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Afiq Iskandar, founder of Tarik Jeans

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Afiq Iskandar is the founder of Tarik Jeans. Born in Kedah and growing up in Penang, Malaysia, music has always been an essential component of Afiq’s life. His passion for music led him to attempt to pursue a career in music, at the same time, it also naturally led Afiq to explore and develop many of his creative talents in other fields. Whilst in the 2nd year of college, Afiq began to toy with the possibility of creating his own designer brand when he created a t-shirt brand. The seed for Tarik Jeans was properly sown after a personal trip to a tailor in Bandung, in which Afiq was attempting to make a pair of jeans for himself. The tailor informed Afiq that he would get a discount if he ordered more pairs which Afiq ended up doing after borrowing money from his father. Since then, his brand has really grown exponentially becoming the eminent Malaysian denim brand that it is today.

Today, Afiq talks to the Asian Entrepreneur about Tarik Jeans; sharing with us some of his experiences as a self-starter.

What is Tarik Jeans all about and why does it matter?

Tarik jeans is a Malaysian denim brand that celebrates the rich cultural diversity we have here in the country. We are a brand with a philosophy to hopefully groom the youths today for a better tomorrow. The brand is constantly looking out for talented local designers, artist and musicians to collaborate with. We hope to share the amazing work of these local talents through fashion for every Malaysian to embrace. Moreover, denims has always been the face of freedom. In my opinion, we at Tarik are well aligned with that. This denim is made to be worn by everyone regardless of race, creed, politicalaffiliation, sexual proclivity, music preference, and anything else designed to divide us. More than just a denim label, Tarik is an advocate of Malaysian pop culture and art. We are the vanguard of the progressive youth.

Why did you create Tarik Jeans?

Before Tarik, it was very hard for us to be able to obtain a decent piece of clothing from a local brand. The only selling point that local brands had at that was the fact that they were local and nothing beyond that. There were a lot of brands but none really paid attention to the quality in terms of the design to the choice of garment which was very frustrating to me because I really want to wear something local. At that stage, it was a very obvious void that needed to be filled.

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How was it like starting up Tarik Jeans?

I’ll be lying if I told you that it was all smooth sailing since day 1. We faced challenges from
almost every single aspect of a business. It raises a lot of questions, things like, whether people would buy a pair of jeans from us. How Tarik will be positioning ourselves in the market? What kind of message do we want to convey? Ultimately, I guess I would say, Malaysians are generally still very much looking at prominent international brands despite the steep price, and we hope to change that perception.

How did you tackle some of these issues?

It has been tough because I was handling most of the initial setup on my own with very little knowledge of the fashion and retail industry. I reached out to my close friends and got some help from them at what they do best. Together, with all our professional skill sets combined, we are now better established and will continue to define the denim culture in Malaysia. Aside from myself, I had particular help from Nicholas Yoon, who is our General Manager, Alif Ridzuan, who is our Creative Director and Teo Choong Ching, who is our Chief Designer.

Tell us about the local fashion industry in Malaysia.

I think it’s very healthy. We see a lot of brands nowadays and I think it’s a healthy sign. It’s a challenge for us as the market is getting pretty saturated but I think we can manage. The growth has been very positive and the audience are growing. It has the potential to grow bigger, so for those whom aspire to venture into this industry can seriously consider this as a career choice and parents should be cool with it.

Do you think local brands face more challenges compared to those in the West?

Honestly, I don’t think so. In my opinion, the competition is fierce everywhere in the world. When we talk about big brands such as Levi’s, or GStar Raw, these brands has been in the industry for a very long time. The only edge they have is that they are well established, and probably have a much bigger budget to create awareness compared to thriving independent labels. Other than that, I can’t think of why they would have an edge.

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So have you faced competition locally?

Yes, we do have some upcoming denim labels in Malaysia. We are looking at it as an opportunity to be better, in terms of customer experience and quality of our products. This also serves as an indicator that people are starting to notice Malaysian denims, and this is good news for us.

How do you guys stay relevant admist all the competition?

First of all, the brand is in for a long run. We strongly believe that Tarik carries a more significant meaning to the public than jeans and tshirts. We stay true to Tarik’s philosophy. It takes a lot of research to stay up to date with the fashion world, and a bit of luck to create the next big thing. Our varsity jacket collection is a good example.

What are some common problems entrepreneurs will face starting their own fashion brand in your opinion?

Finance will always be the first few major ones. Theres also the part where it is essential to convince my audience on why they deserve something nice for themselves once in awhile. In my case, one of the major one is to educate my audience about the products because the money that they are paying for is going to the craftsmanship and construction of the particular clothing which is not something which is visually loud in most cases. It is something that the audience has to be interested in, in order to really be convinced.

