Fake Siti Khadijah telekung confiscated by the Ministry of Domestic Trade, Co-operatives and Consumerism following an operation in Johor Baru. Photo by Zain Ahmed.
JULY 4, 2018 | 8:00AM MYT
Muslimah brands are taking measures against pirated goods, write Aznim Ruhana Md Yusup and Nadia Badarudin
ON Federal Highway near Bandar Sunway, there is a billboard that speaks of the silent yearnings of a mother, “Nak… mak teringin nak pakai telekung Siti Khadijah.” (“My child, I long to wear a telekung from Siti Khadijah.”)
It’s a recent development, this aggressive marketing for a telekung. The two-piece outer garment worn by Muslim women in Southeast Asia for prayers has been in use without so much as a brand name or advertising. But as the Muslimah fashion industry grew, the ubiquitous prayer robe also became swept up in the scene.
It’s a similar situation with the tudung or hijab. It used to be that women had preferences for the fabric of the headscarf or its style, but associating a tudung with a brand name is something that only happened in recent years.
There are advantages to having a recognisable brand, despite rumblings over the commercialisation of products related to religious practices. Is it still modest wear if it doesn’t come with a modest price tag?
But there are pitfalls when products are priced just that bit higher. Yes, it makes them more desirable and it’s textbook marketing. But then copycats start entering the market, exploiting the brand and its emotional connection with consumers.
IGNORANCE NOT AN EXCUSE
Telekung maker and retailer Siti Khadijah has seen its products fall prey to counterfeiters. Two of its variants, Signature Premium and The Prayer Outfit, were found to have been copied by manufacturers, allegedly from Vietnam.
Sahar Sahad, group CEO of Siti Khadijah Holding, says the fake products are marketed as “SK (Siti Khadijah) Vietnam”, with packaging similar to the original version. Fakes can cost as much as the original, though they are usually cheaper than Siti Khadijah’s starting price of RM150. The sellers of SK Vietnam blatantly advertise on Facebook and Instagram too.
“We first detected it two years ago following customers’ enquiries about SK Vietnam and complaints about its poor quality,” says Sahar. “We do not have a factory in Vietnam nor do we import our products from there. All our products are made at our factory in Bangi, Selangor.”
dUCk founder Vivy Yusof has also seen its scarves shamelessly copied. “This past year, it has mushroomed rampantly with setups in Vietnam specifically to make fake dUCks. This is the reality in business. The only way forward is to innovate, and you stop the counterfeiters via legal ways.”
The company hires its own lawyers for this purpose. Legal action takes time and effort as specific details are needed to make a case. But counterfeiting is clearly illegal so dUCk always wins, with companies and sellers of fake dUCks taken down as a result.
“I’ve gotten so many ‘I’m sorry’ emails personally from them telling me why they are doing this,” says Vivy. “I sympathise of course but the law is the law. The only reason they are sorry is because they got caught.
“Usually the punishment will be monetary. So think thoroughly before you get involved in illegal businesses. Many students pleaded to our lawyers to lower their fines. The law doesn’t recognise ignorance as an excuse.”
Siti Khadijah representative Mohammad Munzir Aminuddin says the brand’s concern is customers who support piracy without realising it.
“Our telekung is known for its special, flexible design feature around the face. It uses a special rubber band and is patented. Customers can come to our boutique to have this rubber band changed following wear and tear.”
“However, we’ve had customers coming to us to get the fake ones fixed. They didn’t know that they have bought an imitation product or they were given fakes as gifts. We want a long-lasting relationship with customers but when cheated like this, or when faced with issues such as inferior quality, they are going to shy away from our brand,” he adds.
Vivy has lost count of how often she’s tagged on Instagram by people who claim that they are wearing a dUCk scarf but were clearly not. She sometimes points out that it’s a fake, and it comes as a complete surprise to the wearer.
