Some people express their creativity through painting. Former model-turned-entrepreneur Shana Azahari, who loves painting and loves bags, has managed to combine both passions to create a very niche business selling hand-crafted clutches.
Upon graduation from University College London, Shana started out working as a model and dabbled with a tech start-up before taking on a job in sales and marketing with a company handling automotive equipment, tools and engineering solutions. She’s currently the marketing and social media manager for BeGroup, a lifestyle group of companies that includes a wellness centre, restaurants and a kindergarten.
“All the time throughout my career I’ve been working on Azooi,” says Shana, referring to the company which she runs in parallel with holding a full-time job. She talks to SAVVY about how she turned her passion into a business, why she still chooses to have a day job and the challenges she faces.
What made you decide to start your own business?
While I was modelling I wanted to be more in control of my life and my potential to earn more so I started researching some businesses I could start. Not surprisingly, I found myself working on a fashion-based business.
I love other fashion items too but bags really captivate me. I pay more attention to bags than anything else. I initially thought of creating an online store just to re-sell bags but I didn’t like the idea of selling items that were easily available elsewhere. So, I decided to sell my own products.
How did the idea of selling hand-crafted clutches come about?
While I was modelling, I began painting on clutches which I treated as tiny canvases for me to paint on. It was an outlet for me to interpret the things I found beautiful. I wanted to create a very different kind of product that would resonate with people. I didn’t want to keep them to myself so I started selling them online. This is how Azooi (www.azooi.com) was born.
Do you do all the painting yourself?
Initially it was just me but I’m very lucky to have found a few more artists and artisans who have come to make up our team.
But are the designs all by you?
Yes, I’m the creative head of Azooi and I come up with the designs. When I come across something I like looking at, I try to imagine what it looks like on a clutch. Then I’d sketch it out.
What materials do you use to make the clutches?
We work with acrylic paint, wood like Mahogany and Robles, and we also do a lot of work with shells like Abalone, Rainbow Pen, Kabibe and Mother of Pearl.
All your clutches are hand-crafted. How long does it take to make one?
The complete process takes about four to six weeks depending on the complexity of the design.
You have maintained a full-time job while running your business. Why?
I didn’t study business at school and had no business background so I wanted to be prudent in my approach to entrepreneurship. I feel I still haven’t learnt enough about business yet so I think this is the right strategy for me at this moment.
There are obvious downsides to holding a day job and running a business on the side but are there any upsides?
When you run a business while maintaining a full-time job, you quickly learn to focus 100 per cent on completing specific tasks and you also learn to manage your team very efficiently. These are skills you are forced to learn.
Do you have time for other things?
Not much. Only family time and some exercise. I do make sure I get sufficient sleep though. I get about seven to eight hours of sleep every night. So, I can’t complain.
Do you plan to keep it a small business or to scale it up?
I’d like to scale it up when the time is right but to do that won’t be easy. Our products are all handmade so scaling up would definitely be a challenge. To expand, we’d need to have a presence in multiple countries. Then of course the challenges of logistics will come into play. Not easy.
Where are most of your customers from?
We have a good mix of local and foreign customers but it’s undeniable how important the support of the local market has been for us.
How do you do most of your marketing?
It’s all online through social media. We’re on Instagram (@azooiofficial) and on Facebook (facebook.com/azooiofficial). Many of our customers have found us through Instagram where we curate a lot of photos of our clutches as well as pictures of our clutches being made. My modelling background has also been useful because a lot of media industry folks are friends and acquaintances so I’ve been featured in various publications talking about Azooi.
Are most of your sales online or are they sold through physical stores?
No physical stores. All our sales are online, through our website. Many of our customers make their orders through Whatsapp.
Why through Whatsapp? Can’t they just order online through your shopping cart?
They could but customers tend to want to communicate with someone especially when they want to make a customised order. This is actually an important, no, an integral feature of our sales process. Communicating through Whatsapp simulates the personal shopper experience, which goes beyond just shopping online.
Would you ever consider selling through marketplaces like Lazada?
In general there’s a lot of value selling through a marketplace like Lazada where there’s lot of traffic but it depends on the product you’re selling. Ours is a very niche product. I prefer to focus on our own website first.
How tech-savvy are you?
I’d say I have a broad understanding of IT but I would not say I’m tech-inclined by nature. I’m more artistic.
How much does technology play a role in your business?
A lot. I need to contact my team and my customers from anywhere in the world and the Internet facilitates that. Whatsapp and e-mails are important modes of communication for us. Instagram and Facebook have allowed our small business to have an online presence and to gain an audience. Technology is definitely an empowering tool.
What advice would you give someone who’s considering becoming an entrepreneur?
I’m an action-oriented person. I believe action is always better than inaction. So, if you want to do something, just do it. Don’t hesitate and let fear hold you back. If you’re going to fail, might as well get it over with and learn from the process.