When Natasha Shazana meets her Instagram followers in real life, some don’t even remember her name. To them, she is @brapreneur, the force behind a new bra company. Marketwhose mission is to bring empowerment and comfort to ordinary women in Malaysia.
To launch the bra business in her home country, Shazana, a graduate of Northeastern, Class of 2013, quit a private equity job in New York City. But she hasn’t regretted the move, she says. In just one year after launch, she has grown her customer base to over 1,000 customers. she won a Innovative Award 2022Presented by Northeastern’s women who empowerin the experienced alumni category, and $22,000 in June.
“I’m very outgoing, I get my energy from other people,” says Shazana. “That’s why I love and [am] I am very excited about the Women Who Empower program, because I already made friends with the work with other people during the finals.”
Her old college friend, Jessica Pograniy, confirms: “She’s super social, probably the most social person I know.
“She has a lot of energy. She is an entrepreneur.”
As Pograniy prepares to launch an organic mezcal brand in Mexico, she and Shazana often talk business.
“She is a great listener and advice giver,” says Pograniy. “Every time she texts her, she’s awake in some way.”
And Shazana has a lot to share after the last three years of developing a product and launching her business.
“It’s hard. It’s very hard,” she says. “It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life.”
Shazana and her sister grew up in Malaysia, Singapore, the UK, Australia, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, while their parents pursued careers in banking. At the age of 17, Shazana came to study at Northeastern’s D’Amore-McKim School of Business in Boston, after her prom date told her about the university and its co-op programs.
She maximized every opportunity at Northeastern, Shazana says, doing two co-ops, two internships and a semester abroad in Shanghai, China. She majored in marketing and finance.
Surprisingly, unlike many of his classmates, he struggled to get a job before graduating, despite applying to nearly 200 companies. She came close to starting a food truck business to create her own opportunity, before landing a forex brokerage position and moving to New York City.
“I had five computer screens and I was being yelled at all the time on the phone,” he laughs. He then spent five years working in institutional sales and private equity at Morgan Stanley, which he left in 2019 to return to Malaysia and pursue his own business idea.
Shazana was ready to try her own business with the support of her future husband, Chris Evans, who also quit his day job and originally acted as a co-founder of Soko, providing her with general strategic advice.
Although Shazana has not lived in Malaysia for almost two decades of her life, she felt compelled to return and try to build a business that represented real Malaysian women. She ventured into bras because women’s empowerment has yet to come to this industry in Malaysia. Existing brands didn’t reflect the values of modern women or what local millennials and Gen Z wanted from them, she says Shazana.
“I wanted to drive change and accelerate change in the industry in general in terms of representation first and foremost,” says Shazana.
As she says, the industry offered “grandma” bras or promoted overly sexualized photoshopped and airbrushed images of mostly white women in ad campaigns. Very rarely could a model with brown skin be seen in advertisements.
“For me, that is not enough. Like, why do we put up with this? Shazana says.
He knew that in a Muslim country like Malaysia, change can only be achieved in a respectful way and at a pace that people there can appreciate, he says. But Shazana wanted to at least get started and have a brand that represented representation 365 days a year and not just during infrequent token diversity ad campaigns.
Shopping for a bra was an overwhelming experience in itself, with hundreds of items from different brands in one store, making women as uncomfortable as Shazana, who bought her first bra in a Malaysian mall 20 years ago. .
“I have my personal stories, but I interviewed, spoke at conferences and focus groups, and surveyed over 300 women before I even launched my business,” says Shazana. “I needed to make sure that other people felt the same pain from the representation, from the aversion to the experience of buying bras.”
Shazana focused on three things with her bra brand: representation, maximum comfort, and a great shopping experience. He named his company Soko, from a Malay word sokong, which means “support” in English.
To create the bras she would be proud of, Shazana undertook extensive research. She found an experienced technical designer who carefully designed the bras. The first manufactured samples were tested by 50 women, who slept, jogged and jumped on them.
Soko currently offers three styles of bras: an everyday non-wired bra, a lace bralette, and a lounge sports bra, for around $29 each. With the prize money from the Innovator Awards, Shazana plans to expand Soko’s size offering from L to 2XL.
During the COVID-19 lockdown, Shazana began building her community on Instagram under the username “brapreneur”.
In the first three hours after launch, Soko achieved five-digit sales, says Shazana. She attributes the success of the launch to her followers posting about the bras on Instagram.
She is growing her business organically, through word of mouth because it requires a lot of capital and she is using her own limited savings.
“Everything I earn is saved back for our next purchase order,” says Shazana.
Their main marketing tools are social media, specifically Instagram, and pop-up events. In Soko’s first year of operation, it only spent $2,500 on marketing.
There were also some major hiccups in his entrepreneurial journey. The first factory in China that he used to make the bras outgrew it during the pandemic. The second factory in Sri Lanka did not meet the quality standard that Shazana expected. He found a third factory in Sri Lanka that came highly recommended for his workforce.
She appreciates the feedback and stories her clients share with her, from a cancer survivor, to a mother who bought her 12-year-old daughter’s first bra, to a transgender person, to a client who was happy to see a model in a hijab. who looks like her.
“I have grown more in these last few years than in any other chapter of my life,” says Shazana.
That’s why he has no regrets about leaving the corporate job at Morgan Stanley. But she’s eager to share practical advice she’s learned the hard way: “Don’t quit your day job, the kind of advice I wish someone had told me.”
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