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As a skincare enthusiast, I’m constantly on the lookout for affordable yet effective products. And since the pandemic and the #sapotlokal initiative it birthed, I’ve been more open to trying local brands. 

It was during one of these searches that I came across The Pastels Shop

On the surface, it just seemed like another distributor of K-beauty products. But with a quick skim of their website, I found that this is just one small part of the business.

The brand actually has its own skincare line that’s formulated and made in Malaysia, and recently partnered with Aeon Wellness to retail at its outlets. 

And behind all this is Sarini Zainal Abidin, who was an engineer before she was an entrepreneur.

A stroke of luck

Back in her university days, Sarini moved abroad to obtain her degree in chemical and biological engineering. Specifically, from Korea University where she was a student for six years.

And during that period, she deepened her interest in the fields of business and cosmetic formulations. 

Image Credit: The Pastels Shop

“I would often stroll to the nearest drugstore, where I’d sit on the floor and meticulously scrutinise ingredient lists for hours, attempting to correlate them with my academic knowledge,” she shared.

“Being immersed in the country’s advanced cosmetics trends proved to be a stroke of luck.”

Hence, she didn’t take the opportunity lightheartedly and instead made the most of her time there.

While most students would return to their homelands for winter breaks, Sarini chose to stay back instead and join the free marketing and business classes offered by universities.

Image Credit: The Pastels Shop

By the time she graduated and moved back to Malaysia, she was all geared up to venture into the skincare industry. But before that, being a practical person, she wanted to gain hands-on experience first.

Keeping it practical

She worked as an engineer upon graduating, learning to manage production lines and navigating the corporate world. 

Once ready, she left that occupation behind and began her career as a distributor of K-beauty products. It was a slight deviation from her original plans, but Sarini acknowledged that she lacked experience and capital for product development.

“As a pragmatic alternative, I decided to curate excellent K-beauty products tailored for Malaysian skin,” she explained. 

Image Credit: The Pastels Shop

And slowly, through this, she gained insights into logistics, NPRA requirements, and the intricacies of building a brand from the ground up.

Dictionary time: NPRA refers to the National Pharmaceutical Regulatory Agency in Malaysia that carries out research into the quality, efficacy, and safety of drugs and cosmetics.

Source: National Pharmaceutical Regulatory Agency

Under the name The Pastels Shop, the online business carried international brands like 3CE and Cosrx. But recently, they’ve shifted to focus on promoting local names including The Raw, Purpose Skin, and JOI. 

Transparent and minimalistic

Image Credit: The Pastels Shop

It took about four years of R&D but in 2019, Sarini finally achieved her dream with the launch of The Pastels Shop’s first self-made product.

The mission? To address the fundamental needs of the average Malaysian’s skin concerns. 

“One pivotal factor that led me to establish our brand was a personal yearning for cosmetics tailored to the nuances of Malaysian skin—addressing diverse skin tones and the sensitivity posed by hot and humid conditions,” Sarini explained. 

“Many skincare products in the market often contain fragrances, an excess of ingredients, and undisclosed percentages of active ingredients.” 

Image Credit: The Pastels Shop

With that in mind, the founder takes a minimalist yet detailed approach to all her skincare products. Many of them are named according to the ingredients and the percentages of them.

For example, its crowd-favourite vitamin C serum called AA2G Serum is clearly labelled to contain:

  • 2% AA2G (stabilised ascorbic acid derivative produced from vitamin C)
  • 1% Ferulic Acid
  • Tocotrienols (a type of vitamin E nutrient)

A chemist first and foremost

Image Credit: The Pastels Shop

“As a former chemist, I find it more straightforward to discuss formulations and ingredients backed by scientific research rather than relying on fragrances and luxurious concepts,” Sarini explained.

This seemed to be a tactical approach in building the trust of customers, as over time, its in-house brand became more profitable.

Fast forward to about five years since then, the brand still follows this ethos. Hence, you can find that all its 14 SKUs now sport similar labels.

Another factor that Sarini emphasises on is being budget-friendly to make it more accessible to consumers. Generally, the brand’s products are priced from RM8.90 up to RM89.

Image Credit: The Pastels Shop

But don’t be fooled into thinking that it’s not effective just because they’re made locally and sold at such a price. Personally, I’m part of the 43% of their repeat customers and swear by their skincare serums’ potency.

It seems that many of their regulars also agree, considering that the brand produced up to 100,000 units of products last year. 

They expect this figure to increase particularly after the brand’s recent entry into 58 Aeon Wellness outlets.

Image Credit: The Pastels Shop

Growing bigger and bolder

Speaking on this, Sarini explained that she had the opportunity to pitch in front of Aeon Co Sdn Bhd’s CMO (Chief Marketing Officer) during SIDEC’s Selangor E-Commerce Xccelerator 2023.

“To our pleasant surprise, she expressed genuine interest in bringing our products into Aeon Wellness,” she recalled. “It stands out as one of the most rewarding moments in my entrepreneurial journey.” 

Additionally, The Pastels Shop has also expanded its presence to 40 selected pharmacies and over 300 Guardian outlets.

Image Credit: The Pastels Shop

Prior to that, the brand’s products were mainly available online through Shopee, Lazada, TikTok, and the brand’s official website, as well as the brand’s own stores in Quayside Mall and in Kuantan.

Sarini shared that the goal is to open at least one outlet in each state by 2027. “We are aware about the customer’s demand coming from Kuantan, which is a strategic business location for the east coast region. It is also my hometown, so we want to start with locations that we are familiar and comfortable [with] first.”

Besides skincare, the brand is working towards growing its portfolio by branching out into baby care, body care, hair care, and home and lifestyle items.

And eventually, it wants to become a global brand that’s recognised for its international standards while carrying the Malaysian name. To achieve this, Sarini disclosed that they’re planning to secure funds through ECF in the near future.

Seeing as how the brand has managed to grow organically since its inception in 2011, I’m excited to see how additional funding will boost the business’ bigger potential. My only hope is that the prices and quality remain the same even when it’s gone international.

  • Learn more about The Pastels Shop here.
  • Read other articles we’ve written about Malaysian startups here.

Featured Image Credit: The Pastels Shop

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Vulcan Post aims to be the knowledge hub of Singapore and Malaysia.

© 2021 GRVTY Media Pte. Ltd.
(UEN 201431998C.)