On the early morning of October 2, 2016, Khairul Azmi Hj Metussin (pictured main C), an architect by qualification, found himself in an unusual situation.
Together with a few friends, they set up a table at the first Bandarkuceria in the capital, peddling headscarves and a handful of sunglasses.
Maybe it was the scorching morning weather, or perhaps because there were already a bunch of other vendors also selling headscarves, but Azmi’s sunglasses – unbranded and straight-from-the-factory – did surprisingly well.
The 26-year-old, who had spent three years at the International Islamic University of Malaysia was at a crossroads in his life. He was between jobs – he had two years experience working for an architectural firm but was unable to gain employment.
“Before I begun selling at Bandarkuceria, I went back to Malaysia to take a course in Revit architecture, which was really popular, hoping that with it I would surely get a job,” said Azmi. When he returned, however, he found himself still stuck in the same predicament.
Azmi, like many other students studying in Kuala Lumpur, often engaged in small amounts of reselling; they would buy – usually textiles – as much as their luggage could feasibly accommodate, and upon returning to Brunei, sell them online with a markup.
“It was a great, quick way to earn a little money,” said Azmi. Moving forward however, the 26-year-old would need a more systematic way to procure.
He signed up for a marketing class by local fragrance company Shineblingz and later attending a business and personal development course called Intensif Magnet Kekayaan & Kejayaan in Malaysia.
“It was really only from these classes could I start to make sense of all the different things I needed to do to make a business work,” he said. “After I decided that I would build my own brand – Alora – and focus on eyewear.”
Azmi travelled to Thailand, Malaysia and Vietnam to look for a supplier, and by leveraging on friends studying in Korea, attempted to source from there. He also scoured Chinese e-Commerce websites – but began conservatively by ordering six to ten styles, which has since expanded to 100 today.
“The first order is always the riskiest,” said Azmi. He then looked for shade cases and packaging separately, and using his skills gained in graphic design from his degree – got to work on his logo and branding.
Without the investment to open a storefront – he set up a website where orders could be placed and did deliveries and meet-ups instead.
Azmi modelled his sales pitch off simplicity and convenience – all sunglasses are $25, with a three-day return policy, and 40% of a new pair if yours is damaged within the first 90 days.
“We have the three-day return so that if the customer doesn’t like the fit they can just swap for a different pair,” he said. “That promise has made a big difference. We’re offering people that comfort and security when they shop. It shows that we’re not just here to take their money, but that we want them to have sunglasses which they will be proud to wear.”
Alora’s collection carries all the eyewear staples from aviators, wayfarers and the clubmaster for those looking for a classic, timeless design. But a good amount of their stock is seasonal and experimental – where Azmi hopes to keep up and even insert his own trends.
“Eyewear is just as much about style as it is about protection,” he says. “Our most recent are night view, driving glasses (with a yellow tint) that reduce glare, which hasn’t really been popularized in Brunei yet. Our first batch has already sold out.”
By partnering with Brunei’s social media influencers, and participating in YES Letop – Alora has positioned themselves to end 2017 strong; once all the numbers are crunched, the brand would’ve sold over 1,000 sunglasses in under a year.
It’s modest start considering Azmi’s been running Alora on his own – employing part-times salespeople for events – and is now planning for two full-time staff in 2018.
“We’ve been here a day, and we’ve covered our cost,” says Azmi outside his booth at YES Letop at ICC.
“I didn’t think I would be selling sunglasses after I graduated,” he adds. “But I’m glad that I am.”
To check out their range, visit alora-collection.com and follow their Instagram @alora.collection for the latest updates. You can also find their eyewear at Closet Culture, located on the first floor of the Annajat Complex in Kg Mata-Mata.