A little over a year ago, news surfaced about a woman trying to champion a domestic cleaning service business, an age old idea but polished anew, with two important distinctions; the workforce was to be all-female, all-Bruneian and instead of calling them maids or cleaners, she insisted that they were addressed with a more glamorous namesake: divas.
The unusual name did what it was set out to do: catch attention. And judging from the magazine features, television interviews and front page headlines that soon followed, it was clear the Sparkly Domestic Divas had arrived. But as many will attest, starting a business is one thing – growing, sustaining and continuing to make it relevant is another.
Which begs the question: a year after their big splash – do the divas still have their sparkle?
Santy Allim (pictured below), the CEO and founder of of Sparkly Domestic Divas, is tall and assertive, but carries a playful twinkle in the corner of the eye. She spent a decade in aviation before deciding to start her first business, Sparkly, which was borne out of a simple need; if you don’t have a maid, but want a helping hand around the house, and don’t want to (illegally) borrow another person’s maid – who do you call?
Instead of simply advertising for cleaners, Santy traversed across all four districts armed with lists of names she asked from the Community Development Department (JAPEM) and the Youth Development Centre.
She visited the homes of early school leavers or struggling single mothers besieged by critical financial worries, domestic violence and the lack of work opportunities.
“Understandably, they were very skeptical when I approached them for recruitment,” recalled Santy. “They thought I was trying to scam them. Some even thought I was part of a human trafficking ring!”
Most were hesitant at first, husbands were worried about their wives and parents were concerned about their daughters, but Santy’s determination and assurance eventually won them over.
As she built her team of divas – Santy then had to shift efforts to convincing her clients; in a profession dominated by foreigners, some were skeptical that locals were up to do “real” cleaning, while others were worried that the divas would spread gossip about their living conditions.
Just as the sun is about to rise, a supervisor, such as her long-time employee Rina who has been with her since the start of Sparkly, will go house to house picking up the divas to begin the day’s work. Cleaning supplies and meals for the day have been packed. For each house, two divas are dispatched, ensuring work is done faster and with accountability.
Every weekend, Santy will make a trip to the mosque, where she kindly informs the imam that her divas will clean the site without charge.
“Back when we didn’t have a office, while waiting for the divas to finish, I would go to the mosque to pray and do paperwork,” says Santy.
Today, Sparkly hires 20 divas for cleaning and another eight for Sparkly’s back end operations. Their total online following is now over 19,000 – easily the largest of any cleaning provider, household or otherwise. Santy and her team are also looking at other ways to add value for Sparkly; babysitting, laundry services and even cleaning up after weddings are on the agenda.
14 months later, Santy hasn’t compromised her vision of hiring only local. Some would even argue that Sparkly has made headway in buckling long held stereotypes of locals not being willing, or able to do professional household cleaning.
Have the divas lost their sparkle? As far as Santy is concerned, the divas have only just begun.
To learn more, follow Sparkly Domestic Divas on Facebook or @sparklydomesticdivas on Instagram. You can also visit their website at www.sparklydomesticdivas.com and get in touch directly at +6738308478.