Groovy Malaysian deejay finds joy crafting hats in Langkawi


'I create designs from my imagination, and each creation truly comes from my heart,' says Mohd Zulhilmi. — Photos: NazrieMansor Productions

It all started with an ill-fitting hat. About five years ago, deejay Mohd Zulhilmi Fikri Md Yussof was gifted a fedora hat from a colleague who suggested he wear the head wear during his gigs. Mohd Zulhilmi was happy to comply... except that the hat didn't fit – it was a tad too loose.

"Instead of stashing it in the closet, I decided to try and modify it myself as I have some basic sewing skills," he says. "I began looking up 'hat making techniques' on the Internet and watched many videos tutorials on YouTube.

"That's when I discovered a YouTube channel called Hats By Grizz by a hat maker named Lil Grizz from Kansas, in the United States. I really liked Grizz's traditional way of making hats and the helpful tips he shared. I used the methods he suggested to resize my fedora hat, and was really happy with how it turned out.

Mohd Zulhilmi enjoys every part of the hat-making process and often weaves his artistry and background, into his unique hats.Mohd Zulhilmi enjoys every part of the hat-making process and often weaves his artistry and background, into his unique hats.

"And that is how I started to get interested in hat making," says Mohd Zulhilmi, 38, in a Zoom interview from his home in Langkawi, recently.

Encouraged by this initial success, Mohd Zulhilmi decided to take his interest a step further and, pretty soon, this new-found hobby became a flourishing home business.

Unique styles

As a deejay, Mohd Zulhilmi or DJ Amy Margarex as he is known, isn't just interested in spinning beats – he's all about cultivating a "rugged, free-spirited" vibe on stage.

But, while he is a maestro behind the turntables, he dons a completely different hat – quite literally – in his downtime, meticulously crafting bespoke head wear for clients, both in and out of Malaysia.

Born and raised in Kuala Kedah, Kedah, he is one of many individuals these days who are harnessing the power of online platforms to pick up new skills, master them and turn it into income-generating opportunities.

"The Internet is amazing with so much to learn. Many people have improved their skills, including cooking, crafting and gardening by watching online videos. Grizz and I are online buddies now, and he’s always willing to guide me every step of the way.

"I never thought I could make extra money from running my small home-business making hats. Now, I have customers from across Malaysia and even Australia. It's a new skill alongside my job as a deejay, adding more fun to my life," shares Mohd Zulhilmi, who has been running his side business since 2020.

Mohd Zulhilmi has crafted close to 50 hats to a clientele composed of musicians and individuals with shared interests in fashion, music, and motorsports.Mohd Zulhilmi has crafted close to 50 hats to a clientele composed of musicians and individuals with shared interests in fashion, music, and motorsports.

Mohd Zulhilmi doesn't have a studio but makes his hats from his home in Kampung Lubok Buaya, Langkawi. The Kedahan crafts felt hats (made from animal hair), using materials like sheep wool and beaver fur, both fairly typical choices in the craft of hat making.

In the four years since he picked up this craft, he has made close to 50 hats to a clientele that includes musicians as well as individuals with shared interests in fashion, music, and motorsports. In his personal collection, he has 20 hats including fedora hats, open crown cowboy hats and the classic trilby hat.

Although felt hats aren't that popular in Malaysia, Mohd Zulhilmi says that there is a growing enthusiasm and recognition for locally made artisanal leather items, including felt hats, that are affordable. Mohd Zulhilmi is touted as the first Malaysian artisan who creates made-to-order felt hats.

In an era dominated by mass production, hatters like Mohd Zulhilmi stand as guardians of age-old traditions, of course adding his own innovations to make his creations unique.

'Each handmade hat design is special, and seeing customers wear a hat that I created is the most rewarding experience,' says Mohd Zulhilmi.'Each handmade hat design is special, and seeing customers wear a hat that I created is the most rewarding experience,' says Mohd Zulhilmi.

"Each handmade hat design is special. Seeing my customers confidently wear a unique hat that I created is the most rewarding experience. Knowing that they appreciate my work and order more hats is a source of happiness and validation for my craft.

"I intend to continue learning, exploring new ideas for each design, and expanding the scope of hat fashion in Malaysia," says the single guy, who shares photos of his handmade creations on his Instagram. The starting price for his handcrafted hats is RM500.

All about craftmanship

Crafting a felt hat from scratch is a meticulous process comprising several steps, each equally important in the creation of a unique, stylish and well-made headpiece, says Mohd Zulhilmi.

