If there’s a will, there’s a way

Action Asia - - SOAPBOX -

Hui Matthews, the founder of ash be nim­ble, a Malaysian sports ap­parel brand speaks to about her ex­pe­ri­ences from trail run­ning to man­u­fac­tur­ing hi­jab run­ning wear to women of all faiths

Tel l us a l i tt l e bi t a b out y our r un­ning back­ground and what sparked the idea of cre­at­ing your own com­pany. I started my run­ning jour­ney with my first 8km road race at the 2013 Malaysia Women's Marathon, which was also the in­au­gu­ral race, the first of its kind in Malaysia. That's where I got the idea to star t an af­ford­able and fash­ion­able sports ap­parel brand, as at the shop­ping expo area ev­ery­thing was over RM100 (US$24) or didn't quite ap­peal to my taste and fit. If you're like me and work out three to four times a week, you do need at least three sets of sports bras, tops and bot­toms, which on an av­er­age Malaysian salary will take a big chunk out if you're spend­ing RM150 per piece! I was con­vinced that bud­get should not get in the way of be­ing fit. From there, I started do­ing my own re­search, and also started do­ing more trail run­ning and even­tu­ally got into ul­tra-trail run­ning with 50km and 70km races in Thai­land and Indonesia. Even­tu­ally, I de­cided to quit my com­fort­able cor­po­rate job with the Bos­ton Con­sult­ing Group as ash be nim­ble needed more fo­cus! Now I have a 3-month-old baby and am even more in­spired to im­prove ac­cess to fit­ness through af­ford­able sports­wear, as be­ing fit and healthy re­ally helped me dur­ing my preg­nancy and I realise more and more, that fit­ness can be life-chang­ing.

What was the ini­tial phase of start­ing up the com­pany like? How do you en­gage with the run­ning com­mu­nity back in Malaysia? I was de­ter­mined to start my own brand and booked a booth at the sales expo for MWM 2014, not know­ing if my line would be ready in time. True to form, our early sup­pli­ers were quite un­re­li­able and we man­aged to rush them to get out two sports bras de­signs and two shorts de­signs, but with only one piece per size. The items lit­er­ally ar­rived fresh off the UPS truck thirty min­utes into the expo open­ing, to our im­mense re­lief! We did not ex­pect the re­sponse we got - with an over­whelm­ing amount of pre-or­ders and peo­ple want­ing our ap­parel and ask­ing for more! That was the be­gin­ning of our en­gage­ment with the run­ning com­mu­nity in Malaysia and we have not looked back since. Per­son­ally, I do many trail races and road runs in Malaysia so I am al­ways in and amongst the run­ning com­mu­nity. At all of our events, I make sure I am there so that I can ask cus­tomers for feed­back and talk to them about their fit­ness jour­neys and pref­er­ences too. ash be nim­ble has had a warm re­cep­tion and we are so hum­bled. We also or­gan­ise monthly trail run­ning clin­ics and yoga classes now.

What prompted you to start man­u­fac­tur­ing the hi­jab run­ning wear? When I did my 50km and 70km races at the Bromo Teng­ger Se­meru Ul­tra in 2013 and 2014, that's where I got the idea to start the sports hi­jab range after see­ing some Mus­lim girls go all out in full mod­est wear for the 100km. I was in­spired to cre­ate some­thing that would help make the jour­ney more com­fort­able for them.

Could you de­scribe the process of de­sign­ing for ash be nim­ble? I make sure I talk to as many cus­tomers as pos­si­ble in per­son or via emails and so­cial me­dia so that we know what else they would like to see us come up with. That for me is num­ber one in de­sign. For the road ahead, I want to build some­thing that Malaysians and peo­ple in the re­gion can be proud of, our very own Asian sports ap­parel brand, but with in­ter­na­tional ap­peal. Our phi­los­o­phy is to “Go The Ex­tra Mile” in ev­ery­thing we do: how we treat our cus­tomers, our fit­ness ap­proach, the en­vi­ron­ment, the peo­ple around us, and our­selves.


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