Raifana Ranie first began her business in Brunei as a hobby. She had taken a few fashion courses on the side while pursuing a Master’s degree in the United Kingdom and, when she was on maternity leave a few years later, she decided to put her sewing skills to use.
She began adding lace embellishments to plain blouses and snapping some pictures for Instagram. To her surprise, she started getting orders from friends. “From there I offered to make tops for people and I asked them to choose the color and size. I purposely chose UK sizes instead of the typical Asian S-M-L-XL, which can be quite subjective,” Ranie explained.
Three years ago, she was taking client measurements and manufacturing from her living room after receiving orders via Instagram or WhatsApp. Today she employs eight people, maintains a showroom and atelier in Brunei and offers her products for sale via a concept store in Kuala Lumpur and internationally through her website.
“I don’t accept any orders via WhatsApp anymore. Now all of our orders are done online,” Ranie said, noting that busy career women and young mothers—her target markets—preferred the convenience of the online ordering process she instituted. “I was able to spend more time making the garments, and we tripled our sales just moving to a website.”
Ranie now makes a variety of garments, from ready-to-wear kaftans and flutter tops to custom-orders, all crafted in-house. She imports her fabrics, beads and lace from Europe via suppliers in Singapore and Malaysia. Her expansion into a shop in Kuala Lumpur offers a testing ground for the Malaysian market, but Ranie said she aims to expand the business beyond Southeast Asia. “I want my brand to be in Saks in New York!” she said with a grin.
Like many small businesses, Ranie said she has faced difficulty scaling the business due to a lack of capital. “In order for us to expand, we need to make more clothes and that means we have to pay for materials early,” she said. “It would be easier if there were other means out there: venture capital and things like that.” Since the brand is selling mostly in the region at present, Ranie has set up an agreement with a regional courier company that manages the postage costs and customs clearances.
Ranie said that in the past year, Brunei has made efforts to support small and medium-sized businesses through a new government agency, Darussalam Enterprise, or DARe, but that it still has work to do. “DARe did encourage me to trademark my intellectual property as soon as possible, so that was helpful. But other entrepreneurs with connections to Hong Kong Trade Centre or places like that in Malaysia have access to cheaper or better quality garment-makers or suppliers. We don’t have that in Brunei.”