What are some important insights you have learnt working on Tarik Jeans?

Tarik Jeans has always been a brand that creates clothing that Malaysians in general can claim to be theirs. In pursuit of achieving that, we have learnt to love our target audience and that is one of the most important things that I learnt pretty late. You have to at the very least love something about what you wish to do to make a living.

Could you name two things that separate successful entepreneurs from others?

Discipline and selfmotivation. I won’t speak much of this, since I’m far from knowing what it is all about.

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What are you currently working on at Tarik Jeans?

We have just started operations on our flagship store, Nusantara Denims, an initiative to establish a platform to further boost the denim culture around the Southeast Asian archipelago. The store offers premium denim brands, leather shoes, and leather accessories for denim heads from Indonesia, and Thailand.

What drives you as a person?

I wouldn’t say its just me. I guess I am fortunate enough to be surrounded by the right people and them being around has really put me in place to where I am today. So I guess, the appreciation and motivation to not let other people down drives me as a person.

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Connect with Afiq and Tarik Jeans today
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/tarikjeans
Website: http://tarik.my/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/tarikjeans
Statigr: http://statigr.am/tarikjeans

Entrepreneurship

Women on Top in Tech – Tara Velis, Growth Hacker and Digital Innovation Strategist

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(Women on Top in Tech is a series about Women Founders, CEOs, and Leaders in technology. It aims to amplify and bring to the fore diversity in leadership in technology.)

I am talking to Tara Velis, Growth Hacker and freelance Digital Innovation Strategist. Tara was selected and recognized by TheNextWeb.com as one of the 500 most talented young people in the Dutch digital scene during the 2017 TNW edition. Tara is known for her creative, entrepreneurial spirit, which she is using to her advantage in leading the change in SMEs and corporates around the globe.

What makes you do what you do?

I tend to see life as a big, complex puzzle. Because of my curious nature, I am in constant development, looking for new angles and new approaches to business problems. Innovation through technology is exploring ideas and pushing boundaries. The most radical technological advances have not come from linear improvements within one area of expertise. Instead, they arise from the combination of seemingly disparate inventions. This is, in fact, the core of innovation. I love going beyond conventional thinking practices. Mashing up different thoughts and components, connecting the dots, and transforming that into something useful to businesses.

How did you rise in the industry you are in?

I consistently chose to follow my curiosity, which has led me to where I am today. If you want to succeed in the digital industry, you need to have a growth mindset. Seen the fact that the industry is evolving in an astoundingly quick rate, it’s crucial to stay current with the trends and forces in order to spot business opportunities. I believe taking responsibility for your own learning and development is key to success.

Why did you take on the role of Digital Innovation Strategist?

The reason for this is twofold. On the one hand, I got frustrated with businesses operating in the exact same way they did a couple of decades ago. Right now we are in the midst of a technology revolution, and the latest possibilities and limitations of cutting-edge technologies are evolving every single day. This means that companies need to stay current and act lean if they want to survive. On a more personal level, I noticed that I felt the need to use my creativity and problem-solving skills to their maximum capacity. In transforming businesses at scale, I change the rules of the game. I love breaking out of traditional, old-fashioned patterns by nurturing innovative ideas. This involves design thinking, extensive collaboration and feedback, the implementation of various strategies and tactics, validated learning, and so on. I get a lot of energy from my work because it is aligned with my personal interests.

Do you have a mentor that you look up to in your industries?

Yes, I look up to Drew Boyd. He is a global leader in creativity and innovation. He taught me how to evaluate ideas in order to select the best ones to proceed with. This is crucial because otherwise,you run the risk of ideas creating the criteria for you because of various biases and unrelated factors. He also taught me a great deal on facilitation of creativity workshops.

How would you describe your leadership style?

I tend to have the characteristics of a transformational leader. People have told me that my enthusiasm and positive energy is motivating and even inspiring to them. Even though I take these comments as a huge compliment, I am not sure how I feel about referring to myself as a leader. To me, it still has a somewhat negative connotation. I guess I associate the concept with being a boss who’s throwing around commands. But if a leader means listening to others and igniting intrinsic motivation in people, then yes, I guess I’m a charismatic leader.

Do you consciously or unconsciously support diversity and why?

Yes, one hundred percent. I believe that creativity and innovation flourish when a highly diverse group of people bounces ideas off each other. Diversity in terms of function, gender,and culture is extremely valuable, especially in the ideation phase of a project, as it can help to see more possibilities and come up with better ideas.

Do you have any advice for others?

