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[July 13, 2014]
Selling on social media [New Straits Time (Malaysia)]
(New Straits Time (Malaysia) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) THREE tech-savvy entrepreneurs tell Siti Syameen Md Khalili about social media's great reach.
Say it with wood THE practice of sending Raya cards may be dying. Umi Hardiana Shuhada Hairudin, 27, thinks one reason people don't send Raya cards is because they know the cards are binned after the festival.
The petite entrepreneur feels people will keep the cards if they are prettier, more personal and most importantly, sturdier. So she has made Raya cards from thin plywood.
The idea to make wooden Raya cards struck her just a few days before Ramadan started. "These days, many people don't bother to send cards or even save those they received but I thought if these are in the form of keepsakes, people would take the trouble. Given that my medium has a rustic nature, I have opted for classic and vintage card illustrations. I believe that is what wood mean to a lot of Malaysians. It takes us back in time," says Umi.
Similar to regular paper cards, IpohWoodArt's wooden cards have an Islamic motif on the first piece of plywood and senders can add the name of the recipient here. A second piece of plywood is attached to this piece using two strands of brown string.
"When Ramadan started, I uploaded some pictures and a video on Instagram, offering sets of four customisable pieces for RM10, excluding postage. I was only hoping to sell a handful of these packs, considering the short time frame," says Umi.
The video demonstrates how senders can write their own well wishes on the plywood pieces using permanent markers.
Neither she nor her husband, fellow artist and entrepreneur Tan Hamid Musa who shares her passion for wood craft, were expecting the large number of orders that came in. They were simply delighted.
She says enthusiastically: "We were not expecting to receive so many orders, and a few customers even ordered in bulk! What's interesting is that most of the customers are youngsters.
"Perhaps working adults prefer to send virtual greetings via email or Whatsapp. It does not matter which method we choose but the important thing is to send well-meaning words as this way, we create closer ties with the people we care about." Umi founded IpohWoodArt, a plywood craft business in 2011 when she was still a final-year Fine Arts student at Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM). "Though Fine Arts is predominantly painting, I've always experimented with other materials. Wood is one of my favourite mediums. I feel that wood has strength and character. Plywood, for instance, has variations in thickness, colour and texture and these are what make it an interesting medium for my designs. I began selling plywood craft during my student days as UiTM offered us avenues for marketing art works to the public," says Umi.
After graduating, Umi met and married Tan. The couple settled down in Ipoh where they recently started a workshop-art gallery, Papan Studio, offering photographs and text printing on plywood.
"We have fridge magnets, wedding invitations, bookmarks, wall decorations, door signages and posters up to A3 size. We also print for special occasions, such as portraits for convocation and decorative wooden designs for wedding booths. All of these can be personalised according to a customer's preference and theme," says Umi, who prefers to use Photoshop to craft her designs.
Most of the design process is done at Umi's home studio while crafting work is done at Papan Studio in Bazaar Medan Kidd, Ipoh. Tan takes care of the heavier tasks involving heat-press and silkscreen printing once the designs are ready.
Umi and Tan also offer their products at Ipoh's famous daily night market, Gerbang Malam, in Jalan Tahwil Azhar. Here, you will find over 100 stores selling a variety of products from 8pm to 1am.
When it comes to reaching out to more customers, IpohWoodArt owes it to social media. Its Instagram and Facebook accounts are a test bed for gauging customer interest. Umi explains: "We also use a dedicated phone line with WeChat mobile messaging service to entertain customer queries, take orders and iron out details for product customisation. I find this method is most effective as the working environment in Papan Studio is far too noisy for me to conduct a proper teleconversation." She hopes to continue offering wooden Raya cards, along with cards for other festivals in the future. "We even had orders from Singapore, Brunei and Australia, but unfortunately we only cater to East and West Malaysia at the moment. Hopefully, we'll be better prepared next Ramadan," she says, adding that her plywood cards are more than just festive cards.
"It may be just another Raya card to most folks, but it's part of my plan to introduce art to more people, especially those in my hometown. Artists in Kuala Lumpur may have a more art-conscious society to woo, but in Ipoh, many don't even know that local art works are available in places such as Gerbang Malam," she says.
