KUCHING: Sewing is something society and culture associate with women so it was easy to pick out Mohammad Hakim, 29, sticking out like a sore thumb with his black beanie and long green hooded coat among women bent over humming sewing machines.
The occasion was a visit to Epal Handcrafts Training Centre (Pusat Latihan Kraftangan Epal) at Electra House yesterday.
A strong determination to improve himself has led the young entrepreneur to sign up for sewing lessons as a stepping
stone to his ambition.
He first picked up a needle and thread on a whim about a decade ago. At that time, he had a pair of jeans he had outgrown but felt reluctant to throw out as it bore a unique pattern he had created using bleach.
“So I thought, why not recycle my old jeans into a bag for my personal use. The design and stitching were all done by me. The finished result looked quite rough and my sewing was not the best then.
“But when people saw my bag which was quite unique at that time, they started asking me to make for them too and that’s how I started making and selling bags from recycled jeans,” said the young man who taught himself to sew.
In between cooking up orders at the burger stall he operates behind Riverside Majestic hotel, Mohammad Hakim would hand-stitch custom-made slingbags, backpacks, coin pouches, aprons and handphone pouches among others from recycled jeans for customers, many of whom were university or college students who heard about him from friends.
“Depending on the size of the order and design, it takes about a month to make a bag as I only sew when I don’t have customers waiting for burgers. It was very slow going.
“I decided I had to improve my sewing skill and learn how to use a sewing machine so I can make bags faster. That was why I signed up for classes here,” he told The Borneo Post yesterday.
He has been taking classes at the training centre since November 2013.
When asked what he thought about men learning to sew, Mohammad replied that he did not think it unusual as he had
always been interested in working with his hands and DIY (do-it-yourself).
“This course is interesting to me as it is more than just sewing – it is a craft. I am excited about being able to gain new ideas and inspirations for my designs and ideas,” he said, showing the parts of the ‘beg bunga api’ he was putting together.
For the time being, he is not taking orders for recycled jean bags as he has to attend sewing classes and concentrate on sharpening his new skill. But he is mulling to expand his handcraft business when the time is right.
Centre manager Nora Amit said people come to learn sewing at the centre for various reasons, among them single mothers and housewives looking to generate extra income for their families, pensioners wanting to fill up their free time, and individuals sewing as a hobby.
They also cooperate with NGOs to provide training to people under their care. A few of their students are sponsored by the government’s E-Kasih programme.
The Kuching centre has 50 students but they also have students from Central and North Sarawak for weeks at a time, Nora revealed.
She pointed out the benefits in knowing how to sew.
“Sewing can help people be independent no matter where they are. For example, if there is a tear in your clothes when you are travelling or if you are a student living away from home, you will know how to mend it yourself.
“Knowing how to sew can open many doors and opportunities to earn income, as well as save money as you will be able to mend, alter or make your own clothes instead of visiting a tailor or buying from a retailer.”
She did not see sewing as a low-level skill as advances in sewing machines have made certain tasks simple, enabling users to complete more complex and difficult sewing projects in less time.
Nora added that many people found sewing to be relaxing and it can calm nerves.
Epal is the sole agent for Janome sewing machines in Malaysia and currently has 18 branches in Malaysia and Indonesia. Each training centre offers a wide range of learning courses, ranging from basic day courses costing a couple of hundred ringgit to year-long creative sewing courses, and home entrepreneurial packages.
They also have flexible learning packages where students can drop by the centre at times convenient to them to learn and practise.
They can learn creative sewing, including how to make their own clothes, handbags, patchwork and quilts. The centre also conducts sewing workshops for children, such as learning how to sew their own toys.
As for Nora herself, sewing gives her a lot of personal satisfaction as she uses it to show her love and appreciation for her family.
“Sometimes we undervalue a handmade gift to the person we present it to. For us, it is a small thing but to the recipient, it means much more. Like my father who is so proud of the towel I personalised for him. He never fails to hang it outside with the wording the right side up for every passerby to read.
“It gives me a lot of pleasure to be able to make things for my husband and children, as well as my family. When I am no longer around, the things I have sewn will be there to remind them of me.”