This week’s batch of four finalists in the Alliance Bank SME Innovation Challenge got the idea to start their own apparel business when they couldn’t quite find what they wanted in the market, reports MEK ZHIN.
PEOPLE say when you want something done right, you just have to do it yourself. This was the basis for the formation of four businesses among the 20 finalists in this year’s Alliance Bank SME Innovation Challenge under the BizSmart Academy programme.
Kooshboo, a boho chic-influenced children’s clothes business co-founded by Natasha and Natalia Navin, came about because the sisters simply couldn’t find what they wanted for their kids.
“When we had our children, we discovered that clothes on the market were all either cartoon character-based or miniatures of adult clothes,” Natasha recalls.
“We felt that children clothes should reflect innocence and cuteness, and there wasn’t anything like that,” she continues.
Natasha and her sister then embarked on a two-year research journey, and that gave rise to Kooshboo.
Having grown up with a grandmother and mother who sewed dresses for them, they were rather comfortable about starting a clothing business of their own. One of the features of Kooshboo’s clothes are its use of natural fabrics, and they make clothes for children from three months of age to 11-year-old boys and girls.
Natasha says that the primary challenge right now is to build the Koshboo brand and make it the trusted name for children’s clothing.
A very active person who enjoys many kinds of sports, including ultra-marathons, Hui Mathews started her business, Ash Be Nimble, out of a wish for affordable sports-wear.
“There aren’t many affordable sportswear brands in Malaysia, so I just created one myself. I found a manufacturer in China who could produce my designs and went ahead,” she says.
Her first time setting up a stall selling two kinds of sports bras and shorts saw each selling a few hundred pieces within a single day. Mathews believes the good reception to her products is due to its affordability, comfort, effectiveness and great looks,
She has recently launched a range of sports hijab through a collaboration with a friend, after receiving many requests for it.
In the case of Rent A Dress, founder Shuen Chiu saw an opportunity for a business when she realised how expensive it was dress up for formal functions and wedding dinners.
“I was borrowing dresses from my cousin when I started thinking that I too had accummulated a number of dresses of my own. It got me thinking of a place where people could loan dresses without bursting their wallets,” she says.
Rent A Dress is exactly what its name suggests — a place where people can rent any of the company’s 300 dresses at a fraction of the price if you were to buy instead.
“We carry designer dresses, most of which we source directly from the designers themselves. These brands are not readily available here and are typically known as contemporary brands,” Chiu says.
Running the business has given her many insights into the fashion trends of Malaysian and Singaporean women.
“We find many of our customers asking for styling advice, which we do our best to give. Luckily everybody who works at Rent A Dress loves fashion, so it isn’t too hard,” she says.
Chiu is hoping to have 100,000 dresses in five years’ time.
Rounding up the fashion entrepreneurs in this interview is fashion website founder Sherlyn Tan who runs Twenty3.
The website has enjoyed amazing growth and boasts of customers in 20 countries, but according to Tan, establishing the business has been a steep learning curve for her.
“I have been cheated many times in the course of running my business. It wasn’t until the second year that I managed to find trustworthy people to work with,” she reveals.
When she started the business, Tan only had RM5,000. She says her early success was largely down to two products, the invisible bra and convertible dress, both of which continue to sell well.
Tan, however, has larger plans than just selling clothes on the website.
“I want Twenty3 to be a place that can raise talented young designers. I’m not a fashion designer myself, but I am a fashion entrepreneur so I believe I’m the right fit to help them achieve their potential,” she says.
All 20 finalists of this challenge are in the running to win RM1mil’s worth of prizes.
They will face a second pitch with the judges and then it’s on to the grand finale set for Dec 11.