The ambience at Atikah’s Songket boutique in Taman Tun Dr Ismail (TTDI) is unmistakably a blend of nostalgia and elegance. Rows of beautifully-crafted Terengganu songket line the shelves in a myriad of colours, boasting its intricate weaving and elegant craftsmanship – a feast for the eyes to those who truly appreciate the age-old textile tradition. In a recent interview with Top 10 of Malaysia, Noriah Ashari, Managing Director of Ateeqah Songket Sdn Bhd shares her success in keeping a legacy thriving until this very day.
Noriah Ashari is particularly fond of her family business, one that she proudly inherits from her mother who was roped into the songket craftmanship tradition of her foreparents and founded the Atikah’s Songket brand back in the 1960s. “I remember having a knack for business since I was young. I learned a lot from helping my mother. As time went by I grew to love the business process,” she says, recalling her younger days.
After finishing secondary school, Noriah decided to pursue a Diploma in Business Studies from Institut Teknologi MARA, but that did nothing to pull her away from business. She opted to study off-campus, spending her days doing business and attending classes in the evenings.
Her diploma landed her a job in a government agency right after graduation, but it didn’t take long for her to realize that her heart belonged in business. “Mother was more in need of an assistant, so as the youngest child I felt a huge responsibility to continue helping her,” she says. “Besides, it gives me satisfaction to interact with customers and help serve their needs,” she adds.
Atikah’s Songket’s venture into the Kuala Lumpur market began in 1993 when Noriah and her family moved to Kuala Lumpur for her husband’s new job. “After settling down in TTDI, I noticed there was a growing demand for songket but there was no proper business that knew details of the craft and was able to cater to a customer’s preferences,” she says.
Recognizing the market potential, Noriah started to operate the business from home and soon enough, her clientele expanded from neighbourhood buyers to prominent figures in Malaysia. Ten years later, Atikah’s Songket finally opened its boutique at Taman Tun Dr Ismail in 2003, which operates till today. Ever since its establishment, Atikah’s Songket has received a multitude of recognitions, including the Jarum Berlian Special Fashion Award in 2003 and latest being the Anugerah Personaliti Industri & Usahawan Malaysia 2017 in the Wanita Dalam Perniagaan category under Pembuatan & Penjualan Songket.
“Our brand has become a household name. I have generations of clients and even Malaysian royals who still come to me when they need songket attire,” says Noriah. Throughout her career as a businesswoman, Noriah also plays an active part in PENIAGAWATI, an affluential NGO for women in Malaysia supporting bumiputera women entrepreneurs through training and networking.
The songket industry remains a cottage-industry in Malaysia, with a majority of its craftsmen and women concentrated in the rural areas of Kuala Terengganu. Songket is still exclusively made by hand using a traditional machine and depending on its intricacy, takes from 2 weeks to 4 months to complete.
When asked about her biggest challenge, Noriah regretfully shares that there is now subpar quality machine-made songket from India. “This tarnishes the exclusivity of songket,” she says, adding that just like batik, songket deserves preservation as it is a Malaysian heritage worth keeping for future generations.
Nevertheless, Noriah is happy that at least her firstborn daughter is now expressing interest in the family business. “She has the potential to continue this songket legacy and I am proud that she went the extra mile to learn all she can about songket and the business,” she says.
Noriah’s main advice when it comes to business is on championing products. “Know your products in and out. Customers appreciate it when you are one with your products. That is where the trust begins,” says Noriah.