From girls in batik kemban to guys wearing a denim tengkolok, the runway looks portrayed by Tarik Jeans are as Malaysian as it gets. Not surprising, as the streetwear label is born out a love for the country.
Yet, the founder says that it is much more than that. It is also about Malaysians loving themselves and their culture. He believes that the people of the country should come first.
“Back then it was about being proud of where we come from. Being proud of our flag – it was all very nationalistic. But now, I guess it is about being proud of who we are,” says Afiq Iskandar.
Afiq, who started Tarik Jeans in 2010, explains that he was first inspired by his frequent trips to Indonesia. Fresh out of college at that time, he was amazed by how the locals there take pride in their brands and heritage.
“When I was still in high school, I used to hang out at ‘bundle’ stores a lot and of course, being a student, I couldn’t even afford to buy bundle stuff. That’s probably one of the first time I questioned the industry,” he relates.
“I wondered to myself, while looking at my friends and other fellow Malaysians rummaging through old vintage branded items – would the passion and interest still be the same if the labels were Malaysian?”
The idea stayed with Afiq thereon. He went on to study design in Multimedia University. During that time, he began creating graphics that were locally inspired. It was also his passion for denim that led to the founding of Tarik Jeans.
“I think it’s about identifying the relationship that we have with our culture and then having that light bulb moment that it could also be stylish and fashionable,” says Afiq.
“The word ‘tarik’ is something all Malaysians understand. Locals of all ages are familiar with the nation’s favourite pastime of going to a mamak stall and ordering a teh tarik.”
Tarik Jean’s mascot is a man cooling tea with the distinctive “tarik” action. This apparently resonates with the label’s target audience, for it evokes feelings of familiarity.
According to Afiq, the fashion industry here and its community have become more welcoming of local labels. He says that in the past, it used to be very hard to get even a T-shirt with Malaysian-themed designs on it.
“Now, it’s everywhere. More local celebrities are wearing homegrown brands too. You get to see these brands make appearances in movies or on stage on your favourite artists,” Afiq points out.
On what makes streetwear so popular, he says that it has to do with the clothes being relatable. Even big luxury fashion houses are in on the trend, which just shows that it has a market.
As it is, Afiq is trying to shift the mindset of people to buy more local products. He also wants them to really be able to fall in love with Malaysian labels, and believe in them.
“We try to inspire Malaysians to do great things. Be proud of who we are, love and respect each other, participate more and contribute on a bigger scale,” he concludes.
Tarik Jean’s forte is also its storied runway shows. Last year’s Kuala Lumpur Fashion Week (KLFW) presentation for instance, was a spirited display of rock and roll style machismo inspired by resort-wear.
The year before that, the label sent out ladies wrapped in sarongs and guys in silat uniforms on the runway. This was in addition to batik bags and Iban accessories, plus Indian and Chinese inspired ensembles.
“The term ‘cultural appropriation’ does not exist in our book. We are Malaysian and it’s important for us to celebrate one another,” states creative and communications director of Tarik Jeans, Jiman Casablancas.
“The first time when we presented our collection in 2016, we paid tribute to the Malaysian ‘rock kapak’ era with a collection called Anak Liar,” he says, when asked about their creative vision.
“Then in 2017 with our country’s political environment, scandals and fiasco, we came up with Nusa Bencana – which means ‘A Doomed State’. Last year, we took Tarik Jeans on a rock and roll holiday with our Tarik Resort collection.”
According to Jiman, each Tarik Jeans collection has its own narrative. This inspires the model selection, the styling of the show, make up and hair and of course, the soundtrack.
“We are all very proud of what we have shown so far and I have always been told that Tarik Jeans could almost always be depended on to put on a great show at KLFW,” he adds.