ZAWARA: From start-up to standout

Former airline pilot Kamarul Ariff Karim, now co-founder and chief executive officer of ZAWARA, talks about a culture of sharing, and the importance of a business process flow.



From a start-up, Kamarul has made ZAWARA a large and diversified business. – Pic by Yellow Pages Malaysia


Kamarul Ariff Karim was an airline pilot for 20 years when a small episode changed the course of his profession.

While in London, his sister asked him to buy some scarves for her to resell in Malaysia. She eventually made a lot of money just by doing that.

Sensing an opportunity, Kamarul teamed up with a partner in 2012 to set up an online boutique specializing in contemporary fashion for Muslim females.

A one-year trial partnership with a US tech company to provide a virtual fitting room service made ZAWARA the first online store in Asia to proffer such service.

It was an instant hit, prompting Kamarul to expand into physical boutique stores the following year.



Youngsters love ZAWARA Coffee's hip ambience. – Pic courtesy of ZAWARA Coffee Facebook Page 


ZAWARA has also branched out into the food and beverage (F&B) business with ZAWARA Coffee, and the beauty and wellness industry with ZAWARA — The Beauty Expert.

ZAWARA Coffee is cashing in on the hipster café culture, providing young people with voguish F&B hang-out place.

The company’s foray into the beauty and wellness sector has also proven lucrative, given that the business worldwide rises in tandem with the increasing number of the female workforce with disposable incomes.


Re-evaluation & consolidation of ZAWARA business segments


However, even with 20 boutique outlets and robust online sales contributing to 30%45% of their revenue, ZAWARA decided to re-evaluate their fashion business segment. Last year, they announced the closure of their boutiques in October (2016) to concentrate on the F&B and beauty segments.

Despite the stiff competition in the garment industry faced by ZAWARA, Kamarul still believes that the company wouldn’t have gone far without it.



ZAWARA started out in the garments sector, with great success. – Pic courtesy of ZAWARA Sungai Petani Facebook Page


“Having competitors is a healthy phenomenon; it’s good to embrace it. When we started off opening our boutique in Bandar Baru UDA in Johor Bahru, we had no competitors and we were standalone there. People want choice. Like nasi campur, one may want more choice of side dishes even though there is one that they really like there. We actually asked our competitors to open near our shops. Sales of our goods increased 5 times the usual amount with the presence of competitors,” said Kamarul.

The competition also brings the need to survive in order to make it to the next round. For this, a strategy is needed.

“If you want to survive in the ‘blue ocean’ (of competitors), you have to be something different to stand out. We call it being ‘remarkable’.”

Asked on what makes ZAWARA remarkable, Kamarul said that it comes from constant brainstorming of ideas.



 A sample of ZAWARA's beauty products. – Pic courtesy of ZAWARA Facebook Page  

“It is not easy; it needs an integrated decision-making module. For clothes, it must be an item that everybody wants to grab, everybody wants to steal and buy. If it’s food, it must look delicious.”

The company also encourages its employees to become team players. “We always ask employees for their opinion, we discuss, we create a culture of belonging. ZAWARA belongs to everybody — the team. So everybody has a say, everybody has to speak up. And we create a culture of sharing, of rewarding people. We always carry out competitions (such as) give the best tagline, etc. But the most important thing is that we also have in place a guideline on how to make decisions,” said Kamarul.

“At the end of the day, it is about having something your competitors do not have, something some people call a ‘unique selling proposition’. Something remarkable. However, remarkability doesn’t last long. It requires renewal — in the product, services, packaging, marketing and management (of the team). If something doesn’t work, it has to be replaced.”

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