after that. But I still really struggled with voicing my opinions in class or saying anything. My heart would beat fast and I would feel the words on the tip of my tongue but my lips would never move and I would always second-guess myself and then when another girl said what I was thinking, I would regret that I didn’t say it. It was so much inner turmoil sitting in class.
On the other hand, math and physics lessons were a cinch for me.
It got a bit better in university but again I would have moments where words would escape me or I would just lose all confidence because I was scared to hear my own voice. Really silly.
Boarding School Days
Picture with members from SEEDS
Receiving the Fulbright scholarship in 2013
Orientation in New York
After you graduated, you came back to Brunei to teach – and you were thrown into Sekolah Menengah Berakas. What was it like coming back to Brunei after all those years away?
It was another culture shock. It made me realize what a bubble we lived in while studying in Maktab Sains (Jackie was a student in Maktab Sains from 1996-2001). It is so detached and far away from the reality that is Brunei. We had such grand views of ourselves and then of going on to study in the UK - I never truly knew Brunei until I came back. My views or what I thought I knew about home all changed.
Looking back now, I am so glad that I was put into a school like Berakas. It made me see home so differently, the glossy picture of Brunei that I once held in mind had suddenly taken on very disturbing features. It’s also the naivety of someone who has had no experience of being a government servant, I didn’t have many relatives who worked for the government at that time, so I sort of entered the government school teaching world with zero expectations. I can still remember the conversation I had with the principal on my first day. I was unaware of the ‘reputation’ of Berakas and thought that the principal was very peculiar when he asked me “So, you have never heard anything about this school?” I guess it is very easy to become detached from the reality of home when you spend five years overseas especially when you don’t have anyone to talk to, someone to sort of give you a heads-up, who already had the experience of teaching.
Even now, I am learning a lot of things about the government school system at home. I only found out this year from my year 8 students that I was the first non-Malay, non-Muslim teacher they have ever had and up to the point when they met me, they were unaware that there were non-Malay Bruneians. At one point, I actually took out my IC to show the kids that I was a local. Now, I understand why it was so hard for them to get used to me and also helped me in understanding my peers a bit better as well.
My first year at school was very stressful to say the least, I didn’t know how to control a class, I was a young and new teacher and the students could smell that from a mile away. I sounded different from them so that didn’t help with the alienation I felt. I didn’t know how to write a lesson plan and was unaware of the many rules that come with being a government teacher like asking for permission to leave the country, not being able to leave the country during certain days etc.
Just the transition from being a student to a teacher, going into a school like Berakas without any prior pedagogical knowledge. I was expecting to teach English literature, Shakespeare, how to read a play and there I was trying to remember the rules of grammar and cope with all the responsibilities of a teacher. There is a stereotype of Bruneians who have studied overseas: kambang, macam kacang lupakan kulit etc…I can see why but it was something that I had to disprove in my school.
I met Bernie at TEDxKL. I recall noticing her working away during one of the networking breaks. I thought to myself, "What is she doing?" One by one, her sketches filled the foyer. I then read up about Sketch Post Studio and got in touch with her. She's graciously agreed to share her story here. Personally, this feature is a reminder about being a good steward with existing skill sets and talents. Be inspired.
I'd like to start with a game - word association - just respond to the following with the first thing(s) that come to mind. E.g. I say 'music' and you say 'dancing'.
- Cooking, There’s always time for food.
- White, Chocolate
- Love, Singapore
- Malaysia, Family
- Money, Infinite
What do you do?
I’m a graphic recorder. I basically draw a lot.
Describe yourself in a few words.
Always happy to be around pens.
Tell us about the genesis of Sketch Post Studio. Did you stumble upon the idea? A long time hobby? Borne out of necessity?
Illustration has always come naturally to me as a child. I found my skills to be most valuable as I attended conferences and began illustrating notes as talks and discussions went on in my notebook. Used illustration as a tool to support my learning and understanding of a topic. It was an instant capture of key points and interesting quotes. Organisers, guests and speakers loved them and it was a beautiful way to celebrate the content and exchange of ideas. The professional term used to describe this is graphic recording.
After a few years of practicing graphic recording as an interest, I became confident in my work and decided to turn it into a profession by starting Sketch Post Studio.
Many have asked if my passion is illustration and my answer is no. My real interest is continuous learning. And Illustration or graphic recording is a tool that helps me learn about many different things while creating value for people around me.
Quite simply, graphic recording is about making ideas stick. By creating live large-scale graphic recordings at events and discussions, it’s a performance that supports the content being discussed. Many who witness it for the first time sit up and wonder, “Hey! What’s going on over there?” It draws attention to interesting ideas and quotes that may be missed or forgotten post-event.
Also, graphic recordings boost social media engagement, as they are ready for guests to photograph to post, tweet and share immediately. With beautiful summaries of the sessions, guests can instantly use them as references for discussions.
Meet Jae. Jae handles marketing and promotions at a local financial institution, and he's the owner of Chaps & Rebels. It is an e-business selling quality hair styling products. Jae also offers slick haircuts with homage to retro. Follow the Chaps & Rebels journey on Instagram and Facebook.
Describe yourself in a few words.
Always a dreamer and I’m stuck in the 80’s. Hombre to his two boys.
