Malaysians quash Dutch expat’s Baju Kurung dream after SCMP interview

Screencap of Lisette Scheers’ quote by SCMP against a January photo of herself. Photo: Coconuts
Screencap of Lisette Scheers’ quote by SCMP against a January photo of herself. Photo: Coconuts

A Dutch expat running a lifestyle brand in Malaysia has apologized to citizens who had been offended by her telling an interview that she wishes to preserve Malaysian culture amid commercialization. 

Days after her Friday interview with the South China Morning Post sparked a backlash from people disapproving of her saying that she wishes to see the Baju Kurung return and for Malaysians to dress well again, Lisette Scheers of Nala Designs apologized for what she said, calling it a “misunderstanding.” Baju Kurung is the traditional dress for Malay women. 

“I’d like to apologise for the misunderstanding and for giving the wrong impression. I have always considered Malaysia as my home and I love this country like no other. Malaysia to me, is a source of inspiration and what makes it special are its people and I’m learning everyday,” her apology posted through her Nala Designs’ social media pages said. 

The headline of her interview with the Hong Kong-based newspaper has since changed from Shocked by Kuala Lumpur’s commercialization, a designer set about creating products that celebrate Malaysian heritage, to How Malaysian culture inspires a Dutch designer.

The article detailed the 51-year-old’s life growing up as a Dutch expatriate in Malaysia and how Nala Designs, which sells fashionable apparel and accessories, came about. It then ended with Scheers expressing her disappointment as to how much things have changed in Malaysia, including the prevalence of “flammable cheap polyester” she said was everywhere.    

“From the rainforest I source patterns from the exotic flora. I also love old, traditional fabric patterns, things I find in street markets,” she told the reporter. “I live in an old wooden kampong house; I just can’t do condominiums. I do hope to educate people to start respecting what they have: to create a beauty and quality trend in Malaysia again; to say it is not all about plundering this country and capitalising on whatever you can take.”

She then claims that she was taking on an “educational role” in the things she does in Malaysia. 

“My dream is to see the baju kurung return, to see Malays dressing beautifully again,” she said. “I want people here to feel proud of their heritage. Growing up this country was full of beautiful fabrics and colour. I’m on a crusade to make sure that doesn’t disappear.”

Nala Designs sells dresses, shirts, and home accessories, but no Baju Kurung, according to its website. 

Following the interview and the backlash, Scheers’ apology did little to pacify the online hate. 

“So… erm… when is the crusade to save baju kurung starting again..? Just wondering,” someone named Evens Lyn wrote on Facebook, referring to Nala Designs not selling any traditional attire on its website. 

“It wasn’t a misunderstanding. We understand that you think us Malays dress poorly,” an Instagram reply from @Yanakazman said. “Please la don’t go all Mother Theresa and say you want to be the saviour for our culture then charge us RM600 for it.”

Others have decided to post photos of themselves in Baju Kurung to prove to Scheers that the traditional attire was well and alive in Malaysian culture. Even queen Tunku Azizah Aminah Maimunah Iskandariah chimed in, saying, “I wear baju kurung every day and I’m proud of it.”



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