By NOW it is of course common knowledge that the Internet is greatly changing the way things are done in many fields, not least among them business.
A small Malaysian company called Heart and Shawl is counting on this by using e-commerce to change the way headscarves are priced and the way they are acquired by Muslim women.
While fashion is closely tied to religion for many women in Malaysia, sometimes it can be costly to look good in headscarves. Heart and Shawl is seeking to change that, while also doing their bit to help the less fortunate.
Heart and Shawl’s founders said they set up the online business to sell high-quality chiffon shawls at an affordable price.
As for the part about helping the less fortunate, the online shop has a campaign where buyers can add RM15 to their purchases so that an underprivileged Muslim girl will be the proud owner of a headscarf.
“Wearing a shawl means that a woman is practising her religion and we believe that a good practice such as this should be encouraged and made affordable to everyone.
“We’re not just dying to get our name across to people, but we want to change the way shawls and headscarves are sold because I know we can make a change,” said company co-founder Hafeez Izmal Jamal Hisne.
Hafeez, who is also the brains behind the business runs it with his wife and four other partners who all have full-time jobs as engineers, a photographer and a phD student.
Already drawing a comfortable salary as an oil and gas engineer, Hafeez and his friends could have chosen to live a more carefree life, but he found out about the exorbitant prices of high-end shawls when he was shopping for a good shawl for his mother before his wedding.
“We keep our margins are slim because its a worthwhile endeavour. We feel it’s terrible to see people settling for less because they can’t afford such items,” he said.
Hafeez said Heart and Shawl was selling its shawls at prices ranging from RM29 to RM56.
He said this was two to three times less than the usual prices similar items were sold for.
It was during a trip with his wife to Jakarta to shop for fabric for Hari Raya that Hafeez discovered how cheap fabric was and the actual prices it was sold at.
“A shawl is a normal day-to-day need for many women and it’s a shame that people exploit this to make a huge profit.
“We want to stay true to our cause and that’s why we are launching the campaign to help underprivileged girls. We are in the process of identifying orphans and NGOs to work with,” said the 27-year-old who is based in Miri, Sarawak.
With a hectic work schedule that requires him to be offshore for several weeks, Hafeez makes trips back to Kuala Lumpur every two months to meet up with his partners and check on the business because he enjoys being hands-on with the running of the company.
“After all, we are new. Our sales are alright, but we have just enough people to run the business, which is based in Kuala Lumpur,” said Hafeez, who was also born in Kuala Lumpur.
Hoping to see a return on their investment to set up the company only after a year, he admitted that his team of new entrepreneurs encountered a major bump in the early days of the company.
He said the company that sewed all their shawls ruined an entire batch. The final products received by Heart and Shawl were not of the same quality as the initial samples they had been shown. Even so, the company was forced to pay for the goods.
“The manufacturer lowered their price a little, but it still cost us RM10,000.
“That experience changed our business strategy. From then on, we ordered smaller production runs and started working with a company that was closer to our or our partner’s homes,” added Hafeez.
Hafeez pointed out that this change of strategy has been a boon even as the company was familiarising itself with the business landscape since it allowed them to monitor product quality, reduce travel time and costs and improves replenishment times for stock.
Having just four different product lines — two basic and two premium — Hafeez said they planned to diversify the business when the company was more stable.
“We are looking to have more designs because the current ones available are for daily wear. We are also looking at selling bigger shawls for the same price,” he said.
While the Heart and Shawl website has a clean and simple layout, what makes the site stand out is the diversity of models used to showcase their products.
“We received feedback from customers about how, when they bought our headscarves, they didn't look the same on them compared to when they saw it in our catalogue because had different skin tones from the models. Many businesses often opt for fair-skinned models when it comes to promoting products,” said Hafeez.
As a result, Heart and Shawl decided to use models with different skin tones to show whether a particular colour of headscarf matched a skin tone.
“We did some research by going to several of our friends with different skin tones to see how our shawls would look on them,” he explained.
The efforts have proven to be worthwhile as customers have given positive feedback to the company.
“People love our products and we are happy to see every lady own a good shawl,” said Hafeez with a smile.