If there’s a will, there’s a way
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.