Work­ing the dream

Sib­lings Dahlia Nadi­rah and Luq­man Hakim Juhari have built a pop­u­lar local beauty brand by ac­tively en­gag­ing with their fol­low­ers at pop-up mar­kets and through so­cial me­dia.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Front Page - By BERVIN CHEONG star2@thes­

FROM small pop-up stalls, entreprene­urs grow big business. This is the case for three pop­u­lar Malaysian brands – So.lek Cos­met­ics, Pes­tle & Mortar Cloth­ing and Kapten Batik.

Each has shown that hard work can take you far in the fash­ion and beauty industry. The founders have put in the hours sell­ing their products at week­end mar­kets, and are reap­ing the fruits of their labour.

They started small too, with fund­ing from per­sonal sav­ings or a lit­tle help from family.

We talk to them about their ex­pe­ri­ence and find out how their hum­ble be­gin­nings at pop-up mar­kets have led to re­tail success.

Bank­ing on batik

For friends Farhan Omar and Mo­hamad Ekram Faiz, start­ing their own batik la­bel was re­ally a leap of faith. They did not have any fash­ion background at all, be­ing en­gi­neers.

Some­how, the two made it work. With zero ex­pe­ri­ence, they built up their business (which started in 2017) to where it is now. Kapten Batik can now be found in Robin­sons, Sogo and Ise­tan, plus its own stand­alone flag­ship store in Pub­lika Shopping Gallery.

The se­cret? Prob­a­bly their start at pop-up mar­kets and bazaars in the Klang Val­ley. It al­lowed them to grow their brand slowly but surely, and at a pace they were com­fort­able with.

“We learned step by step to be who we are to­day. All the dif­fer­ent bazaars were great, as they pro­vided a place where we could get to know other home­grown brands and exchange ideas,” Farhan points out.

As it is, the chal­lenge for them was the lack of time and re­sources. They over­came this by re­ally giv­ing the business their full fo­cus. No longer en­gi­neers, they are work­ing full time on Kapten Batik.

“Ded­i­ca­tion and hard work in build­ing up the brand is the key to our success,” Farhan states. “Don’t take any­thing for granted. We have put 110% of our time and energy into the brand.”

Mo­hamad Ekram says that their very first stall was at TREC KL in Septem­ber last year. From there, they have dili­gently pro­moted their batik shirts to peo­ple of all ages.

“From one pop-up to an­other, we worked re­ally hard to ex­plain to peo­ple about out la­bel. I would say we have never missed an op­por­tu­nity to open a stall when­ever it is pos­si­ble.

“I think pop-up mar­kets are great. The younger gen­er­a­tion are drawn to these as they are will­ing to spend more to sup­port the local brand that can be found at such mar­kets.”

Street­wise success

This year marks the ninth year for Pes­tle & Mortar Cloth­ing. The fash­ion la­bel is very much a favourite among Malaysian youths. It is also seen as the go-to for local streetwear en­thu­si­asts.

Pes­tle & Mortar Cloth­ing cur­rently has its own stores (un­der the name of Ma­jor Drop) and can be found in var­i­ous other in­de­pen­dent bou­tiques, as well as in Robin­sons de­part­ment stores and on­line.

Yet, ac­cord­ing to co-founder Hugh Koh, it all started with just friends and family putting up stalls at week­end mar­kets. It was not easy for the team, but they sim­ply rolled with the punches.

“I still re­mem­ber a time at Ur­ban­scapes 2011, when it was still at Padang As­taka (in Pe­tal­ing Jaya), we had to load all our stock onto trol­leys and wheel them onto the field where our tent was,” Koh re­lates.

“So you can imag­ine when it rains, the field turns to mud and the trol­leys don’t re­ally work. Safe to say, we got very good at car­ry­ing heavy loads while walk­ing through muddy fields!”

Koh does not for­get all the help he has got­ten in the past though. He also looks back at those mem­o­ries very fondly, and now thinks of the chal­leng­ing episodes as more of an ad­ven­ture.

“Get­ting friends to be a part of the sales team was also al­ways fun. Did you know that Henry Gold­ing

use to be a part of it all? He was ac­tu­ally a re­ally good sales­man,” Koh states.

“In 2010, peo­ple used to come with sev­eral boxes and bags for a pop-up setup. We how­ever, rolled in with a three tonne lorry of stock and fix­tures. We even added the el­e­ment of mu­sic and also dif­fer­ent ac­ti­va­tions into the mix.”

