Malaysian Denim Culture

Denim, once possessing exclusivity and catering to dedicated “denim heads”, now a fabric that has woven its way into all walks of life.  The fabric has played a pivotal role in merging fashion and pop-culture across several decades, from Hollywood Western films, 70’s disco bellbottoms, to complete head-to-toe looks -- courtesy of Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake.  Denim has proven to be one of the few fabrics to embody a deep connection to the psyche of dressing. The color fades with you, it distresses, and ages with its wearer. But does denim have the same impact in our local fashion scene? Raw Denim House, Projek Jahat, and Tarik all spoke passionately about their ideologies as denim labels, the local denim culture, and the future of denim in Malaysia.

Our denim brand leaders are paving the way for the youth to showcase their individuality, creativity, and the importance of self-expression.  These denim labels find a way to communicate with the new generation through artistic denim pieces and seamlessly integrates itself as part of their lifestyle.  Mohd. Faizul from Projek Jahat states that, “fashion doesn’t mean pretty or new, it’s always about creativity. For us, denim is all about the detailing, feel and soul of the fabric.”



Denim has found a way to appeal to the masses and has evolved into more than just a pair of good jeans.  Faizul says, “we are selling ideas and art, not fashion”. Kamal Effendi of Raw Denim House reminisces, “Levi’s 501 was my first jeans ever in my teenage years.  I thought 501 was my first denim love when I saw my older brother had one with nice fading, aging gracefully throughout many years. Bundle or thrift shops has been something that I grew up with, it is definitely more than just an affordable price, it’s a social movement”.  Denim goes beyond just the fabric for the creatives behind these brands and their audience alike.

Tarik Jeans has also found a way to incorporate itself into everyday life of Malaysian youth.  Tarik is an independent denim label that marches to the beat of its own drum, embracing cultural diversity and individualism along the way.  Jiman Casablancas of Tarik mentions that, “we’re trying to redefine what it means. Especially in Malaysia, when you say denim, we think cowboys, the Marlboro-man, American miners, Japanese workwear, etc.  What we’re saying here at Tarik is that, it can also be used by our nelayans, our penarik beca, pasar malam vendors, your Poslaju boys, etc.”  The identity of Tarik Jeans resonates with the Malaysian youth as it is a brand that continues to practice authenticity and wearability.  

The local denim culture has continued to thrive even under fluctuating trends and fleeting fashion crazes.  “It’s timeless, universal, and always on its own terms” said, Kamal Effendi. Effendi describes that, “true denim lovers will stay loyal to the denim culture.  They aren’t shaped by whatever trends that come and go. They are shaped by their passion and quest for the ultimate jeans that will suit their needs.” Global denim sales have declined over the last few years due to the rise of yoga pants and athleisure; however, our local denim labels have found a way to stay relevant.  Tarik describes that, “we also suggest how that look can be enhances with the incorporation of denim within the style. Jogger pants and denim jacket, that’s a look right? We might not sell more denim bottoms, but being a denim brand, we still have other denim stuff. And we make awesome t-shirts, shirts, and batik. I dare say denim brands make better t-shirts than a lot of t-shirt brands”.

As for the future of our local denim culture, it is a budding fashion bubble with the potential to grow into so much more.  Competing against international powerhouses like Levi’s, True Religion, or even Diesel, it is an incredibly daunting task to attempt to make your mark.  Casablancas expresses, “here you are, trying to find your voice and your audience, it’s very challenging. But as far as [changing] the mind of the consumers, [it] has proven to be far more challenging.  [We hope] for progress, in whatever form and way. Change is inevitable and we aspire to be part of that change, if not the catalyst.” 

Credit: Dianna Yong

Credit: Dianna Yong