“Most of them said they had no idea and were mortified. A lot of them bought from individuals or preloved sites, thinking it’s a dUCk and were being lied to by the sellers. But there are people who are aware they’re wearing a counterfeit product. I can’t do anything about that but take it as a form of flattery and hope one day they will buy the real thing.”
In terms of quality, fake dUCk scarves can be miles apart from the original. Some are produced using lower-grade fabric, and sometimes the print isn’t as sharp. Some counterfeiters go as far as packaging the scarves in boxes like the real thing too, though they can never get the details quite right.
“The most painful part is seeing a completely new — and ugly — design and they put your logo on it. There was one scarf that had a computer clip art of a lipstick repeated around the border with a huge dUCk logo slapped on it. I can’t believe people think that’s a dUCk product.”
To avoid buying fakes, Sahar recommends that customers, especially first-time buyers, check Siti Khadijah’s official marketing channels before making a purchase. As listed on its website, these telekung are sold at 30 Siti Khadijah stores and authorised retailers, as well as established online shops.
“If a customer bought Siti Khadijah telekung from individual resellers, it is likely they have purchased the pirated version because we have never endorsed such channels,” he adds. “Piracy is not a new issue. It remains rampant no thanks to people who don’t see the big picture or appreciate the efforts behind the production process.”
The company stresses that each design is the result of hard work by its employees. Purchasing a counterfeit product can negatively impact the local fashion and retail industry, as well as the country’s economy.
“We value the work that was put into developing our telekung,” says Mohammad Munzir. “That’s why our brand and designs are trademarked and patented under MyIPO. We even filed for intellectual property protection in Vietnam because of the SK Vietnam case.
“Buying fake goods is wrong. It’s time for customers to look at the whole picture and buy responsibly because when it comes to original designs, the value goes beyond ringgit and sen.”
Vivy muses on the moral aspects of counterfeit products, especially since wearing the tudung — and praying — is an Islamic practice, yet some Muslims seem to take dishonesty lightly.
“I’m not an expert on this but I doubt Islam condones ripping off people’s hard work,” she says. “As a seller, there are so many other ways to make money and earn an honest living. One cannot sell fakes and still earn people’s respect or gain a lasting legacy.
“We all want to look nice but we also have to know what is within our means. If I can’t afford it, I don’t buy it. But that doesn’t mean I can’t motivate myself to work towards it. You can wear fakes and deceive everyone else – but you can never really be proud of yourself because you know the truth. And most importantly, God knows too.”
Imported brands not spared
THE issue of counterfeit tudung is not only affecting local brands but also imported ones such as Bokitta.
Bokitta was founded in Lebanon in 2009 and its signature pin-less wrap style hijab was released a year later. This design is patented and protected by the World Intellectual Property Organisation in 144 countries.
Its collections are popular among Malaysians for its instant, ready-to-wear feature, comfortable fabrics and beautiful designs. But it’s also finding itself regularly imitated by local tudung sellers, hoping to capitalise on its ardent following.
Prices for a Bokitta tudung are between RM119 and RM139 but its pre-loved pieces can fetch between RM1,000 and RM2,000 depending on the design, especially the earlier releases which are regarded as vintage or classic, according to Bokitta fan Farah Merican Isahak Merican.
Farah has been a fan since 2015, and found out about fake Bokitta tudung from Vietnam through a Facebook page set up by Bokitta’s customers and collectors.
“Usually the fake ones are sold by individuals or resellers on social media. Besides the design of the tudung, the packaging and the label’s tag are also counterfeited. What makes it worse is that the price is the same as the original,” says the lecturer from Sungai Petani, Kedah.
“To fans, buying the original product matters. They are familiar with the designs and can tell the difference between the original and the fake. For instance, each original design has a unique name and a serial number, and comes with the label’s typeface tag stitched with silver thread while the fake one is in white.”
The label is active in alerting customers about the counterfeit issue, and encourages them to buy from authorised stores and dealers. It even made improvements to deter copycats, such as integrating the Bokitta typeface within the design.
Copyright New Straits Times