Nestled in the middle of Bangi, Selangor, is the elegant yet cosy Ilham Echenta boutique. Filled with rows of turbans artfully displayed on shelves that range from classic solids to wilder prints, Ilham Echenta is a fashion house that bewilders and offers serenity simultaneously. Madam Echenta, Founder of Ilham Echenta is the mastermind behind this innovative brand and if her name sounds exotic, it is because Echenta is her alter-ego. In a recent interview with Top 10 of Malaysia, Madam Echenta talks about her background and her journey to the top.
The youngest in a family of nine siblings, Echenta has always been a fashionista. Helping her mother in sewing baju kurungs since young has given her the fundamentals of dress-making and an impeccable work ethic.
One would guess that the headstrong lady would choose a major more aligned with her passion like fashion merchandising. Nonetheless, Echenta majored in Creative Multimedia at Cyberjaya’s Multimedia University instead. However, all is not lost as she dived into it like a fish taking to water. Upon graduating in 2004, she worked as a graphic designer for a while without losing sight of her dreams. Little did she know, her dream was simmering, waiting for the perfect moment to blossom and, it did.
Observing fashion trends especially amongst the Muslim community in Malaysia, Echenta noticed that turbans are fashionable in other countries yet often unfairly characterized as something passé or favored by ladies of a certain age. Hence, her keen eye for shapes, fabrics and style led to the idea of making turbans the new must-have accessory.
Echenta recounts her joy when recalling her first order for 20 turbans in 2012. “All I had was a sewing machine! A month later, the word caught on and I received another 50 orders. I knew I had to hire a tailor then.” This promising start came on the back of her amazing work ethic, determination and her driving force who is her husband, Shahrir. “He is my advisor, my inspiration and he always pushes me to do the best in my life.” Shahrir is a strong shoulder for Echenta to lean on, often contributing to the development of her fashion house.
The turban colours are certainly eye-catching and Shahrir selects them himself. “He has an eye for things like these,” Echenta says with pride. Classics like black and earth tones are what customers look for but it’s the brighter colors that get the vivacious Echenta excited. “You don’t have to be afraid to express yourself through these colors. I understand the appeal of the classics but people need to experiment.” Even turban structures receive the Echenta treatment. The usually cumbersome turban is easier to wear and adjust as she incorporates a strap onto it.
Success comes to those who seek it and it certainly is the case with Echenta. Furthermore, Bangi which is known as a mecca for Muslim fashion has no other fashion house offering turbans. Echenta also models her turbans on Instagram to inspire people on the diverse ways of wearing a turban. This daringness and uniqueness is what led to her first London fashion show, in collaboration with well-known Malaysian hijab brand, Sugarscarf. “There’s a gap in the British market. It’s definitely more urban and that’s where our turban comes in,” Echenta explains. An instant success with over 100 attendees, it certainly captured Londoners’ attention. “We did everything ourselves. Our make-up artist even doubled up as a model.” Back home, a fashion show in Kuala Lumpur’s Publika proved a crowd pleaser too as models strutted in vibrant-colored dresses and matching turbans. Despite the colors, Echenta insists on simplicity keeping the attention rightfully where it should be – on the turbans. The Ilham Echenta fever doesn’t stop there as one can now shop for their turbans at Modvier, Bangsar or Isetan Suria KLCC.
Despite all the success, Echenta and her husband have their feet firmly planted on the ground. “We remain us in spite of all this.” In a rare moment where Echenta took to a more personal note, she explains that ‘Ilham’ stems from her eldest son’s name. “We have the responsibility to provide the best life for our children,” Echenta adds, with nods of agreement from Shahrir. Just as their love for fashion and family contributes massively to their success, they acknowledge their staff too. “I see myself as an elder sister to my staff. Therefore, when we are done with work, we will laugh and talk like a family would”.
Having recently launched an Ilham Echenta boutique in Singapore, she plans on expanding the brand worldwide and making it a household name. It is definitely inspiring to see a family-owned company rise in a world dominated by multinationals. In all possibility, the future of Ilham Echenta will be as bright as the colors of Echenta’s turbans.