Hjh Arni Hj Maidin, the owner of Aiman Enterprise, was among the earliest graduates of Brunei Arts and Handicraft Training Centre who is keeping the long-established handcrafted treasure of songket weaving strong.
The entrepreneur who is also a member of the Women’s Business Council (WBC) and Brunei Business Women Association, earns a living from her craft.
Through her journey from home making venture to an enterprise, Hjh Arni has remained true to her roots, fighting to keep the traditional craft alive as she is equipped with skills that are handed down from generation to generation.
She earns more than $1000 per month on average and a surge of $3000 from last month alone, thanks to the growing popularity for traditional handwoven fabrics used in weddings.
Aiman Enterprise was established in 1994, a business that began from home before setting up a shop at the Sumbangsih Mulia building.
The company has made use of the country’s glorious cultural heritage, as well as the luxury and elegance of Brunei’s handicrafts and skilled craftsmanship.
Songket is mostly worn in Malay festive occasions such as in royal installations, circumcision ceremonies and popularly, Malay weddings.
Other than making songket, the brand also became acclaimed for transforming songket into apparel and fashion accessories such as songkok and shoes.
Ever since the increase in sales due to weddings, Hjh Arni also see a rise in trend in wedding rental – she recently started renting out songket garments at an affordable price.
She continues today to use traditional, non-machine operated looms.
She further said that the completion of one songket can take up to a month, depending on the pattern demanded by customers.
Cotton-based songket made by Aiman Enterprise is priced from $250 to $300 and those made of silk costs more than $2000.
Their collections showcased different intricate traditional styles – from full floral arrangement, (susunan bunga penuh), scattered floral arrangement (susunan bunga bertabur) and the styled arrangement (susunan bercorak).
She describes that there are five designs for susunan bunga bertabur, namely; Si Pugut, Liputan Madu, Jong Sarat, and her favourite, Sukmaindera.
Hjh Arni come from a family who are experts in the field of Brunei’s handicraft as well as in marketing, weaving products, silverware and basketry.
Thanks to the skills being passed on from generation to another, her interest in the art of weaving started out at an early age.
Noticing her gift in the art, she decided to enroll in cloth weaving training at the Brunei Arts and Handicraft Training Centre in 1976.
“It was difficult for me at first but after years of practicing I managed to master the intricate design of *Kain Sukmaindera within a short period of time,” she said.
She added: “Crafting each piece of handwoven songket takes hours of intense labour and attention to details but in the end when you get to see the first flower formed, it is all worth it.”
On the side, Hjh Arni and her daughter, Hatitah Hj Bakar have both been teaching and training specialised weaving skills to the public so they can earn their livelihood and use those skills in the preservation of heritage structures.
Her daughter who has a National Technical Certificate in Dressing and Designing, gained most of her weaving skills from watching her mother work and further plans to carry on with her knowledge to expand the influence of the fabric.
Moreover, Hjh Arni attributes the growing popularity of traditional fabrics to the centre’s initiative to promote traditional weaving in a bid to strengthen the economy at the grass-roots level and empower local communities while preserving traditional arts and culture at the same time.
However, with the rise of advanced technology, traditional crafts can easily be replicated by machines and the cost of production is much lower so the industry of handcrafting is slowly declining.
“Our younger generations do not have the patience to learn and perfect the art”, said Hjh Arni, adding that weaving requires a lot of time and effort.
Despite losing interest in the craft, she added, it is important for youths to change their perception about songket weaving and to educate them to appreciate and preserve the cultural heritage.
“The younger generation should acquire skills in this heritage craft so that they have the ability to also earn income from this skill,” said the 63-year-old.
Despite all the challenges, her future goals include to generate a viable and sustainable ecosystem around handcrafted products and by continuously supporting and housing weavers to make sure the art of songket remains existent.
Azrina Zin | BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN