Tuesday Jun 02

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Get to know Ness, Co-Founder of HayaaMusfirah

FoundersofHMDk Hanisah Lia Pg Hj Mohd Salleh, 30, or Ness as she’s usually known (“I got this name when I was studying in Australia. Ozzies couldn’t pronounce “Hanisah,” so Ness it was!”) is a Human Biology graduate from the University of Southern Queensland, Australia, and the co-founder of HayaaMusfirah (http://www.hayaamusfirah.com), local online retailer of clothing for Muslim women.

On a background in business.

I have no background in business except I think it is in my blood. My maternal late grandfather had a mini mart back in the day and my mom had a tailoring business as well. I didn’t have any interest then in “inheriting” my mother’s business and after I got married, my husband said he didn’t want me to work, but he did influence me to dip my feet in the business world so I decided to take up business just to fill in the time.

So! How was HayaaMusfirah born?

It was the brain child of Nabilah Taif and myself. A few years ago before we started in 2010, it was really difficult to find syariah-compliant hijabs (Syariah compliant here meaning to cover the chest as well as hair) - we had to order our hijabs from overseas. So we came together and pooled our money and started the business in April 2010. We both decided on the name as well. Hayaa’ means modest / modesty and Musfirah means elegant in Arabic. Our motto was you can still look elegant while covering up and maintaining your modesty.

In the last 5-7 years there's been a huge upswing of interest regionally (and globally!) in both Muslimah-friendly fashion, and the digital market. Where do you think HayaaMusfirah fits into this scene?

In comparison, I personally think that HayaaMusfirah’s standards are not similar to most local Muslimah businesses but maybe have more in common with a few regional businesses. My personal opinion on the “Muslimah Friendly” fashion trend is that most are not quite syariah-compliant. There are only a few global companies that I am aware of that sell syariah-compliant clothing (i.e. loose clothing, hijabs covering the chest, etc). Two of them are Shukr (http://www.shukr.co.uk) (UK-based, I think) and Indonesian brand Kivitz (http://kivitz.blogspot.co.uk) (OK, I’m biased. I love Kivitz!!!). Most regional Muslimah companies sell a mixed clothing line, of syariah-compliant and not-so-syariah-compliant clothing, unlike Shukr and Kivitz.

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HayaaMusfirah's particular niche of the market is focused on syariah-compliance. Can you tell me a bit about how HayaaMusfirah has interpreted this compliance? How important is this to you, and has there ever been a point when you've been tempted to expand or bend what this compliance means?

Before we started we did extensive reading on how to make sure the business does not deviate from the teachings of the Quran and Hadith. We did some research on the attire of a Muslimah, the dos and donts, what is admissible and what isn’t. While there are differences in opinion by different scholars on the attire of the Muslimah, we decided to take the middle stand which is to follow the modern trend but if it goes to a point that the trend goes against the ruling we hold on to, then we will not continue that line.

Yes, many times we’ve been tempted to “bend the rules” and we did a few times but every time we did, we found that we would make fewer sales than usual. Even when the clothing line was in demand in other Muslimah businesses, it wouldn’t sell as well with us.

Strange but true. I suppose it turns off our customers because what appeals to them, I think, is the uniqueness of the business, how we focus mainly on syariah-compliant hijabs and attire. But once we deviate from that, we lose our appeal and become “normal”. I think. Hehe.

How would you describe the typical HayaaMusfirah customer?

Hmmm. I think there are three types of customers:

1) The non-practising Muslimah (they like to buy cute stuff like colourful socks, arm socks and brightly coloured shawls)
2) The transit Muslimah (in the gradual process of changing their appearance)
3) The practicing Muslimah (they already dress in syariah-compliant attire and are looking to add more to their collection of hijabs and dresses)

Note: When I say practicing I mean in terms of appearance and not their ibadah (acts of worship)

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Can you walk me through a typical day in the life of a HayaaMusfirah entrepreneur?

6:30 am Getting the eldest ready for school
7:30 am Doing the school run
8:30 am Clock in at the office, check emails, text messages
9:00 am My staff comes in to process the orders and I help her with the packing if I am not occupied with other work (such as discussing with suppliers, researching new items to bring in, accounting)

I used to do this part on my own but since HayaaMusfirah rented an office (July 2013), the extra help was required as there was an increase in sales since we started using the dot.com.

11:00am Pick up the eldest from school, trip to the post office to post parcels
2:00pm Back at the office
5:00 pm / 6:00pm Back at home (earlier if possible but it depends if there is pending work or if I am waiting for replies from suppliers or if the website needs tweaking)

On Fridays and Sundays, I take pictures of new items to be posted on the website, edit them and upload them on the website.

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What are the particular challenges of being a Bruneian entrepreneur or of the Bruneian market?

Hmmm…I would say lazy customers who can’t be bothered to read terms and conditions or can’t be bothered to read anything. I take extra care in writing every possible detail that is required of the customer before putting their chosen items in the check-out basket, but still get questions even when it’s already been stated. With these types of people, it is still required for us to answer them with civility and politeness. So even if they ask a million times, we still have to answer a million times.

On the market itself, I don’t think there is much of a threat. I see everyone as healthy competitors (now, at least, maybe not so much back when I first started out but wisdom comes with experience you see. lol). We do have competitors who sell the same items at a reduced prices but it’s their right to sell it at that price. When this happens, then it’s time to find a better product to sell! See, competitors help us with our creativity. :D

What do you see as the future of Muslimah fashion, HayaaMusfirah, and online shopping?

The way I see it, Muslimah fashion is heading in two directions, one that will be far away from syariah-compliance but still gets labeled as Muslimah fashion and the other heading towards syariah-compliance as there is more awareness about being a proper Muslimah.

As for HayaaMusfirah, we would like to start producing our own clothing line, designed and tailored by us personally, introduce our brand globally and one day we would like to open a boutique and still maintain our website, to cater to our local and international customers. InsyaAllah.

As for online shopping, I personally favour this because it’s the easiest way to shop. I expect that the online shopping trend will not die anytime soon. But then again, nothing beats entering a shop and being surrounded by beautiful clothing and hijabs, that is still an overwhelming feeling that online shopping can’t replace.

Thank you Ness for taking the time to answer my questions! The HayaaMusfirah online shop can be found at this address: http://www.hayaamusfirah.com

Addendum: It may be useful here to explain syariah-compliance as understood by HayaaMusfirah more completely. Muslimah attire must cover the entire body, except for the hands (up to the wrist) and face. Clothing should be loose and non-transparent, and hijabs should cover the chest area.


imageAbout the Contributor: Kathrina is currently a visiting researcher at the University of Washington in Seattle, where she spends her days thinking very hard about the place of religion in popular fiction. In her free time, she rides the ferries and experiments with cooking seafood. She welcomes advice on any or all of the above topics at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

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