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Kurta in light fabric for men.

Two enterprising sisters are determined to strengthen and diversify their fashion brand to appeal to a wider audience.

IN a world of fashion that is full of over-the-top designs laced with loud colours, Shals is quite the opposite.

The brand’s collection emphasises minimalist, comfortable and functional designs. With the right touch, however, they turn into classy, stylish and fashionable pieces.

Shals has become a brand to be reckoned with in the local fashion.

Sisters Shalma Ainaa and Shalmanisa Burhanutheen — the dynamic duo behind the brand — believe that they need to stay true to their very own style rather than follow what others are doing.

They set up Shals in 2011 as Shalmanisa, who previously worked in finance, wanted to do something else and asked Shalma Ainaa to join her.

Since Shalma Ainaa was doing a diploma in fashion and marketing management at a local college, they decided to set up a fashion business..

At the beginning, Shals was only involved in purchasing clothes from suppliers, mainly those from China, and selling them locally.

When Shalma Ainaa left for London to further her studies in fashion styling and promotion, the business was handled by Shalmanisa with help from their mother, Khairul Bariah Abd Rahman.

On returning, Shalma Ainaa joined a local television station as a host for an entertainment programme. However after a year, she left to focus on Shals.

Shalma Ainaa says that as much as she loved being a television host, her passion lies in fashion.

At Shals, she decided that the brand had to undergo a change in direction. It should no longer just purchase and sell clothes from suppliers, but instead come up with their very own collection.

She revamped Shals into three segments: Shals Apparel, Shals Tattiya and Shals Beauty. She oversaw Shals Apparel and Shals Beauty, while Shalmanisa, 33, took charge of Shals Tattiya with their mother.


Shals is all about loose, comfortable clothes.

Shalma Ainaa, 28, says the Shals clothing line is ready-to-wear, minimalist and comfortable, which is similar to her very own style.

Another preference of hers is repeat wear, clothes that can be worn more than once and for just about any setting.

“Initially I was thinking of following current trends in my designs. But then I realised the designs must be my own styles because I am fronting the brand. I can’t sell a dress that I don’t wear or like.

“I don’t like embellishments such as pearls or beads because that is not my style. We do play around with ruffles and sleeves but rather minimally.

“I want clothes that people don’t have to think about in terms of whether they are suitable for formal or casual wear. With our designs, the casual style during the day can become an evening wear with added accessories and a pair of heels,” she points out.

HYPE AND TRENDS

Shalma Ainaa admits that when she came out with the first collection back in 2013, it was difficult to convince people to accept Shals’ designs as they were simple, rather loose and not bold or vibrant enough in terms of colours.

“For me, it is important for us to stick to our branding instead of following what others are doing. Eventually people started to like the idea of minimal and comfortable designs. Thankfully, it has become a trend.

“Since then, we have had to restock or relaunch certain designs as we received many requests for them. Even our men’s collection is also doing very well.”


Shalma Ainaa prefers minimalist and comfortable when it comes to her own designs.

Shals’ collection of modern, minimal and modest designs include blouses, pants and dresses for women, and kurta for men.

Their Adria and Poppy blouses are in such high demand that they often have to be restocked.

Every three months or so, there will either be a new collection or a reissue of popular designs. At the beginning of the year, they will also launch the essenShals collection, which is priced below RM100, targeted at students who are among the brand’s loyal customers.

In the second quarter, the focus was mainly for the Hari Raya Aidilfitri collection, which has been part of their line-up for the past five years.

“For the third quarter, it all depends on demand. Sometimes we will drop new designs for people who have been asking for clothing to wear during Kuala Lumpur Fashion Week. It is a good marketing strategy for us.

“We also hold our year-end sales. As for me, I will go to China to look for fabrics and meet the manufacturer to discuss new designs.”

As Shals grows, Shalma Ainaa wants to expand the business beyond just designing clothes.

Her vision is for Shals to be involved in just about every aspect of fashion, including accessories such as handbags and shoes. Her dream is to turn Shals into a lifestyle brand, dressing people from head to toe.

Four years ago, Shalma Ainaa launched the Shals’ bucket bags with twin shoulder straps in five designs. She named the bags after the Kardashian sisters — Kourtney, Kim, Khloe, Kendall and Kylie.


Shals’ bucket bags are a hit with customers.

In 2016, she launched the 1311 sandals to commemorate her birthday on Nov 13.

The sandals came in two colours and sold out quickly, so much so it had to be restocked several times. Due to the overwhelming demand and response, she launched a new design, the 1311 sliders.

This year, she has come up with two more designs— mules and Eva heels.

Under Shals Beauty, she has collaborated with singer Sophia Liana from popular local girl group DeFam to launch SophiaShals aloe vera gel.

The gel is available in four scents — lavender, rose, seaweed and chamomile — which can be used for dry and sensitive skin to treat acne, as hair care and even moisturiser.

“My plans and ideas for bags, shoes and beauty are endless. What can we do next? What more can we come up with? In my mind are lipstick, make-up and even more designs for shoes and bags. I know there is a market for Shals accessories and beauty products.”


Shals’ shoes are for people looking for comfortable wear.

BRAND DIVERSIFICATION

In another effort to be more versatile, the brand has also introduced shawls and inners under Shals Tattiya.

“We did sell hijab at the beginning. After the revamp , I thought it best if it is handled by my sister and mother because they wear hijab. They know this segment of the market better so they are in charge. It is still under Shals, although the direction and style are different.

“It is also our plan for Shals to capture both the urban and Muslimah markets. We want to offer our customers everything they need , be it clothes, shoes, bags, tudungs and even beauty products. Whatever the product is, the concept remains the same — comfortable and minimal.”

Shalma Ainaa says the diversification of Shals is also to ensure the brand continue to have a firm footing in the industry.

“The market is quite saturated and the challenge is to come up with new designs that people like or love.

“Another challenge is to clear the stock. Turnover is slow because people don’t buy clothes every day.

“Compared to clothes, bags and shoes have a better turnover. Our strongest point are the bags so we may release more of them in the foreseeable future. Moving forward, we may even design a new collection exclusively for Hari Raya.

“One day we may even have home decor and other lifestyle products. Anything is possible,” she says.

kasmiah@nst.com.my

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