Success aside, Pes­tle & Mortar is still run­ning stalls at week­end mar­kets. Koh says that it al­lows them to talk to their cus­tomers face-to-face, as well as connect with the “scene”.

“We al­ways jump at the chance to do pop-ups at events like Riuh

and Art­box. When­ever we do such ac­ti­va­tions it gives us a way to re­con­nect with the peo­ple who have sup­ported and will con­tinue to sup­port us all these years.”

Pretty ben­e­fi­cial

It is not just fash­ion la­bels that have found their foot­ing at week­end mar­kets and bazaars. Local beauty brands have also man­aged to jump start their business by sell­ing at pop-ups.

En­ter So.lek Cos­met­ics. Founded by sib­lings Dahlia Nadi­rah and Luq­man Hakim Juhari, the brand draws from the ex­pe­ri­ence of go­ing on-ground to suc­cess­fully sell their makeup products.

“The first ever pop-up mar­ket that we joined was Pesta Buku four years ago and we learned so much from it. The ex­pe­ri­ence of start­ing from pop up mar­kets were amaz­ing as we got to know our au­di­ence re­ally well,” Dahlia ex­plains.

“What I re­mem­bered most was meet­ing this lady who was quite ‘scary’ at first. She was ask­ing us about our products and in­gre­di­ents. Be­ing new­bies, we were both sweat­ing and stut­ter­ing crazily.”

“To gain trust from our cus­tomers. I think that’s the most im­por­tant les­son we learned,” notes Luq­man.

“It re­ally helps hav­ing a pres­ence at these pop-up mar­kets so that we can ex­plain and let them try our products.”

“We think be­ing hon­est about our products is the take-home mes­sage. We have never claimed any­thing that we are not, es­pe­cially when it comes to our products be­ing ha­lal cer­ti­fied.”

About 80% of So.lek Cos­met­ics products are ha­lal cer­ti­fied. The rest are still wait­ing for the cer­ti­fi­ca­tion.

Dahlia was inspired to ven­ture in this industry when she went to local phar­ma­cies in New York City in 2015 and saw how af­ford­able cos­met­ics sold there were.

She then roped in her brother to help her out. As a new brand, So.lek Cos­met­ics aims to give its cus­tomers con­fi­dence and to also en­hance the users’ beauty.

The name So.lek was inspired by two things – alat solek (which means make-up in English) and the words “So? Re­lax!” – a phrase is of­ten used by the sib­lings when teas­ing each other in friendly ban­ter.

As for the logo, it was inspired by the tra­di­tional bot­tle of eye-liner (or “celak”) that was used by their late grand­mother. Grow­ing up, the two of­ten watched her putting on makeup.

So.lek Cos­met­ics can now be found stocked on var­i­ous on­line web­sites, as well as in phys­i­cal bou­tiques and stores. De­spite that, Dahlia and Luq­man are con­tin­u­ing on the pop-up mar­ket route.

“We haven’t for­get where we started off. We even re­mem­ber our first ever cus­tomer and we still have the first RM100 note that we re­ceived from her!” states Luq­man.

“The younger gen­er­a­tion is the ‘Instagram gen­er­a­tion’ and a lot of these Instagram brands would usu­ally par­tic­i­pate at these mar­kets. This is also where peo­ple can go to try, ex­plore and feel the products they love,” says Dahlia.

Pop-up stalls, back-break­ing work to man them as they are, re­mains the best and cheaper way for brands like So.lek Cos­met­ics to get their name out and cap­ture a dif­fer­ent mar­ket from phys­i­cal stores.

The goal for So.lek Cos­met­ics is now to conquer the global mar­ket.

Con­tin­u­ously push­ing their brand’s vis­i­bil­ity at pop-up mar­kets and on Instagram is one thing, but they are also hop­ing to go global.

“A big chal­lenge was to gain trust from our cus­tomers that local made products are as good as other in­ter­na­tional brands. Also, we have to stand out. Thus, we de­cided to go with hav­ing the brand filled with 100% Malaysian DNA,” Luq­man states.

“It’s not just made in Malaysia but ev­ery prod­uct, logo even the name is de­rived from the things that made us proud of be­ing Malaysian. And it has worked very well for us.”


Farhan and Mo­hamad ekram were two en­gi­neers who took a leap of faith to start Kapten Batik. — KAMARUL ARIFFIN/THE star

dahlia and Luq­man says it helps to have a pres­ence at pop-up mar­kets for the cus­tomers to have a first-hand ex­pe­ri­ence. — azman Ghani/the star

Koh started by putting up stalls at week­end mar­kets. — sam THAM/THE star

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