When Alif Adam was in college, he got distracted with his studies and ended up having to hold back for a year before failing again in the second year.
He decided to give the school another chance at the Millennia Institute, but unfortunately he failed to get the grade for one of his subjects and was asked to leave.
Although he was upset and disheartened, he now sees a silver lining in the situation. After his expulsion, he had the opportunity to earn a degree in Advertising and Public Relations from Ngee Ann Polytechnic, which became his “turning point”.
In his senior year, he applied for SandBox’s Kickstart Fund and received S $ 3,000 to finance his Carousell business called Waistlab, which resells sneakers at the waist.
Much of the money was spent on product photography, which he believes is an important element that can help catapult a company, especially during the launch phase. The rest of the money was spent on building the website.
“The grant did not cover my inventory investments and I had to take out a small S $ 2,000 loan from my parents to purchase inventory and packaging,” Alif shared.
A total of S $ 5,000 was invested in Waistlab and it managed to break even in just five days, well ahead of the expected four months.
He has sold over 20,000 sets of his best-selling waistline
Growing up, Alif was always close to his mother. After the pregnancy, she felt aware of the weight gain and turned to support for undergarments, which made her feel happy and confident.
Growing up, he realized that there were no existing local brands in the modeling apparel market, so he wanted to bridge the gap.
“Waistlab is a brand that seeks to support women who practice self-care, to invest in themselves to make them feel good and safe,” said Alif, who started the brand at the young age of 22.
He worked on the development of the Classic 9 Waist Trainer, which is 2.5 inches shorter than the typical 11.5-inch waist trainers on the market, designed for women with longer torsos. The aforementioned Classic 9 has since become Waistlab’s signature and best-selling product to date.
As of March 2021, Waistlab has achieved $ 3 million in revenue and has sold over 20,000 sets of Classic 9 Waist Trainers.
The Waistlab Wear collection ranges from S $ 35 for a wireless shaping bra, to S $ 89 for a super shaping outfit. Meanwhile, her sneaker suite at the waist ranges from S $ 85 to S $ 99.
Alif, now 26, describes his sneakers as “helpful helpers in lifestyle”. They are designed to help women feel good about themselves with better postures and serve as a physical reminder to develop healthier lifestyles and habits.
“Our customers commonly share that they feel less need to eat large portions, and it also helps straighten their postures and even encourages them to be more active, which results in weight loss,” he added.
In addition to being his muse, his mother was also the one who prompted him to pitch for the entrepreneurship scholarship.
Having experienced multiple failures in his life, he did not expect to receive much support for his business. It actually came as a surprise to him that both of his parents strongly believed in him and his business idea.
“The support I received from them even resulted in labor. When I was in Jakarta [for a six-month school internship], my mother helped me with some administrative work and order taking, while my father helped with the delivery of the packages. [Meanwhile]”I manage customer service, social media marketing and website design remotely,” he said.
He started first with Carousell
Waistlab started with Carousell in 2015. He has received a great response from customers, who have openly shared feedback with him on how to improve the products.
The real challenge, however, was when he wanted to cease his presence on Carousell in mid-2017 and create a dedicated online presence with a corporate website and Instagram account.
The branding was practically non-existent and consisted only of the initial logo which I drew in five minutes in Photoshop. I was quite anxious that no one would follow our social media accounts and was convinced enough to make a purchase through our website.
This was coupled with the fact that the products I initially sold were OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) in nature. I was very insecure about the brand and product development and knew I had a lot more to work on.
– Alif Adam, founder of Waistlab
Despite the insecurities, he continued to revive the business and was confident he could improve it along the way.
True enough, within the first three months, he managed to source eight suppliers and eventually found a manufacturer who could customize their designs with a manageable minimum order quantity based on the cash flow at the time.
Today it still works closely with its suppliers in China to research, design and manufacture the sneakers.
“I’ve never learned fashion design, but understanding my clients’ pain points, such as the need for perfect fit and comfort, has helped me design a better product over the years,” said Alif.
He added that specializing only in sneaker belts in the first two years of business was an important decision as it helped establish them as a go-to brand for waist sneaker.
