When Natasha meets her Instagram followers in real life, some do not even remember her name. To them she is @brapreneur, the force behind a new bra company, Soko, whose mission is to bring empowerment and comfort to everyday women in Malaysia.
Shazana, a Northeast graduate, class of 2013, quit a private equity job in New York City to start a bra business in her home country. But she has no regrets over the move, she says. It has grown its customer base to over 1,000 customers just a year after its launch. She won the 2022 Innovator Award presented by Northeastern’s Women Who Empower in the Experienced Alumni category and $22,000 in June.
“I’m a big extrovert, I get my energy from other people,” Shazana says. “That’s why I love and [am] Very excited about the Women Who Empower show, as I already made friends from work with other people during the finale.”
Her old college friend Jessica Pograni confirms, “She’s super friendly, probably the most sociable person I know.
“He has a lot of energy. He’s a go-getter.”
While Pograni is preparing itself to launch an eco-friendly mezcal brand in Mexico, she and Shazana often discuss their businesses.
“She’s a great listener and mentor,” Pograni says. “Every time I message her, she wakes up somehow.”
And Shazana has a lot to share after the past three years of developing products and starting her own business.
“It’s hard. It’s really 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 her parents pursued careers in banking. At age 17, Shazana came to Boston to attend Northeastern’s D’Amore-McKim School of Business when her prom date told her about the university and its cooperative programs.
She maximized every single opportunity in the Northeast, Shazana says, doing two co-ops in Shanghai, China, two internships, and a semester abroad. He majored in Marketing and Finance.
Amazingly, unlike many of her classmates, she struggled to find a job before graduating, despite applying to nearly 200 companies. Before taking the position of forex broker and relocating to New York City, he almost started a food truck business to create his own opportunity.
“I had five computer screens, and I was yelling at the phone all the time,” she laughs. Thereafter, she spent five years working in institutional sales and private equity at Morgan Stanley, which she left in 2019 and moved back to Malaysia to pursue her entrepreneurial idea.
Shazana set out to start her own business with the support of her future husband, Chris Evans, who also quit his day job and originally co-founded Soko, providing her with big-picture, strategic advice. Of.
Although Shazana did not live in Malaysia for nearly two decades of her life, she tried to go back and create a business that represented real Malaysian women. She ventured into bras as women empowerment has not yet reached this industry in Malaysia. Shazana says existing brands didn’t reflect the values of modern women or what local millennials and Gen Xers wanted from them.
“I wanted to bring about a change in the wider industry in terms of representation and drive change,” Shazana says.
As she says, the industry pushed either “grandma” bras in ad campaigns or oversexualized images of mostly white women, photoshopped and airbrushed. Very rarely can a brown-skinned model be seen in commercials.
“For me, that’s not enough. Like, why do we endure this?” Shazana says.
She knew that in a Muslim country like Malaysia, change can only be brought about in a respectable manner and at a pace that people can appreciate there. But Shazana wanted to start at a bare minimum and wanted a brand that stood for representation 365 days a year, and not just during ad campaigns with rare token diversity.
Shopping for a bra was an overwhelming experience in itself, with hundreds of items from different brands packed into one store, which made women feel as uncomfortable as Shazana did when she bought her first bra in a Malaysian mall 20 years ago. had felt.
“I have my own personal stories, but I interviewed, spoke at conferences and focus groups, and surveyed more than 300 women before starting my business,” Shazana says. “I needed to make sure other people felt the same pain about representation. Dislike for the bra shopping experience.”
Shazana focuses on three things with its bra brand: representation, extreme comfort and a great shopping experience. He called his company Soko from the Malaysian word sokong, which in English means “support.”
To create the bra she would be proud of, Shazana did extensive research. She got an experienced technical designer who carefully designed the bra. The first samples produced were tested by 50 women who fell asleep, jogged and jumped in them.
Currently, Soko offers three styles of bras — an everyday wireless bra, a lacy bralette, and a sports bra-like loungewear — for about $29 each. With the Innovator Awards prize money, Shazana plans to expand Soko’s offering of sizes from L to 2XL.
During the COVID-19 lockdown, Shazana started building her community on Instagram under the handle “brepreneur”.
In the first three hours after launch, Soko scored five points in sales, Shazana says. She credits the success of the launch to her followers who were posting about the bra on Instagram.
She is growing her business organically as it is capital intensive and she is using her limited savings.
“Everything I do is go back into savings for our next purchase order,” Shazana says.
Her 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 some major setbacks in his entrepreneurial journey as well. The first factory she used to manufacture bras in China was haunted by her during the pandemic. The second factory in Sri Lanka did not meet the quality standard Shazana that was expected. He found a third factory in Sri Lanka which was highly recommended for his workmanship.
She shares feedback and stories with her clients, from a cancer survivor, to a mother who bought her first bra for her 12-year-old daughter, to a transgender man, to a client who was happy to see a model. A hijab that looks like hers.
“I have grown more in these last few years than in any other chapter of my life,” Shazana says.
Which is 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 type of advice I wish someone had said to me is.
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