Making money and friends on facebook

WHO would have guessed that a 26-year-old could already be considered a seasoned entrepreneur.

While most people live their university and college life hitting the books and hanging out with friends, Hjh Naqiyah Dato Paduka Haji Ishaaq also sold bags on ebay in between the usual college obligations.

For this young lady, doing business is nothing new. Business is her passion, a passion which she has honed since she was 19 years old.

"After each holiday (summer holidays which she spent in Brunei), I would bring with me a few bags which I sold on eBay in the UK," the entrepreneur said, adding that she was able to make upwards of 500 pounds a week.

Now, seven years later, Hjh Naqiyah is a household name for most brides and brides-to-be who seek her talent and skill as a make-up artist. She is also at the forefront of promoting "Muslimah fashion" in Brunei with her Facebook based business El Jumana.

She previously set up shop at The Mall in Gadong, Rock Paper Scissors (RPS), which she has now handed over to be managed by her business partners in order to concentrate on her bridal make-up business and promoting El Jumana's Muslimah fashion on Facebook.

It's almost as if she's addicted to doing business. "Whatever business I do, it always makes me feel rewarded," Hjh Naqiyah says.

Despite the overwhelming success of her Facebook-based business, Muslimah fashion is somewhat a new venture for her.

"RPS was something I was familiar with, it was the sort of fashion I wore every day and understood... My father has always prompted me to open up a Muslimah boutique, but back then I wasn't interested. The stereotype a couple of years ago was that Muslimah boutiques are for the elderly and middle-aged only. Now, it's slowly changing," the founder of El Jumana tells The Brunei Times.

El Jumana was started in 2010, inspired by "scarflets" (hijab and tudong wearing celebrity bloggers, musicians, socialites and actors) as well as her desire to start a new business and capitalise from the social media, Facebook.

Hjh Naqiyah noticed a growing trend where people were selling head scarves and other products on Facebook, so she jumped the gun and joined in.

"If other people are able to capitalise on it (Facebook), I thought to myself, so can I! So I slowly started with selling tudongs, now I sell scarves and Muslimah-friendly clothes which are fashionable (and suitable for both young and old)," she explains.

What sets her apart from her competitors and ensures the continued success of her online business is her hands-on approach to selecting the items she sells. Hjh Naqiyah prefers to personally choose her stock instead of just making a "blind purchase" online and only relying on stockists' photos.

She conscientiously flips through mainstream fashion magazines such as Vogue and Cosmopolitan to see what is in trend and then tries to see how she can translate the style into a more Muslimah-friendly fashion.

"I flip through these magazines, and I like to travel and see for myself the sort of materials that would be suitable and check for quality pieces so that I can be the judge of it. El Jumana also employs our own model and we do our own photo shoots so people can see how to style the clothes and scarves or come up with their own ideas from our styling."

There are plans to slowly transition El Jumana into a physical shop in the near future, but the challenges are forthcoming. As a seasoned entrepreneur, Hjh Naqiyah understands that opening up a shop can be "scary" and that sometimes it is hard to find "guidance" from other business operators. Hence, she took it upon herself to document her struggles in opening up shop through her blog site, eljumana.blogspot.com.

"As much as possible, I try to be honest and detailed (on her blog) about what I am going through in trying to get the shop to open. Hopefully, other people who want to start up a business would find the blog to be helpful for them. Competition in Brunei is fierce, so I want people to read what it feels like to go from online business to a physical shop," Hjh Naqiyah says.

As with most things in life, the entrepreneur says that the transition so far has been an uphill battle and admits that there are times when she worries about her business, wondering whether "it is the right step to take".

But the strong-willed lady is always encouraged to press on by the feedbacks she receives from her customers.

"Their (customers) feedback keeps me motivated to serve them better. Sometimes they tell me that when they think of tudongs they think of El Jumana. Someone even said to me that she has started wearing the head scarves and be more conscious of the way she dresses as a Muslim lady because of El Jumana," the 26-year-old shares.