Success is an accumulation of everyday small successes. I call it a success if I make a guy smile after my cut or from getting pomade from me. You know - every day small things that people tend to overlook.
Tell us about Chaps & Rebels. The beginnings, the inspiration behind it, where is it at now, and the response so far.
Chaps & Rebels brings hard to find gentlemen products, especially pomades. No one is selling pomades in Brunei so we bring it. Still a humble beginning; I hope to hit the big time one day when there’s enough capital to invest in a proper barbershop. Now it's a DIY barber operating from home. It has always been a dream to have a barbershop at the back of my head since ages ago but I’d never thought that I was going to go pick-up a scissor and do it myself. We cut hair ourselves back then at the school hostel in our teens so the inspiration must have come from there. Response has been good and so far and the schedule is full every weekend.
What does a 'Chap & Rebel' look like?
They look like the normal Joe, like you and me, Lovers, Ravers and Rockers. We all have two sides - the good chaps and the inner rebels in ourselves. So no matter if a chap is working in the office or riding his motorcycle on the street we all have one thing in common - we care about how we look. Good hair is a good start.
Tell us about your products. Who would use them?
At the moment we have a good selection of pomades from grease base to water base. Uppercut deluxe, Suavecito, Imperial, Layrite, JS Sloane are the best sellers. Soon we will add shave cream, moisturizer and shampoo to the list. Our customers range from teenage boys to gentlemen to ladies even.
Where do you see Chaps & Rebels in one to three years?
A proper barbershop.
"Chaps & Rebels - Pomades & Haircut for Lovers, Rockers and Ravers"
“Travel broadens the mind.”
“You should travel to gain experience.”
“You learn more from travelling than from school.”
We've all heard these things being said, and probably nodded along wisely to them, but how many of us have considered what kind of travelling this entails? Because, don't be fooled – not all kinds of travelling are created equal.
If you ask a Bruneian why they are going on holiday, you'll probably hear variations of just one response: Shopping!
Here's a quick check to see if you are that kind of traveller:
All your holiday stories centre around prices and discounts and brands and overweight luggage.
Pre-holiday, you are excited about the amount of shopping in your future and the stores you are going to hit.
When someone says they are going on holiday to Country X, you immediately recommend they visit a store.
Your photographs of you on holiday are mostly of you at cafes (lunch break during shopping), you in front of a branded store, you in front of a branded window display, you inside the store, bits of you in dressing rooms trying on shoes/jeans/gorgeous outfits, you carrying bags of shopping or you and all your shopping laid out in the hotel room.
Your bags going there are half empty, and you have to unzip the extension coming back. Also, you can arrange for shipping with both eyes closed.
If you said yes to most of these, then, dear reader, you may have a problem. But, hang on, what is the alternative? Dank and boring museums? And... and... more museums? And let's face it, if you visit a museum, the part that most Bruneians would find most exciting would be the gift shop.
I have always felt that Bruneians need to travel more and not just to “shop”. When you are in Singapore, don't spend all your time in and out of shops on Orchard Road. When you visit KL, don't limit yourself to Bukit Bintang. If you fly (or drive) to KK, don't hole up in 1Borneo. And please don't spend a trip to the UK only going from Harrods to Marks and Spencer's.
There are lots of things to do on holiday which do not involve shopping.
Let's take Singapore, a popular Bruneian travel experience. In Singapore, you can visit the botanical gardens, the zoo (which does a fun Night Safari), Sentosa and it's myriad theme park attractions, the bird park. Or buy takeout from your favourite food places and have a picnic at night at Marina Barrage. It's windy, there's a great view of the bay, people fly glow in the dark kites, and it's FREE!
In KK, another common destination for us, don't hole up at 1Borneo, have a beach holiday. Go paragliding, learn to snorkel (or even dive!), lie on the beach and build sand castles. And on Sunday, go to Gaya Street market. You don't have to buy anything, but it is fun to wander around the stalls. Or stay in a chalet at the national park, and if you are young (and fit) enough, CLIMB Mount Kinabalu!
I may have lost some of the dedicated travel-to-shop-ers at this point who are frowning and shaking their heads and making faces at how boring or uncomfortable these holidays sound. So let me just say that there is nothing wrong with shopping on holiday – it is definitely one of the BEST parts of a holiday. However, it isn't (and SHOULDN'T be) the ONLY part of a holiday.
After all, experience is about trying new things – not doing the same old things over and over again. So if you are serious about travelling to broaden your mind, to gain experience, and to learn, you will have to leave behind the cool air-conditioned comfort of the shopping mall, throw off your burden of shopping bags and step out. Literally.
About the Contributor: Joyce is a dedicated teacher at a Sixth Form centre in Brunei where she daily entreats, begs, threatens, cajoles and teases her students in an attempt to develop their skills in the English Language. She is a self-confessed bibliophile and excessive book addict who enjoys doodling, diving once every school holiday, messing about with bits of paper and string, and dancing in her car at traffic lights. In her free time, she annoys her fighting fish and long-suffering hamster who oversee her day to day adventures. She plagiarises from the Pixar cartoon “Up” to remind everyone that, “Adventure is out there!” and from Tae Joon in “A Beautiful You” to say, “Miracle is just another word for effort.”
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