When Hui Mathews launched her activewear line at the Malaysia Women’s Marathon 2014, she didn’t quite know if her project would take off.
“I only had 2 sports bra designs and 2 running shorts designs,” she recalled, “The response was overwhelming. We had so many pre-orders and interested customers, it finally hit me that we had something good going on!”
Less than two years later, Hui’s line known as ash be nimble has only grown stronger and better.
The brand offers activewear for all ages, from the toddler to the adult, in a growing range of high-quality fabrics and aesthetic designs. And everything is priced under RM100.
Hui is determined to marry quality with affordability. It was at her first marathon in 2012 when she noticed that particular gap in the market.
“I was browsing the mini expo to pick up more running shorts and sports bras. That was when I noticed there weren’t many options at the RM100 mark or below which would be stylish and of still decent quality.”
While ash be nimble is mainly an online store, it also has more than 20 stockists based in Kuala Lumpur, Kuching, Singapore, Bali, Cebu and Manila. Its newly-launched office, warehouse and retail studio is in Damansara Kim, Petaling Jaya.
Affordability is only one key to the brand’s appeal. Besides utilising social media, the team at ash be nimble regularly participate in fitness events and organise trail runs in order to engage with their clients at a deeper level.
Hui said enthusiastically, “To be honest, we love the community of runners and people we work out with. They have become good friends. We travel to races together and do life together.
“It’s the lifestyle and faces which set us apart,” she added. “Our models, ambassadors, and featured customers are all everyday Malaysians or Asians who love fitness and the positivity, energy and community that surrounds our fitness activities.”
ash be nimble further taps into the Southeast Asian market through its understanding of local cultures and values. Hui recounts the moment she noticed another unmet need.
“I witnessed a tenacious Indonesian lady complete 50km in a very thick hijab, long-sleeve top and pants. I was inspired to make something more comfortable, lightweight and breathable that could make it easier for her! There were also existing Muslim customers who kept suggesting to make some in our fabrics!”
That’s how the line of sports hijabs came about. As of today, ash be nimble is the only one in Malaysia offering hijabs in materials that suit an active lifestyle—mesh panels, drift, and stretchy material. There are also long-sleeve tops with finger grips available.
The winning formula of fitness, fashion and functionality has garnered the startup a spot as a finalist in the Alliance BizSmart SME Innovation Challenge 2015. The experience has helped Hui fine-tune ash be nimble‘s mission statement, as well as provide opportunity to be part of a bigger community of visionary entrepreneurs.
“Sometimes you can feel quite alone when you are building your own business. Having others who are going through a similar journey is already a great encouragement and source of support.”
Speaking of support, Hui credited her success to the invaluable counsel of her husband, whose name inspired the brand’s moniker.
“He has and always is brutally honest and blunt with me. He asks me all the difficult questions and is my reality check on all fronts. I could not have done this without him.”
Looking ahead to 2016, Hui hopes to make grounds in Jakarta. On top of that, she is keen to maintain a healthy work-life balance, especially now that she is expecting her first child in December.
She admitted that running a business while pregnant is a unique challenge, but she doesn’t find her momentum necessarily hindered. It also helps that she can rely on her capable and supportive staff for whom she is grateful.
Many hours of hard work has been put into this venture, especially when Hui was balancing her startup with a full-time job in consultancy. But the months of little sleep paid off.
“By nature, I am not a charismatic, fearless, extrovert personality. So trying new things, exploring areas I am not familiar with is always stressful. But I do enjoy the challenge!”
Like the fox in ash be nimble‘s logo, Hui hopes that the brand would continue to be adaptable, agile and active.
“We really want to keep sharing our mission of making fitness more accessible through affordable sportswear. We want to be the Asian Fitness Brand in apparel!”