Go from online to offline
At first, Alif knew that getting his brand out there was crucial.
Thankfully, he was well-endowed with design and public relations skills, which he acquired during his graduate studies.
“[It] it helped me throughout Waistlab’s childhood, from logo design, to bags, and reaching out to influencers to help me spread the word about my brand, ”said Alif.
“I touched the [influencer] network that I had and I also contacted someone cold [of them], who were very willing to support my small business, which I am always so grateful for. “
As he built his user base, Alif felt it was the right time for him to take an omnichannel approach and expand the corporate presence with a brick and mortar store.
In August of this year, he launched Waistlab’s first physical boutique on Bali Lane.
Although Covid-19 has come with the challenge of lower retail turnout, Alif strongly believes that a physical store is necessary for customers to touch and feel the products.
I wanted to minimize buyers’ anxiety in choosing the right size when shopping online with us. We started opening our offline shopping office in May 2019 and were quite surprised to see the number of people who wouldn’t mind traveling to our office in Woodlands.
This is why I wanted to adequately expand into retail by seeing its potential and having it in a central location where it is accessible to all, but the business model will still be based on 90% of online sales.
– Alif Adam, founder of Waistlab
Having a physical presence also meant she could establish better relationships with her customer community – affectionately called #WomenofWaistlab (WOW) – and get direct feedback from them to improve the product or customer experience.
Interestingly, Covid-19 has also helped push demand for life trainers. Their research has shown that because many stay at home, they cannot exercise or attend the gym regularly, so they have turned to waist training to help with their home exercises and appetite control.
Alif also noted that although social media has become a “noisy and saturated place,” it still serves as a good tool for interacting with her followers and delivering company updates.
“We find it very important to interact with our followers, respond to every comment and direct message, repost customer reviews and constantly contact some of our WOWs to follow their progress in life training and feature them on our Instagram.”
Till now, Waistlab’s Instagram page has amassed over 14,000 followers.
On Instagram, Alif also often shares his entrepreneurial story in hopes of inspiring others. Initially, she was reluctant to do so because she feared her female audience would feel uncomfortable knowing that a man runs a women’s underwear brand.
“Surprisingly, I was proven wrong because they love hearing my stories and really believed in the brand. I am very proud that some of my closest friends are now actually my customers from the early years of Waistlab. “
He was once an “incapable” entrepreneur
A few months after Waistlab’s launch, Alif tried to apply for a place in Singapore Management University’s School of Business, but was turned down.
“I thought Waistlab was going to be a side project while pursuing a full-time degree. It was devastating, but I saw this rejection as a diversion from what I had to do, which is entrepreneurship. This ignited the fire in me to channel all my attention on growing the business and running it full time. “
However, financing the business is an ongoing challenge. In addition to the S $ 3,000 entrepreneurship grant, Waistlab is practically a startup startup.
“This meant I had to rely solely on healthy cash flow and consistent monthly sales to sustain and grow the business. It was very challenging when I had to plan where the money we made in the first few months should go. I was so afraid of investing too much in inventory [worrying] who may not sell, or spend a lot on marketing but not have the actions to support [the potential demand]”, he complained.
Looking back, Alif admitted that he was quite clueless on his entrepreneurial journey. Furthermore, he did not have a mentor to guide him and act as a sounding board.
Regardless, he was passionate about learning and conducted his research online to learn the ropes of running a business.
I have proved to myself that anything can be learned if you are willing to seek the answers. For every challenge I managed to overcome, it motivated me to move forward and find a solution to the problems I had to face.
The challenges didn’t get any easier, but that just meant there are new things I can learn. Having limited resources helped me find solutions.
– Alif Adam, founder of Waistlab
Sharing future business plans, Alif said Waistlab is making progress in the neighboring Malaysian market and has ambition to establish a presence in Indonesia and the Philippines as well.
“As for the product, we are definitely looking to expand our selection of Waistlab waist pants and are currently researching and developing a number of options and variations of our signature sneaker designs in response to response and feedback from our customers. We are so excited to launch it in the first half of 2022 “.
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Featured image credit: Waistlab