The process typically begins with selecting the wool to create the felt for the body of the hat. The chosen material is then soaked in hot water, to make it pliable for shaping.

"The shaping process, known as blocking, is a crucial step. The wet felt is stretched and molded over an oval cylinder-shaped hat block to achieve the desired form. The felt is then left to dry thoroughly, to make sure that it retains its shape.

"This can take up to four days, depending on how favourable the weather is," explains Mohd Zulhilmi, who orders wool from suppliers in Britain. He had his oval-shaped hat block custom made by a carpenter in Langkawi.

Using a steam iron to crown shape a hat helps soften the hat body material, making it pliable and easier to mold into the desired shape.Using a steam iron to crown shape a hat helps soften the hat body material, making it pliable and easier to mold into the desired shape.

Patience, he says, is crucial in the blocking process because of the sensitivity of the wool material.

"Even the slightest miscalculation during the blocking process can lead to a hat that doesn't quite fit or loses its shape. Hat materials like felt are particularly susceptible to moisture, so maintaining control over the dampness during the blocking process is key in order to avoid any damage or distortion to the material and the product."

Stiffening the hat comes next.

He applies a substance made from shellac flakes and polyvinyl alcohol to reinforce the felt so that it maintains its structure. This often also involves using a stiffening solution that is sprayed on.

Once the hat body is dried and stiffened, additional components like the brim and crown are shaped and attached to the body.

The crown, the top part of the hat, is steam ironed to achieve the desired contours.

On his Instagram account, Mohd Zulhilmi shares short videos of him at his craft where you can see the evolution of "By AM", his line of custom made hats.

His favourite part of the hat-making process is the decoration phase. Here, he employs techniques like burning (to even out fur fibres) and spray painting (to create a distressed look). He also enjoys adding embellishments onto his hats.

Mohd Zulhilmi grew up in Kuala Kedah, Kedah. He  incorporates elements of this fishing village like fishing nets and seashells in the creation of his hats. Mohd Zulhilmi grew up in Kuala Kedah, Kedah. He incorporates elements of this fishing village like fishing nets and seashells in the creation of his hats.

"Some designs, such as embroidered hats as well as painted hats that are embellished with leather and rhinestones can be challenging and require the use of a soldering iron. Staying positive and putting in the effort to ensure customer satisfaction are crucial in overcoming any challenges," he says.

"I create designs from my imagination," says Mohd Zulhilmi.

Mohd Zulhilmi's favorite hat is called Kualafornia Edition, specially dedicated to his hometown, fishing village Kuala Kedah, Kedah.Mohd Zulhilmi's favorite hat is called Kualafornia Edition, specially dedicated to his hometown, fishing village Kuala Kedah, Kedah."And each creation truly comes from my heart. The surrounding environment and mood significantly influence every design that I make. Some materials I use for hat embellishments hold their own sentimental value. For instance, I incorporate natural resources like seashells, and have even used fishing nets as decorations on hats. These creations are a tribute to my birthplace, the fishing village of Kuala Kedah."

The final steps in his creative process is attaching a hat band and sewing a lining inside the hat to ensure comfort for the wearer.

Mohd Zulhilmi's Navajo hats incorporate beads and ribbons.Mohd Zulhilmi's Navajo hats incorporate beads and ribbons.

Some of his most popular orders include wide brim fedoras and porkpie hats. He also receives orders for Native American Navajo-inspired hats. These hats incorporate beads and ribbons, and are characterised by their geometric shapes and vibrant colours.

"Some customers struggle to choose a style, so it becomes my responsibility to offer advice and suggestions. Understanding the customer's purpose and where they intend to wear the hat helps me provide suitable recommendations and examples.

"Each hat becomes a unique expression of the wearer's style and this ensures a personalised touch in every one of my creations."

The Gus hat comes with a high crown that slopes towards the front with three deep dimples.The Gus hat comes with a high crown that slopes towards the front with three deep dimples.Mohd Zulhilmi's well of inspiration is deep, fuelled by constant research and staying attuned to the dynamic, ever-evolving fashion industry. Social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram provide him with a window into global trends, while interactions with fellow hat makers worldwide contribute to a vibrant exchange of ideas.

"Every hat design crafted is truly special, as each customer owns a unique piece, sharing a singular identity. While some designs may seem alike, the intricate details vary, with each hat marked by a serial number and an individual certification.

"My greatest joy is witnessing customers smile confidently in my handmade hats, some becoming repeat clients and cherished friends. Seeing them wear my crafted hats with confidence is a true honour and brings immense happiness to me," concludes Mohd Zulhilmi.


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