"Since we also see a steady number of local and international tourists, I'm hoping that IpohWoodArt craft will become part of Ipoh's attraction." Find IpohWoodArt's Facebook Page (Ipoh Wood Art) or follow the studio on Instagram (@ipohwoodart).
Bricks and buttons THE vivacious Imelda Maya Harris may have acquired fame in MasterChef Malaysia, but that does not mean the accessories designer has forgotten her first love.
This Ramadan she's back with BRICKcessories products such as buttons for baju Melayu and brooches for baju kurung, all made with original Lego bricks, parts and even mini Lego figures.
From building Lego bricks as a child, Imelda went on to study architecture before she became a familiar face on TV. "Designing accessories is my passion, something I was doing even when I held a day job. On the other hand, Lego is a healthy obsession," she says.
Her Ramadan is filled with cooking demonstrations and consultation work under the Malaysian Youth Profiling Indicator Technology (MYProdigy) project.
When the 33-year-old Sarawakian started creating Lego-based products under the brand name BRICKcessories By Imelda Harris last year, response was overwhelming. "I started with brooches, headbands, necklaces and rings. Then when the fasting month started, I thought it would be cool to see guys having similar accessories too, so I turned the 2 x 2 square Lego bricks into baju Melayu buttons. Customers have a choice of 12 colours. I also have pre-set colours, from monochrome to summery hues, while buttons under Polka, Stripes and Zig Zag come with extra parts such as stud dots and flat plates added to the bricks to make them more colourful. Besides regular square bricks, I also have round bricks converted into buttons," she says. Once the metal base is fitted to a Lego brick, the button is left to dry and then rigorously tested.
"During the design stage, I asked a friend to bring his baju Melayu so that I could see how it looked when worn, as a Lego brick would be bigger than the average baju Melayu button. I also checked if the base fitted the button slots easily and I even tried taking the buttons off, both gently and roughly, many, many times just to see if it was strong enough," she says.
A set of five buttons is priced from RM30 to RM40. Friends who bought them last year even came to her house with their outfits to find matching colours. "I posted the products on my website and orders started coming in, including from neighboring countries. I even get orders on Raya morning and after. It wasn't just mothers buying for their children. The oldest customer to wear BRICKcessories buttons is 60. She's from Kuching," she says, happily.
Learning from last year's experience, Imelda, who hand-crafts the product herself, says the trick in time management is early preparation.
"I still take on cooking demo jobs and participate in MyProdigy outings to Johor, so I make BRICKcessories buttons late at night or after sahur. This year, I started the promotion and production early as I hoped to sell 1,000 sets of buttons. With pre-orders secured, I prepared about 600 sets before the fasting month started. I even managed to take a break to celebrate my mother's 61st birthday with a trip to Brazil to enjoy the World Cup fever there," says Imelda who brightens up at the memory.
The trip has inspired her to come up with special edition World Cup buttons to honour countries such as England, Japan, Argentina, German and the host nation. "BRICKcessories World Cup edition buttons are priced at RM100. It's for football fans to show off who they root for without having to wear the country jersey. The buttons can be worn everyday and you don't even have to wash them," she says.
Though produced in volume, not a single button goes into its round metal case before Imelda gets a chance to test out its strength. "I have two assistants helping me pack the buttons into the case and preparing the parcels, but before that, all the buttons have to go through me first!" she quips.
This year, Imelda has enlisted new start-up Petit Playground (www.petitplayground.com) to market the BRICKcessories products. "Last year I had my own website but it was hacked. Some orders were messed up in terms of quantity and colour selection and there were other hiccups too. So this year I'm working with Petit Playground to ensure my products still have web presence though I still rely on the official BRICKcessories Instagram account, @brickcessories to personally reach out to customers, especially those who want further customisation," she says.
Founders of Petit Playground, Noor Herweeza Jamaluddin and Azreen Azam, both 32, says they were intrigued by BRICKcessories which they say perfectly complemented their flagship items. "We started by selling children's Raya clothes on Facebook but in Petit Playground, I offer Lil Miss T kaftan for girls. I think children look charming in designs that even adults like. Many of the kaftans and other garments have neutral colours so we thought that adding BRICKcessories will make the overall outfits look even funkier," says Noor Herweeza who sews the garments herself while her daughter, Thea Ayra Mohamad Izham, 3, models them.
