Model, TV host and actress Neelofa ventures into hijab fashion business
MY OBSESSION with hijab styles seems to be getting out of hand. I have a bigger collection of scarves than I could possibly use, and yet I am as confused as ever as to which hijab style suits me best.
Hijab, once deemed conservative by most people, has now become something that is creative, stylish and interesting.
There are many hijab options in the market, making it difficult to keep up with the latest trend. It is evolving so quickly that these days I don’t even bat an eye when a new style comes along.
One brand, however, created by actress, model and TV host Noor Neelofa Mohd Noor, or more affectionately known as Neelofa, seems to have made a strong impression.
Wildly popular at the moment, Naelofar Hijab boasts plenty of stockists, more than the celebrity thought she would have, with each seller seemingly guaranteed a comfortable income each month. It’s not easy to be a Naelofar stockist, though, as you need to ace an interview.
“We are very selective about our stockists. They have to be professional, independent and carry a certain image. Our goal is to empower women and housewives,” says Neelofa, 26, who is sharpening her skills as an entrepreneur.
There are plenty of popular hijab brands in the market such as Fareeda, Medina, Qaira, Zawara, Hijabista and Inarah Shawls. But for some reason, Naelofar Hijab seems to be ahead of the pack.
Comfort, pricing and practicality are cited as reasons for its popularity. However, as the hijab dress sense catches on, makers of the apparel face more competition, more challenges and, unfortunately, more pirated wear.
There are now bootleg Naelofar hijab in the market, and they are much cheaper than the originals, of course.
“We are extremely frustrated by this development,” says Neelofa.
“Our hijab designs have been reproduced in bulk and the quality is inferior from the originals. This will tarnish Naelofar’s image and confuse customers who cannot tell the difference.
“What’s more appalling is that they even use pictures of me to sell their fake Naelofar hijab. Though our business is brisk, this hampers our operations and threatens the livelihood of our stockists,” says the director of NH Prima International Sdn Bhd, whose hijab are patented with Malaysia Intellectual Property Corp.
Neelofa got into selling hijab just six months ago, but the buzz that she has created in this short span of time has been amazing. Almost all of Naelofar collections are snatched up the minute they arrive in stores.
“I had to put my career on hold to focus on the business. Now that it is more stable, I can go back to acting,” says the young entrepreneur who won the Dewi Remaja (Miss Teen Malaysia) competition in 2010.
Naelofar is not really the celebrity’s first business venture. Even before she got her first break in the movie Azura 2012, Neelofa was already doing a few online businessess including Lofalens (which sells coloured cosmetic contact lenses), LofaHeels and BellaVita health drink. She eventually started the hijab and Muslim women’s clothing line last year.
The first company she formed was Neelofa Enterprise, followed by Neelofa Sdn Bhd and now NH Prima International Sdn Bhd. The company has 30 staff and operates from its first boutique outlet in Taman Tun Dr Ismail, Kuala Lumpur.
“I have always wanted to forge my own path, even when I was in my teens. When I started carving my name in the entertainment industry, I was after only one thing – to build a brand for myself. Acting was just a platform to do that,” says Neelofa, a graduate with a degree in international trade and marketing from Sunway University.
She used all the savings from her acting and hosting jobs to start Naelofar Hijab. With the help of a team of three designers, Neelofa created a winning hijab that is lightweight, modest, comfortable and easy to wear. It also comes in a wide variety of colours.
“My team studied the preferences and demands of our customers. We worked based on that and incorporated them into our designs. What you see now is the result of creativity, style and neat workmanship.
“With so many hijab choices in the market, Naelofar Hijab has to be outstanding. We also have a few choices to cater to different tastes. Since hijab ideas are always evolving, we have to be on our toes to keep up,” says the Kelantan-born beauty, who has Pakistani and Iranian ancestry.
Naelofar Hijab has so far launched nine designs – Babes & Basic, Chic & Basic, Classic & Basic, Forever Young, Timeless Beauty, Ladylove, Foxy Lady, Glam Women and Glamorous Belle.
“This business has taught me to be patient, tolerant, and to realise the importance of treating customers well. The fundamentals behind this business is quality, pricing and customer service.
“Even though there are many online hijab sellers in the market, it does not bother me, except for the fake ‘Naelofar’ hijab,” she says.
“We always strategise before we launch our collection. It takes a lot of planning, designing and effort to make sure we get it right,” stresses Neelofa, who is the third of nine siblings.
Currently, there are three factories in Shah Alam and Kuala Lumpur manufacturing the Naelofar hijab.
“Our designs are simple and exclusive, and we do not compromise on quality. Ultimately, our goal is to provide modern and practical hijab for all occasions at affordable prices. For me, business is about trust. Once we gain our customers’ trust, we have to maintain it,” says the TV host, who has appeared in commercials for brands such as Nokia, Silky Girl, Fair & Lovely and F&N Fruit Tree.
She says she has appointed several agents in the UK and Australia to market her hijab collection and the response had been extremely good.
To venture further in the international scene, Neelofa says she is working on a transformation plan.
No doubt, the stylish and modest brand will continue to expand and remain popular. Take it from me, it’s truly an experience to wear one.
With so many enterprising hijab designers working to commercialise this Islamic wear in every conceivable way, hijab are certainly becoming more appealing – thanks to new features such as shimmering shades, floral prints, matt textures, bright or pastel tones and colourful trimmings with accessories.
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