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Growing up, Erina’s life path was pretty much paved before she hit the ground running. She was raised by a father who worked as an engineer and had his own engineering consulting firm. Whose steps would she have followed if not his?

So she joined the oil and gas industry upon graduating from the University of New South Wales with a chemical engineering degree. Then fate had other plans. 

While working at Sapura Energy (previously known as Sapura Kencana), Erina met Anas. A romance blossomed between them and they got married two years later. 

Erina with her husband and co-founder of Zahaara, Anas / Image Credit: Zaahara

It wasn’t long after that the couple decided to start Zaahara, an ecommerce business selling good quality Muslim essentials. At the time, ecommerce was just taking off in Malaysia and there was a market opportunity. 

But another entrepreneur had the same idea and FashionValet was born. The only difference? Anas said that FashionValet had a clear growth plan from the get-go whereas Zaahara was still finding its footing. 

Understanding that business could be better, Erina and Anas left their day jobs to pursue Zaahara full time. This turned out to be a good idea as it led them to securing their market niche.

Image Credit: Zahaara

Giving an old product new life

Speaking candidly, Anas explained that their mistake was targeting the mass market. It took them nearly 10 years before they realised that they should be focusing on a specific niche—on-the-go prayer wear (or telekung in Malay).

The usual telekung that’s commonly found in Malaysia tends to be made of thick cotton material and is therefore bulkier. Conversely, Zaahara’s lightweight prayer wear is made of lighter materials like nylon and polyester mix. 

Image Credit: Zahaara

“The demand has always been there but there is no brand that champions this segment,” Anas said. “We get inspiration from AirAsia. Before Airasia, everyone still flew but when they created the [market] space of cheap flights, suddenly there’s a big demand.”

In that same light, he shared that lightweight telekung was already a known product. However, it was marketed as being a travel telekung, so people connected it to only be meant for travelling. 

Giving the product a rebrand opened it up to a wider market. The overlooked travel telekung now turned into a daily companion for those busy working at offices, commuters, and adventure seekers. 

Zaahara’s current bestseller is the On-The-Go Marisa prayer wear (starts from RM119) that the brand claims to be “the size of your palm”. It weighs approximately 200g which is about the same weight of an iPhone. This makes it convenient to pack into handbags and laptop bags. 

Image Credit: Zahaara

There’s plenty of telekung to go around

The brand’s first lightweight telekung, its On-The-Go Sofia prayer wear (starts from RM120), was released in 2015, three years after Zaahara launched. By 2023, they had sold over 12,000 pieces. 

That’s about 125 pieces sold every month for eight years. It might not seem as impressive at first glance, but the market isn’t the same as they’re not perishable goods like F&B. 

There haven’t been any studies done on this yet, but as a Muslim myself, I’ve found that we only buy a few telekung throughout our life. This is because we usually have up to three at a time and use them for as long as possible.

Why toss out something if it’s not broken (or in this case, torn), right?

Image Credit: Zahaara

This would come up as a challenge when Zaahara scales up in the future. But the couple aren’t too worried about that. They’ve found that the trend nowadays is that people tend to purchase a few for different purposes.

“They will also buy them as gifts for friends and family, and for charity,” Erina shared. Considering that the local population of Malaysian Muslims is 63.7% at the moment, running out of a market segment to serve isn’t a concern yet.

A one-stop shop for on-the-go Muslims

Sharing with us, Anas attributed part of the brand’s success so far to Cradle’s Coach & Grow programme. Besides that, he also thanked Ekuinas (a private equity firm) for their assistance in the rebranding process.

Image Credit: Zahaara

Its rebranding process took a year, involving personal surveys and a closer analysis of competitors. Only then did Anas and Erina notice that they should channel their focus towards the on-the-go Muslim crowd.

Having been in the corporate world with no entrepreneurial experience, these two organisations helped the couple better understand market needs. It also showed them the potential that Zaahara had and the importance of brand positioning.

“The market is saturated but the demand is evergreen. Same like nasi lemak, it is saturated but it is evergreen and the demand will always be there,” the founder stated.

As such, Zaahara is looking for strategic partners that have an eye for investment and share a vision of capitalising the Islamic clothing market. For context, Business Research Insights reported that the market is expected to reach over US$90 billion by 2027.

Image Credit: Zahaara

To grow further, Erina shared that they’re looking to not only take the business offline but also further expand their product range. They currently offer jubah and abaya amongst other Muslim essentials and hajj pilgrimage items.

Their goal? To be the brand providing solutions to on-the-go Muslims, enabling them to embrace their faith anytime, anywhere.

  • Learn more about Zaahara here.
  • Read other articles we’ve written about Malaysian startups here.

Featured Image Credit: Zaahara

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

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