By Carolyn Ramoran-Malasig
Vivy Yusof is the perfect poster child of the modern, Malaysianwoman. Young, smart, beautiful, and stylish. Married with two kids, she’s also one of Malaysia’s biggest internet celebrities, taking over Southeast Asia one Instagram post at a time, and with an army of dedicated online followers. And to cap it all off, she founded and runs a successful startup that has rocked the Southeast Asian shopping scene.
She and her husband, Fadzarudin Anuar, started Fashion Valet (FV) in 2010, a fashion, e-commerce site that brings homegrown, high-end designers closer to consumers. Back from studying in London, Yusof and Anuar got frustrated during a shopping trip – driving from shop to shop, in heavy traffic under the rain. It was that kind of inconvenience that sparked the idea of bringing online shopping to Malaysia.
Yusof approached designers, asking them to create ready-to-wear pieces for FV. “They were skeptical at first but I urged them to try. I basically introduced the idea because RTW for designers was not that big in 2010,” she said. From a MYR100,000 ($24,195) capital, 10 designers and a staff of 20, FV grew to 500 brands and hundreds of staff in just six years with offices in Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, and Jakarta.
Not everything comes easy
The success of Yusof’s personal blog translated into hundreds of thousands of followers on her social media accounts which meant clients. “They were my only customers when we first started. Maybe, they only bought for the first time just to support me,” she added. Her readers had been with her since 2008. This she says, became an edge against their competitors.
Two years into the business and after doubling their revenue, Yusof felt comfortable. However, big competitors started coming to Malaysia and she recalls that it made her feel anxious. “When I read the news about them coming, I remember thinking that it would be the death of us because they are bigger,” she admitted.
It resulted to one of the most memorable mistakes they did as a young company. Trying to beat their competitors at their own game, they opened FV to almost anyone who wanted to sell through it. ”Our standards went down, we lost our brand identity, so it was a bit confusing for me.”
After this misstep, Yusof and Anuar decided to go back to their roots. It cemented their niche in Southeast Asia as a premium fashion destination and a direct, slightly more affordable connection to local designers. Yusof says she relies on her direct, almost personal link to the customers who are mostly her followers on social media.
The Millennial Trend
Yusof, as the face of the brand, does most of the marketing and PR for their company. She doesn’t believe in other people doing it for them or using too much of their budget, paying for advertisements. “The only person who knows the brand better is me. I think it [marketing] comes from blogging. I use my Instagram a lot to market [FV] and that’s where the creative side of me comes out,” she says.
She finds social media to be extremely potent, something the older generation might find hard to grasp. Their clientele is mostly women between the ages of 20-40 – right in the cross-section of internet-savvy generations. It again comes back to knowing and having a connection with her customers which gives her an insight on what they want next. “People get bored easily nowadays. It prompted us to have daily new arrivals. I would say the hype goes very fast. A big launch this week will be forgotten the next,” she says. “It’s a very fast moving industry so we constantly have to come up with something new. Customers are smart. They compare and read.”
Yusof also stars in her own reality TV show called Love, Vivy which follows her daily life. She admits that it helps with their sales as it is a “soft-sell” way of marketing their brand not just in Malaysia but in neighbouring countries where it airs as well.
Online to Offline
People usually hear of brick and mortar stores opening their online shops, but Fashion Valet did the opposite as a response to customer clamour. FV now has a store in Kuala Lumpur and along Orchard Road in Singapore, with another store in KL set to open this October.
It’s here that Yusof is choosing to innovate with her brand, capitalizing on the rise in number of women donning the hijab. Under FV, Yusof devied a muslimah urban lifestyle label called dUck, which offers hijabs and soon, some home items and stationery. The name comes from Yusof’s own blog and has its own store in one of KL’s swankiest malls. The idea came about after she started wearing the hijab and found it hard to find a store that sells all colours in different fabrics. “I wanted a store where they are always available and not sold out – that was the plan.”
The dUck label often runs out of stock on certain colours, much to Yusof’s disappointment. “To me, sold out doesn’t always mean good. To me, that means, we could have sold more but we didn’t have the supply. So we are constantly adjusting our quantities,” she added, saying dUck’s success was also unexpected. With limited edition collections coming out only months apart, lines outside dUck have become a common sight.
Where to next?
Following investments from Malaysian internet company MY EG and Silicon Valley’s Elixir Capital, Japan’s largest e-commerce company Zozotown has decided to invest on Fashion Valet as well, providing monetary and strategic contributions.
Yusof hints on more collaborations with designers and celebrities coming up, as well as an expansion to Thailand.
She admits to being impatient but there is going to be a bit of waiting on her part this year as the tech side of FV is being improved. In the next few months, they aim to localize their website according to each country they have a presence in and even launch a mobile application. Until then, her fans and loyal customers will have to wait along with her.