What started out as a side income became a livelihood for co-founders of local hijab brand ALEIA, Hjh Nurliyana Hj Marsini and Hj Md Waddi Aleyamin Hj Ibrahim.
Since 2018, the married couple persevered through the ups and downs of the business, motivated to make the brand known as it is today.
However, it was not an easy journey from the get-go when the two began their venture in 2017, selling headscarves, supplements and food from other brands.
Sales were good but unfortunately, they encountered a problem along the way which made them reassess the business.
“At the time, I already had an idea to create and sell my own brand; I just wasn’t sure what to sell yet,” said Hjh Nurliyana.
After much thought and consideration, she created her own headscarf brand, seeing the potential of customers from the previous products sold.
ALEIA was then born – a combination of the married couple’s names and inspired by the Arabic word ‘Alia’ which means the highest.
“The idea (to sell headscarves) also came about when I went to expos and didn’t see many local brands being promoted or sold. I thought to myself; there should be more.”
The business kickstarted in late 2017 with the creation of the logo followed by the design and production of the scarves.
The co-founder worked with a Malaysian designer to create three abstract designs that incorporated large and small flowers.
In January 2018, after several design revisions, the first batch of 120 ALEIA headscarves in Twill material was launched in 12 colours, each priced at $27 and sized at 100cm by 100cm.
Hjh Nurliyana said that four colours in 40 pieces were initially introduced: black, pink, nude and silver; which sold out in the first three days.
“It wasn’t easy to convince people to try our products but after listening to our story on why we started, people were eventually convinced and loved our products,” she said, adding that the rest of the colours were released shortly after.
As the business began, the duo opened a shop in one of the popular malls in Berakas but unfortunately closed down after only 10 months of operation.
The duo reassessed their business again and were advised to share their products.
“During that time, I finished attending courses in Malaysia and that’s when I was advised to share my products. Initially, I wasn’t sure what it meant but after the closure of our shop, we decided to recruit our own personal shoppers.”
Hjh Nurliyana explained that the personal shoppers would act as agents to promote and sell the products.
“Once we found a few personal shoppers among our close friends and family, and they began promoting, more customers began to know the brand and buy from us.”
The ALEIA team then joined a 72-hour event in Malaysia in hopes to reach a wider audience.
“I went with my top five personal shoppers and learned so much from the trip. We sold over a thousand pieces and once we were back in Brunei, we received inquiries from other Malaysian customers on how to purchase our products.”
The co-founder then hired five personal shoppers in Malaysia to sell the items and market the brand.
Since then ALEIA grew further in sales and that was when the entrepreneur saw promising growth.
“It hit me in 2020 that the brand had even bigger potential; I was motivated, I wanted it to grow bigger and I wanted (more) people to know the brand so I attended numerous seminars and classes in Malaysia to learn more from people in the same industry.”
She spoke to vendors and mentors and sought their advice and input on her business.
“Many asked me when I was going to quit my day job to focus on growing ALEIA but I was afraid of the uncertainty it would bring,” said Hjh Nurliyana, as having a day job meant a steady income for her and her family.
As she came back to Brunei, COVID-19 hit the nation with restrictions in place and people staying home.
“I thought it would affect my business because everyone’s priorities changed to getting only essentials but it was actually then that our brand gained more exposure.”
“It happened during one of our launches which were shared on our Instagram page by myself. Two minutes later we were sold out but I couldn’t believe it at first until my husband and sister also checked.”
Hjh Nurliyana said sales started to vastly pick up and by that time, prices of the scarves were already lowered to $22 per item, with a change to a softer material – satin silk.
She also credits the popularity of the brand to doing live sessions on their Instagram page whenever there were new releases.
“I was shy at first but my husband encouraged me to try and when I did, sales kept growing and we’ve been going live at every launch since then.”
At the end of 2020, she left her day job as a banker and focused solely on growing the business.
“It was a tough decision but with more customers coming in and having difficulty balancing the business and my day job, it was the right decision, which was scary at first but I had trust that if it was meant to be, it will be.”
“Sure enough, during my last day at work, I received two offers – one from an investor and a large corporate order.”
The duo turned down the offer from the investor as they wanted to run the business solely by themselves.
Now reaching almost 100k pieces sold, Hjh Nurliyana also attributed the success of the brand to the payment of business alms (Zakat perniagaan).
“Allah SWT has given us so many things in this life; health, waking up every day, eyes to see, hands to touch and he only asks for a small percentage of alms from us.”
“My husband and I were advised by an experienced mentor we met during the seminars in Malaysia, to focus on giving alms and once we followed his advice, everything was smooth sailing with an abundance of sustenance (rezeki) coming in,” she added.
Despite the many successes and growing popularity, Hjh Nurliyana said the brand has a long way to go, as a number of customers are still not aware of their brand.
“Back then we would feel frustrated if people didn’t accept us but now we are putting our trust in Allah SWT. If it is our rezeki, people will come to buy our products and it is also alright if they don’t.”
The duo aims to work hard to make ALEIA one of the top headscarf choices in Brunei while focusing on giving back to those in need.
She advised future entrepreneurs to start even with small resources as there are always opportunities to grow, to never give up and to always give back.
“Giving back is key; the more you give, the more you get,” said Hjh Nurliyana.
The brand currently has a following of over 14,000 on its Instagram @aleiaofficial. Interested customers can get more details and anticipate new releases and designs on their platform or visit their showroom in Rimba.
THE BRUNEIAN | BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN