Azizah's labour of love pays off


ENTERING Azizah Abdul Aziz’s home in Taman Tun Dr Ismail in Kuala Lumpur is a very pleasant experience. Hanging pots of greenery and the soothing sound of a small fountain greet the visitor who comes to see this talented handicraft designer and maker in her small, unobtrusive workshop cum showroom where the products of her trade are displayed. 

What started out as a hobby has now turned into an income-earning enterprise for Azizah, or Kak Zah as she is better known, whose deft skill at making customised handicrafts, especially the wedding trays (hantaran) for Malay weddings, has caught the attention of many customers.  

Back when it was still a form of relaxation after a tiring day at work, she would put straw, cloth, lace, ribbons and spices together to make such items as picture frames, key holders and other knick-knacks.  

“Somehow, watching it take form and looking at the finished product gave me a sense of satisfaction,’’ she says. 

“At that time, the idea of turning this hobby into a business never struck me and I did it purely for the sake of enjoyment. I gave away some of the things to friends as gifts because they liked the items very much.''  

The hobby became a form of therapy when she was stricken with a serious illness in 1999. A year later, it became a source of income when she retired from her job as a trade and finance officer in a bank. 

“My ill health made me too weak to do heavy work and I needed a lot of rest. So I began to concentrate on my hobby, which then evolved into a business,'' she says. 

Customers started trickling in after they heard of the lady who could make customised, handcrafted gifts, souvenirs, potpourri and wedding trays that were traditional yet with a modern touch.  

This modern influence in her designs, says Kak Zah, is due to her fondness of the English style of using ribbons and lace decorations. 

“I come up with my own ideas and I love using soft pastel shades that are sweet and pleasing. Normally, I go for a simple, elegant and clean finish without the bulky and crowded look.'' 

But she also accommodates the wishes of customers who have definite ideas on what they want done. 

“One of my customers requested that her gift trays for her engagement be done in Christmas colours of red and green while another had a T-shirt used as part of the decoration.” 

For Kak Zah, the value of the handicrafts, especially the hantaran, go beyond their monetary worth. There are sentimental values attached to them that she understands and takes into consideration. 

“The decorative trays bearing gifts are usually kept by the bride as a memento or family heirloom to be passed down the family. So people tend to be very particular about the way it should be done,’’ she says. 

Kak Zah prefers to keep her business small as she doesn’t want to be rushed into completing an order. 

“I like to take my time to do my handicrafts. Having too many orders in my head would be cumbersome for me,’’ she says. 

“Basically I am a stickler for perfection for my products as I consider it a labour of love. Through this I maintain the quality of whatever I produce for people as it is not done in bulk.’’ 

But with weddings occurring every month, there is a steady stream of orders and some have been made in advance.  

Her monthly expenditure on materials is about RM1,000 as she purchases her items from different places around town. She also sources for quality materials instead of the run-of-the-mill items sold everywhere. 

“The cloves I buy are also not the ordinary ones that you get everywhere. I potter about shops until I find the right ones.’’ 

For those who feel that made-to-order handicrafts are normally expensive, Kak Zah assures that her products, especially the wedding trays, can be made within the budget of the individual customer.  

“I work on a budget. All the customer has to do is to tell me how much they want to spend on their gifts and it could be between RM1,000 and above. I will do my best to work around it,’’ she says. 

“However, a deposit would need to be paid so that I would know for certain the customer is serious in purchasing the finished items. 

“Small gifts such as the picture frames decorated with spices go for RM35 upwards, while key holders, also decorated with spices, cost about RM80 upwards. 

“Many customers buy the items decorated with spices as they find these unique. My customers say they love giving these as gifts to friends from overseas. The designs have been sent to places such as Germany, Canada and the United Kingdom,’’ Kak Zah says. 

While Kak Zah, 54, does most of the work, herself, her husband Abdul Aziz, 57, and daughter-in-law Roszey, 30, chip in to help. 

“My husband would painstakingly glue the cloves together in small bunches to add to the design of the piece while Roszey would sew the cloths required for the hantaran,” she says. 

She starts her day at about 8.30am, which is similar to her former working hours at the office, and stops for a break sometime near noon. 

“I try to space out the hours and not do any work at night because of poor light. The smaller the design, the more intricate the work becomes,’’ she says. 

A few months ago, she opened a small stall in a shopping complex but closed it after a short while and resumed the operation of the business from her home.  

“Somehow the comfort of the home has always been where I work best,” she confesses. 

“The workshop was set up sometime in early 2002 to make the business more organised and structured.” 

Noting the soothing and relaxed atmosphere in her workshop, it is easy to see why Kak Zah prefers to stay put for the moment.  

“We do think of having a shop maybe in the future but presently we are happy to work from home. It is also a stress-free environment,'' Kak Zah says. 

  • Zah’s Craft and Design (03-77288207) is at 26, Lorong Datuk Sulaiman Dua, Taman Tun Dr Ismail, Kuala Lumpur. 

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