Sereni (left) and Shentel with a selection of their headbands.
From rabbit ears to bling-bling bows, the Sereni & Shentel headbands can hardly fail to grab attention.
They are flights of fancy meant for fabulous fashionistas with an eye for style – and there are clearly quite a number of these in Malaysia and beyond.
The headbands have been flying off the e-shelves of the Sereni & Shentel e-store since it was launched in 2009.
They have become so popular that their makers – Sereni Linggi and Shentel Lee – have now gone the pop-up route to experiment with setting up a bricks-and-mortar store. A year-long pop-up store opened in the Gardens mall in Kuala Lumpur in July, along with a month-long Christmas store in KLCC.
The expansion into the real world came about after they found that some customers wanted to browse the actual headbands and try them on.
But it was on the Internet that this Kuching-based brand had its beginnings after it was started as a lark by the two friends who live in this quiet capital city of Sarawak.
The Internet served them so well that the duo broke even on their investment of RM30,000 in the first year. And this October, their e-business won them an award as a ‘broadband empowered entrepreneur’ at the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) awards night.
Sereni said the Internet was the key enabling factor that allowed the brand to grow despite Kuching being so far from the bigger cities where their market is located.
“Having started as an online business, we rely heavily on the Internet,” she said. “It really does not matter where we are based as long as we are connected to the Internet.”
The Internet made it easy to reach customers but as they found out, it was also as important to pay heed to the physical transaction as well. They spent a lot of time working out the logistics to get the product to the customer in good condition, reliably and fast.
“Initially, the logistics were a challenge for us as we had to ensure that the packaging not only reflected our brand aesthetically but also had to be durable enough to withstand shipping and at the same time, be lightweight to keep shipping costs down,” said Shentel.
Of course, all this only worked because they had a product that the people wanted to buy. Costing RM50 to RM200 each, the headbands are definitely in the upper price range but they have a certain verve.
Or as Shentel and Sereni put it, the only way to stand out in this very tough fashion business is to be unique.
“Be unique in what you do,” said Sereni. “We injected our personalities into the brand and have a motto that has turned into a mantra for the brand – BE SEEN OR GO HOME!”
“If you inject a lot of yourself into a product, you will have something unique in the market as there is only one of you in the world,” Shentel added.
It all began when the two women spotted an unfilled niche in the market – for quirky headbands. No one could have known that it existed, of course, but they noticed it after they made over-the-top headbands to wear to a Lady Gaga concert in Singapore in 2009.
Many came up to ask where they bought the headbands. Soon, they won publicity in the old-school way when several magazines and a television’s breakfast show featured their headbands.
Then came a lucky break when their headbands adorned characters on the hit American series Gossip Girl and Desperate Housewives. The headbands had actually been gifts to family friends who worked on these shows.
The store now sells over 1,000 pieces a month. The more bling-bling ones were snapped by those who didn’t mind turning heads while the understated ones were practical for daily use.
Customers can even design their own headbands using templates on sereniandshentel.com.
“We started the first online application where customers are able to create their own custom headbands. As such, we have crafted a niche in this field,” said Sereni.
They now employ 20 staff, with over 30 stockists in Malaysia and beyond carrying the headbands.
“We broke even in the first year, and the business has been paying for itself ever since,” said Shentel.
Who would have thought that headbands can go so big, thanks to the Internet as well as oodles of creativity and old-fashioned hard work.