Sweet success

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WHEN fashion entrepreneur Nur Atiqah Sulaiman, better known as Eyqa, was a IT student in university in 2008, she sold scarves to make ends meet.

From a tiny blog shop, started with just RM800, Sugarscarf has grown to become a recognisable premium scarf brand. Just last year, the Muar native and her business partner turned husband, Muhammad Zulkarnaen Mohd. Ali, raked in RM10 million in sales and have been looking to expand their labour of love outside of Malaysia.

Following six successful boutiques nationwide and a thriving online store offering new hijabs every week, Eyqa decided to test the waters in London early last year after discovering a growing demand for modest wear in the United Kingdom.

Towards the end of 2015, the fashion community in Europe was brimming with excitement as Muslim wear became the talk of town.

From fast fashion retailers such as Uniqlo and H&M to couture houses such as Dolce & Gabbana cashing in on a relatively untapped market, the buzz continued well into February this year as premium hijabs and headscarves were given the spotlight at London Fashion Week.

After a successful presentation at last year’s London Fashion Showcase, Sugarscarf launched its UK online store and many of its designs have been selling fast.

“London is a well-known fashion city and I personally love it,” said the 31-year-old, who started creating her own designs in 2012.

Her semi instant scarf that comes with a built-in inner layer, which she named Madison, continues to be her best-selling design today.

“It’s easy, there’s no need to pin the sides – you just put it on,” said Eyqa, who sells 20,000 scarves a month.

In Malaysia, the pieces retail from RM35 to RM170 while prices in the UK start from £30.

Comparing the two markets, she said clients in Malaysia love experimenting with colours while Londoners had a penchant for neutral shades.

“They prefer colours such as brown and black so the challenge is satisfying their love for neutral tones while injecting some form of colour,” she said, adding that she had to learn to design for the four seasons.

Back in tropical Malaysia, she has been working hard to come up with new colour combinations and prints.

“Muslimah fashion evolves fast and customers want to see new designs every week.”

She said marketing was important as there were a lot of competitors in Malaysia.

Predominantly, Sugarscarf targets Muslim women aged between 25 and 35, but not exclusively, as its designs cater to urban, working women who love to travel and see the world.

“We know who our customers are. Perhaps that is why we have lasted this long in the market,” said Eyqa, who runs the business out of Bukit Jelutong with a team of 50.

She said being hands on in the design phase was a creative outlet that allowed her to take inspiration from nature with splashes of colour.

“I love looking at colours and my inspiration comes from daily life, childhood memories and my travels.”

Her collection of ombre scarves might appear common to some but for Eyqa, the idea was conceived during a special time for Muslims.

“I designed it one Ramadan after gazing at the changing colours of twilight just before our family broke fast.”

Three years ago, she and her husband welcomed a daughter, and motherhood has changed her perspective on life.

Last month, she launched Hope by Sugarscarf, where a portion of the proceeds will be given to the less fortunate. The charity initiative now focuses on education but it is Eyqa’s dream to make water accessible to children in Cambodia and other Asian countries.

“I thought about my daughter and I imagined what life would be like for her if she was born into a less fortunate community.”

When asked why was it important for businesses to give back to the community, Eyqa said: “You must remember that what you have is not yours alone. You have to help others when you have more
than them.”