The Kaftan Way to Success
“I wanted to express fashion that’s not bound by ethnicity or religion or body type. I wanted vibrant colors and patterns that resonate with one’s feelings as a woman. I wanted to introduce women to feel-good fashion wear.”
A kaftan (the word is said to have originated from the Turkish kap ton) is a simple garment that has been worn for thousands of years by both men and women. Long associated with Islamic culture, the kaftan became popular in the west during the late 1960s-70s when interest in comfortable clothing and ethnic styles made it a popular Bohemian style and an icon of the hippie movement. Kaftans can be a rustic garment of a peasant or a magnificent robe fit for a sultan.
Today, the kaftan is back in a big way and one Malaysian entrepreneur has leveraged on kaftan fashion to build a thriving business.
Irda Nurhidayah Binti Mohamed Salleh otherwise known as Didi, is the founder of Peppermint Avenue, an emerging brand for high-end kaftan apparels.
In 2011, Didi, who was an employee at that time, followed her entrepreneurial aspiration by embarking on a part-time business to sell casual wear. She said of her vision then: “I wanted to express fashion that’s not bound by ethnicity or religion or body type. I wanted vibrant colours and patterns that resonate with one’s feelings as a woman. I wanted to introduce women to feel-good fashion wear.”
That baby step into entrepreneurship soon turned into a full-time business and her product line soon changed from casual wear to kaftans after she saw the potential in that line at an overseas fashion event. Since 2016, resort-wear kaftans have become Peppermint Avenue’s core product line.
“Peppermint Avenue is in a niche high-end market. Our market has grown tremendously since then and, I am proud to say, people associate quality kaftans with Peppermint Avenue.”
On the reason for the popularity of kaftans, Didi explained, “For women young and older, or of whatever body type, fair skinned or dark, kaftans offer both glamour and modesty so they are acceptable regardless of race or religion. They are exotic yet simple and they are really comfortable to wear.”
Doing Business in the Digital Economy
Didi said, “I have not quite arrived yet but the fact that Peppermint Avenue has been able to achieve so much in a relatively short time can be attributed to a good support network. MDEC (Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation) helped tremendously in developing the business with their guidance. Through trial and error, I learned from others about e-commerce and marketing.”
“We must not be afraid to fail or make mistakes or ask for help from those who are more knowledgeable and experienced. Doing business in the digital economy demands good partnership and networking, for example, networking with Gorgeous Geeks (a Kuala Lumpur-based platform to empower women to leverage on technology) has been of tremendous help to me. I also have great support from my logistics partners as our materials are imported.”
Asked about the prospects of e-commerce in Malaysia, she said, “When I was studying in Australia, I saw how far ahead it was in e-commerce. Now, within several years, Malaysia has caught up with the digital economy. Look at the number of e-commerce platforms, the kind of businesses - from food delivery to beauty to practically across all sectors of the economy. The function of traditional brick-and-mortar set-ups has been up-ended. Brick-and-mortar outlets now serve as advertising points while the on-line business does the selling. The prospects are exciting. The future is digital so steps must be taken to develop the digital economy further through education to cover even non-commercial sectors if we are to reap the huge potential there.”
Of her early days in the business, Didi said, “It was a steep learning curve for me but, again, the support received from government institutions and peers helped tremendously. Where funding is concerned, I have been fortunate in being able to be self-funded so far. However, I might apply for funding when I enter the export market. My plan is to enter the global market in five years’ time.”
Helping Women Entrepreneurs
Didi is passionate about contributing to the development of women entrepreneurs.
“Women entrepreneurs often face a different set of challenges from the men. Many who have the desire to enter business are afraid to do so because of lack of self-confidence. The marketplace is still largely a men’s world. Having acquired some experience and expertise in business, I want to help young girls and women pursue their dreams.”
“My advice to aspiring entrepreneurs: be passionate about what you want to do. Having passion is half the battle won. Be thick-skinned. Don’t be ashamed to ask for help. And make sure yours is a culture of integrity in your dealings in the marketplace. Above all, don’t let fear kill your dreams. Go for it! You never know where it will lead you.”