Azreen, who designed the website, says Petit Playground's offerings are not that extensive just yet, so working with other brands such as BRICKcessories helps beef up their portfolio.
"I left my job as a programmer to start my own business so that I don't have to suffer rush hours. Hopefully, parents who don't want to be stuck in traffic jams or join the crowd in shopping malls this Ramadan, will shop at Petit Playground. We also offer baju Melayu, hijab and other headgears for children," she says.
No-fuss headscarves and more At Warna Seri Boutique in PKNS Bangi Complex, the rows of headwear in rainbow hues, attract visitors to the store on Level 1. Opened eight years ago, the boutique was a labour of love for two mothers who found it a challenge to get headscarves designed for those who lead an active lifestyle.
Former schoolfriends from Kota Baru, Kelantan, Nik Rosmariati Nik Aznan Shah and Norizan Rosley, both in their 30s, believe they were not the only ones.
"We love outdoors activities. We were always signing up for school trips. We remember how hard it was to properly set the white tudung that went with the school uniform. There were pins that you needed to poke in at the sides and the fabric was so slippery that a gush of wind could ruin all the hard work to put it on," says Nik.
"We thought that when we started working, we'd be able to find stylish, minimal maintenance scarves that were easy to wear and care for but we were wrong. Each time we griped about it, we dreamt of starting our own boutique where each tudung could be worn in five minutes or less," says the bubbly Norizan.
In 2006, they left their full-time jobs to start Warna Seri Boutique. They got married and had their own families, so having their own business meant a more flexible career.
Nik, who has just delivered her fifth child, says: "Norizan has four boys, while I have four girls and a boy. If we had a 9-to-5 job, it would not be possible to spend quality time with our families. We started Warna Seri as a small business offering scarves and related accessories to supplement the family income. Today, we have our own line of Muslim headgear and baju Melayu for adults, kids and babies." Initially, Warna Seri offered only headgear but more and more customers asked for complementary items. "When customers were happy with the quality and comfort level of our scarves and shawls, they asked for pashmina, gloves, innerwear, socks and of late, clothing too. Some kept coming back to check out our latest additions and were happy to find items that they couldn't find elsewhere," says Norizan.
Nik says that unlike mass-produced goods, what they offer is different in terms of length, pattern and fabric used. She says:"For example, we used to carry consignment items for baju Melayu but after taking into consideration what our regular customers looked for, such as longer sleeves, softer necklines and easy to iron fabric, we decided to have our own line sewn, starting this year. We worked with the tailor to ensure measurements are tailored according to customer requests." Though happy with the progress of their physical boutique, the move to create an online presence did not start till a few years ago. "As more people were going to Facebook and Instagram to check out what was new, we realised that we needed to keep up. The funny part is, both Norizan and I are really too busy to maintain an online presence, so most of the postings on our personal Facebook and boutique's Instagram accounts are done by family members and friends," says Nik.
Norizan adds: "Previously, family members such as our sisters, helped by going to Thailand and China to source for supplies. Now they help us spread the word about our latest products, on Facebook and Instagram. This year, we started an official Instagram account under our own boutique name as we have more items to offer. In fact, it was started by a friend who convinced us that social media was the quickest way to send news to regular customers, entertain queries and collect feedback.
"Facebook is quite saturated with businesses nowadays, so we find Instagram to be more effective, not to mention the easiest for our busy lifestyle. Between running the boutique and making sure my family is taken care of, I still can squeeze in a few minutes to snap a picture and post it," she explains.
As for modelling the latest products, the task falls on Nik's 5- year-old daughter, Rosmira Maisara Amir.
Nik is quick to emphasise that for them, Instagram is a promotional tool, not an online business. "We can see how fast news travels via Instagram, and the best part is, responses are instant too. From this we can gauge their likes and dislikes, and work on sourcing for better quality products and perfecting future offerings. For now, we cannot have an Instagram store as we don't have the time to do the packing and postings. However, the idea of reaching to a wider market is very exciting and we may give it a try next year," she says.
Follow Warna Seri Boutique's Instagram account, @warnaseri.
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