When Alif Adam was in college, he got distracted by his studies and ended up having to hold them back for a year before failing second year again.
He decided to give the school another chance at the Millennia Institute, but unfortunately failed to get a passing grade for one of his subjects and was asked to leave.
Although he was upset and demoralized, he now sees a silver lining in the situation. After his expulsion, he had the opportunity to pursue a degree in advertising and public relations at Ngee Ann Polytechnic, which became his “turning point”.
In his senior year, he applied for The SandBox’s Kickstart Fund and received S $ 3,000 to fund his Carousell business called Waistlab, which resells waist-high sneakers.
Much of the money has been spent on product photography, which he says is an important part that can help catapult a business, especially during the launch phase. The rest of the money was spent on building websites.
“The grant did not cover my investments in inventory and I had to take a small loan of S $ 2,000 from my parents to buy inventory and packaging,” Alif said.
A total of S $ 5,000 was invested in Waistlab and it broke even in just five days, well ahead of its planned four months.
Sold over 20,000 sets of its best-selling waist trainer
Growing up, Alif has always been close to his mother. After the pregnancy, she felt conscious of gaining weight and turned to supportive underwear, which made her happy and confident.
As he grew older, he realized that there were no local brands existing in the shapewear market, so he wanted to fill the void.
“Waistlab is a brand that seeks to help women take care of themselves, invest in themselves to make them feel good and confident,” said Alif, who launched the brand at the age 22.
He worked on the development of the Classic 9 Waist Trainer, which is 2.5 inches shorter than the typical 11.5 inch waist trainers on the market, which are designed for longer torso women. The so-called Classic 9 has since become Waistlab’s signature and the best-selling product to date.
As of March 2021, Waistlab had achieved a turnover of S $ 3 million and sold more than 20,000 sets of the Classic 9 Waist Trainer.
The Waistlab Wear collection ranges from S $ 35 for a wireless sculpting bra to S $ 89 for a super sculpting full suit. Meanwhile, its waist-high sneaker range goes from S $ 85 to S $ 99.
Alif, who is now 26, describes his waist trainers as “useful lifestyle aids.” They are designed to help women feel good about themselves with better postures and serve as a physical reminder for them to develop healthier lifestyles and habits.
“Our customers generally share that they feel less of the urge to eat large portions, and this also helps straighten their postures and even encourages them to be more active, which leads to weight loss, ”he added.
In addition to being his muse, it was also his mother who pushed him to pitch for the entrepreneurship grant.
Having experienced many failures in his life, he did not expect to receive much support for his business. In fact, he was surprised that both of his parents strongly believed in him and his business idea.
“The support I received from them even translated into work. When I was in Jakarta [for a six-month school internship], my mother helped me with some administrative tasks and taking orders, while my father helped with parcel delivery. [Meanwhile], I manage customer service, social media marketing and web design remotely, ”he said.
He started on Carousell first
Waistlab started on Carousell in 2015. He received a great response from customers, who openly shared with him their comments on how to improve the products.
However, the real challenge was when he wanted to cease his presence on Carousell in mid-2017 and create a dedicated online presence with a corporate website and Instagram account.
Branding was virtually nonexistent and consisted only of the initial logo that I designed in five minutes in Photoshop. I was pretty worried that no one was following our social media accounts and was convinced enough to make a purchase through our own website.
This was coupled by the fact that the products I was initially selling were original equipment manufacturer (OEM) in nature. I was very insecure about branding and product development, and knew I had so much more to work on.
– Alif Adam, founder of Waistlab
Despite the insecurities, he continued to revive the business and hoped he could improve it along the way.
It is true that in the first three months he managed to find eight suppliers and eventually found a manufacturer who could customize their own designs with a manageable minimum order quantity based on their cash flow.
Today, he still works closely with his suppliers in China to research, design and manufacture the waist sneakers.
“I never learned fashion design, but understanding my clients’ issues, such as the need for the perfect fit and comfort, has helped me design a better product over the years,” said Alif.
He added that specializing only in waist-high sneakers during the company’s first two years was a big decision as it helped establish them as a go-to brand for waist-high sneakers.