Yes, I have some pieces of advice I’d like to share.
First of all: Develop self-awareness. You can do so by actively seeking feedback from the people around you. This will help you understand how others see you, align your intentions with your actions, and eventually enhance your communication- and leadership skills.

Surround yourself with knowledgeable and inspiring people. They might be able to support you in reaching your goals, and help you grow both personally and professionally.

Ask “why?” a couple of times. This simple and powerful method is useful for getting to the core of a problem or challenge. Make sure to often remind yourself and your team of the outcome of this exercise to have a clear sense of direction and focus.

Data is your friend. Whether it’s extensive quantitative market research or a sufficient amount of in-depth consumer interviews (or both!), your data levels all arguments. However, always be aware of biases and limitations of research.

Say “Yes, and…” instead of “No”. Don’t be an idea killer. Forget about the feasibility and budget, at least in the ideation phase. Instead, encourage your team to generate ideas without restrictions. You can compromise certain aspects later.

Prioritization is key. There is just no way you can execute all your ideas, and, quite frankly, there is no point in trying to do so. Identify the high potential ideas and start executing those first.

Encourage rapid prototyping. Don’t wait too long to experiment, launch, and iterate your product or service. Fail fast and fail often. Adopt an Agile mindset.

If you’d like to get in touch with Tara Velis, please feel free to reach out to her on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/taravelis/

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Callum Connects

Marek Danyluk, CEO of Space Ventures

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Marek Danyluk has a talent for assessing the competencies of management teams for other businesses and pulling together exceptional teams for his own businesses!

What’s your story?
I am the CEO of a venture capital business, Space Ventures, which invests in seed and pre-series A businesses. I also own and run Space Executive, a recruitment business focused on senior to executive hires across sales, marketing, finance, legal and change.

My career started as a trainee underwriter in the Lloyds market but quickly moved into recruitment where I set-up my first business in 2002. The business grew to around 100 people. I moved to Asia in 2009 as a board member of a multinational recruitment business with the mandate to help them scale their Asian entities, which helped contribute to their sale this year, in 2017.

My main talent is assessing the competencies of management teams as well as building high performing recruitment boutiques and putting together exceptional management teams for my own businesses.

What excites you most about your industry?
Building the business is very much about attracting the best talent and being able to build a culture which people find invigorating and unique. It’s an exciting proposition to be able to define a culture in that regard and salespeople are a fun bunch, so when you get it right it’s tremendous.

From a VC point of view there is just so much happening. South East Asia is a melting pot of innovation so the ideas and quality of people you have exposure to, is truly phenomenal. The exposure in the VC has taken me away from a career in recruitment. Doing something completely different has given me a new level of focus.

What’s your connection to Asia?
Whilst I came here with work, both my boys were born in Singapore and to them this very much is home. That said, my father in law spent many years in the East so coming and settling here was met with a good degree of support and familiarity.


Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Possibly Hong Kong. It’s the closest I’ve been to working in London. Whilst there are massive Asian influences people will work with you on the basis you are good at what you do and work hard. I find that approach very honest and straightforward.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
“Always treat people well on the way up!”

Who inspires you?
I like reading about people who have excelled in business such as Jack Ma, James Kahn, Phil Knight, Sir Richard Branson, Elon Musk, all have great stories to tell and they are all inspirational. No-one has inspired me more than my parents and they are well aware as to why…

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
Pretty much any technology innovation blows me away.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
Whilst it is important not to have regrets I do continually wake up thinking I’m still doing my A’ Levels. So, I’d have probably tried a little harder in 6th form.

How do you unwind?
I like the odd glass of red wine and watching sport

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Japan skiing. I love skiing and Japanese food and it’s a time when I can really enjoy time with the wife and kids. I recently tried the Margaret River which was divine, although not technically Asia.

Everyone in business should read this book:
Barbarians at the Gate

Shameless plug for your business:
Space Executive is the fastest growing recruitment business in Singapore focused on the mid to senior market across legal, compliance, finance, sales and marketing and change and transformation. Multi-award winning with exceptional growth plans into Hong Kong and London this year, and the US, Japan and Europe by the end of 2022. We are building a truly global brand.

Space Ventures is interested in any businesses that require capital or management and financial guidance or any or all of the above. We have, to date, invested in on-line training, food and beverages, peer to peer lending platforms, credit scoring as well as other tech and fintech start-ups. We are always interested in hearing about potential deals.

How can people connect with you?
[email protected]

Twitter handle?
@Spaceexecutive

This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connect’ series of more than 500 interviews

Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started, built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder of The Marketing Group PLC. He is the author two best selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’ and ‘Agglomerate’.

Connect with Callum here:
twitter.com/laingcallum
linkedin.com/in/callumlaing
Download free copies of his books here: www.callumlaing.com

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