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From Homemade Headbands to Designer Fashion: Interview with Maqayla

By Izzan Haziq and Hannah Halim

Mareenah A. Ghani was merely passing time with a fun hobby, unknowingly sowing the seeds that would culminate in a thriving business. The enterprising young woman is the founder of Maqayla, a womenswear label that has earned an avid following within the Malay Muslim community.

IMG_7749Maqayla has been a work in progress for four years, and this weekend will see the store celebrating its one year anniversary at East Village. We speak with Mareenah on starting Maqayla and the challenges she faced in setting up her own business.


DNM: How did you start Maqayla?

Mareenah: Maqayla started off as an online business. After graduating from JC, I worked as a relief teacher and tutor. During my free time I would dig up my stash of materials consisting of old clothing and unused fabrics to work on some crafts.

I began pleating headbands while I was watching dramas on my phone, and before I knew it I had made dozens of them. I put them up for sale on my Facebook and Instagram and within an hour, every single one of them was reserved. It was my first time selling things online and I had no experience in making cash transfers. I actually gave my very first customer my 16-digit card number instead of my bank account number!

IMG_7752After that successful sale, I immediately shared the good news with my mum and that was how our blissful partnership was formed. After surviving through hardships and working with each other for over four years, we finally decided to build up a company together and form Maqayla.

The fact that we took baby steps really helps. As much as it’s good to be ambitious and go big, there should always be precautions to consider.

2. What was the biggest challenge you encountered while setting up your business?

Honestly, we were very blessed as there wasn’t a particularly huge challenge we had to overcome but if I could pick something, it would be the administrative and legislative work behind building up the company. We were completely new to everything but we did learn many things along the way and also met many lovely people who provided us with much guidance.

IMG_77503. What do you think was the biggest contributing factor to Maqayla’s success?

The fact that we took baby steps really helps. As much as it’s good to be ambitious and go big, there should always be precautions to consider. We constantly remind ourselves not to be greedy and accept that there are no shortcuts.

From the online platform, we set up a pop-up store at an expo event and from the overwhelming response, we took a step further towards a physical store. Over the months, we’ve slowly expanded to bigger units. In fact, we’ve just completed renovations and will be reopening over the weekend!

4. What is it like to work with your mother? How do you balance that relationship?

Contrary to what many might think, we’ve never actually argued over a certain issue but instead share our thoughts to calmly work things out. What’s amazing is that we often see eye-to-eye, possibly because we share the same passion and have a similar vision. I admit that it might be hard to spot one’s own mistakes, so I’ve always thought that it’s beneficial to have your own kin point it out for you. That way, you can continually better yourself.

We discuss things on a professional level and since we live under one roof, working never really stops. We can’t seem to help it, but most of our conversations are about Maqayla whether we’re sitting at a table or even in our beds.

All businesses are rooted in relationships and I’m just blessed to have been rooted to my own mother.

Business-wise, we divide our workload accordingly and are tasked to do different things – my mum mainly manages the boutique, deals with clients and now she even oversees the staff as well. Meanwhile, I’m dealing with the internal work like designing Maqayla’s clothing line, dealing with suppliers, managing the marketing sector and organising promotional events. We consult each other when in doubt which helps us avoid putting extra burden on each other’s shoulders.

As a mother and partner, she fully understands that I have to juggle work and school, so she would accommodate to my schedule as much as possible. And since we managed the entire business between ourselves and personally did all the groundwork, only the two of us could really see the hardships we had gone through together, and it’s left a wonderful mark on our relationship. All businesses are rooted in relationships and I’m just blessed to have been rooted to my own mother.

5. What’s the biggest difference between running an online business and a physical one? Are there any plans to expand even further?

The biggest difference would be that we are able to meet and connect with our consumers in person. Our business isn’t focused on boosting and generating sales but to connect with our “Maqaylees” (a term of endearment for our customers). Whenever they visit us, we ensure that they feel at home and hold conversations with them which results in some actually finding it hard to leave our boutique at times. We really like that.

We ensure that we stand out by designing and producing our own products and strive to always come up with something new and fresh. We’ve reached a point where we can identify our own apparel on the street.

In time to come, our brand will be catering to men and also starting on our footwear collection. We have plans to expand it even further beyond a physical boutique and look to increasing consumer outreach to the rest of Southeast Asia.

6. How do you differentiate yourself from the other fashion stores out there?

I believe that every brand or fashion store has their own established identity. We ensure that we stand out by designing and producing our own products and strive to always come up with something new and fresh. We’ve reached a point where we can identify our own apparel on the street.

We also focus a lot on customer service so we made our boutique a one-stop hub by providing a wide variety of products and designed it to be as homely as possible. For example, we have our customers remove their shoes before entering, and we also have a play area for kids and a sofa for the husbands to lounge on.

7. What’s the most satisfying part of your job?

It’s when we are able to please our customers. We are truly blessed and grateful to have plenty of customers who have witnessed Maqayla grow from the very beginning. They often share their happiness with us which makes us feel like our efforts have not gone to waste. I enjoy what I do for a living and I hope that my sincerity shines through in all that I do. I’m happy that I’m able to bring that across to the consumers of my brand and serve those who love me.

Don’t let small minds convince you that your dreams are too big, for even little girls with dreams ultimately become women with vision.

8. What is one milestone that you hope to achieve with Maqayla?

With Maqayla, I hope I’m able to inspire the lives of the young and benefit the community in various means. May it go beyond just being just a fashion label and boutique someday.

9. What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs?

Don’t let small minds convince you that your dreams are too big, for even little girls with dreams ultimately become women with vision.


Maqayla is located at 430 Upper Changi Road, East Village #01-107/108 Singapore 487048.

Opening hours are from 12PM – 9PM on weekdays and 11AM – 9PM on weekends and public holidays. Closed on Mondays.

Connect with Maqayla: Official Website | Facebook | Instagram

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The DANAMIC Team

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