Go from online to offline
Initially, Alif knew that building brand awareness was crucial.
Fortunately, he was endowed with design and public relations skills, which he acquired during his degree studies.
“[It] helped me in the early days of Waistlab, from logo design and bags to influencers to help me build awareness for my brand, ”said Alif.
“I hit the [influencer] network that I had and I also reached out to some [of them], who were very willing to support my small business, for which I am very grateful.
As he grew his user base, Alif felt the time had come for him to take an omnichannel approach and expand the commercial presence with a physical store.
In August of this year, he launched Waistlab’s first physical store in Bali Lane.
Although Covid-19 has brought the challenge of declining retailer footfall, Alif strongly believes that a physical store is necessary for customers to touch and smell the products.
I wanted to minimize buyers anxiety by choosing the right size when shopping online with us. We started opening our office for offline shopping in May 2019 and were quite surprised to see how many people wouldn’t mind coming to our office in Woodlands.
This is why I wanted to develop correctly in the retail trade by seeing its potential and having it in a central place where it is accessible to all. However, the business model will still be based on 90 percent of online sales.
– Alif Adam, founder of Waistlab
Having a physical presence also meant he could build better relationships with his customer community – affectionately known as #WomenofWaistlab (WOW) – and get direct feedback from them to improve the product or customer experience.
Interestingly, Covid-19 has also helped propel demand for waist-high sneakers. Their research showed that as more and more people stay at home, they couldn’t exercise or use the gym as regularly.
Alif also noted that while social media has become a “loud and crowded place,” it is still a good tool for engaging with followers and providing business updates.
“We find it very important to engage with our followers, respond to all comments and direct messages, repost customer reviews, and constantly contact some of our WOWs to track their size training progress and feature them on our Instagram. “
So far, Waistlab’s Instagram page has racked up over 14,000 followers.
On Instagram, Alif also often shares his entrepreneurial story in hopes of inspiring others. Initially, he was hesitant to do so because he feared his female audience would feel uncomfortable knowing that a man was running a brand of intimate clothing for women.
“Surprisingly, I was wrong because they love to hear my stories and they really believe in the brand. I am very proud that some of my close friends are now my clients from the early years of Waistlab.
He was once an “incapable” entrepreneur
A few months after Waistlab launched, Alif tried to apply for a place at Singapore Management University’s School of Business, but was rejected.
“I thought Waistlab was going to be a side project while pursuing a full-time degree. It was devastating, but I saw this rejection as a diversion from what I was supposed to do, which is entrepreneurship. It ignited the fire in me to focus my full attention on growing the business and leading it full time.
However, financing the business is an ongoing challenge. Besides the S $ 3,000 entrepreneurship grant, Waistlab is pretty much a seeded startup.
“This meant that I had to rely solely on healthy cash flow and consistent monthly sales to support and grow the business. It was very difficult when I had to plan where the money we had earned in the first few months was to go. I was so scared to invest too much in inventory [worrying] that he might not sell, or spend a lot on marketing but not have the stocks to support [the potential demand], he lamented.
Looking back, Alif admitted he had no idea about his entrepreneurial journey. Plus, he didn’t have a mentor to help guide him and serve as his soundboard.
Regardless, he was passionate about learning and conducted his own research online to find out more about the ropes of running a business.
I have proven to myself that anything can be learned if you are willing to seek the answers. For every challenge that I managed to overcome, it motivated me to keep going and find a solution to all the problems I was facing.
The challenges didn’t get any easier, but it only meant that there were new things I could learn. Having limited resources helped me find solutions.
– Alif Adam, founder of Waistlab
Sharing his future business plans, Alif said Waistlab is now making progress in neighboring Malaysia’s market and has ambitions to establish a presence in Indonesia and the Philippines as well.
“On a product front, we are definitely looking to expand our selection of Waistlab waist sneakers and are currently researching and developing a number of options and variations of our signature waist sneakers in response to the response and demands. feedback from our customers. We are delighted to launch it in the first half of 2022. ”
Featured Image Credit: Waistlab
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