With the lack of a fashion course in our university, it isn’t every day you hear students getting themselves involved in fashion design. With the idea of the functionality and comfort brought about by gym wear, come a team straight from UNMC who’ve developed their own label from scratch. A team of five made of Fahada Nordin, Raja Azrul, Nurhakim Zulkifli, Aidil Putra and Azim Zulkifli come a sportswear label called Mahlstrom and we had the opportunity of having a little chat with them not long ago.
The birth of every business or project is often attributed to inspiration – so, what sparked the idea of starting a gym wear line?
Well back then when I was still studying in UNMC, I was an avid gym-goer and would consistently wear international gym wear brands due to their impressive quality and comfortability but the problem was that it was quite costly. Soon, I ended up discussing this problem constantly with a friend of mine and from there, we planned on starting a gym wear line but it was merely an idea at that time. It took around 2 – 3 months before we said to ourselves, “Enough with ideas and planning, let’s execute it.” At first, the plan was to offer low-priced gym wear but with the utmost quality, but as time passed, that was not the only plan anymore. Mahlstrom aims to unite Malaysians through fitness, to represent Malaysia in the fitness industry and to show the world that Malaysia is a fitness powerhouse. – Raja Azrul
Your gym wear showcases a lot of minimalism and functionality – was there an inspiration behind your designs or were your garments more focused on being able to function as gym wear?
Design, superior quality and most important of all, significance are the three things that lie at the top of Mahlstrom’s priorities. We feel that design & quality are just two things that cannot be without the other. Significance, on the other hand, is what makes our label more than just another “fitness apparel brand”. Mahlstrom is more than that – more than just functionality, and definitely more than just a fashion statement. Our brand tells stories. Stories of people who’ve been inspired and are now inspiring others. So, we would say that our inspiration actually comes from the people. People in the fitness community, people who are inspiring others and people who are seeking inspiration. – Fahada Nordin
With every clothing label comes branding – which is a vital aspect when you want to market something. What was the process of coming up with the branding like?
Creating an identity is not something that can be achieved within a few days; hence it took the team quite some time to come up with a brand, name, and logo. For the brand to be unique and sustainable in the market, in the long run, countless hours of research and development took part to achieve what is now called, Mahlstrom. Mahlstrom is a German word for maelstrom, hence the logo automatically results in a modernised and sharp representation of the meaning, powerful whirlpool. We wanted to present something that symbolises both strength and serenity, so what better way to do it if not by taking one of nature’s elements – the sea. – Azim Zulkifli
Being students, the struggle is always real (financially and time wise) how did you guys find the means to start up this project and what were the challenges you guys faced?
Financially, we had to start off with the money in our pockets. Instead of using our savings and allowances for leisurely activities, we saved up and set the money aside for this business. We’re also in the process of applying for start-up business grants concurrently.
As a student, time is gold. We had to sacrifice a lot of time for this business. This means our time after classes were used to finish our allocated tasks and our free weekends were dedicated to meetings. It was all because all 5 of us had the same will and vision. We were determined to pave a bright future for this business. As for challenges, where do I start? It’s cliché but there are a lot of challenges, hurdles, and obstacles. Creating a business is not something easy to do. It’s something that needs to be constantly in your head – always thinking of plans and strategies. As a student, timing is hectic. It’s inevitable that our Mahlstrom tasks clash with our course assignments so I had to organise my daily schedule well every day. I also had to ensure I understand my own responsibilities, both as a business partner and as a student. The key is to prioritise according to respective deadlines. This also meant that I wouldn’t have as much free time as I did before. Another challenge is marketing. Starting from the bottom, it is difficult to gain recognition and build the integrity of a brand. It was something that took time, step by step. Lastly, the main challenge was ourselves. We stumbled upon our own mistakes throughout this journey – walking this path and facing problems we’ve never thought of before. Creating an online shop is not just creating an Instagram account, there is more than meets the eye. A business doesn’t blow up into success in just a month or two. All in all, it’s not as easy as it seems. We just have to understand that things take time. – Nurhakim Zulkifli
Do you have any advice for students out there who would like to start their own creative projects?
Do a lot of research: Study business plans from any other business-related bodies – whether it be about selling products, providing services – even they are not successful businessmen. Learn their pattern of work and their strategies. From that, you can study the supply and demand, locally and globally
Make a business plan: Have a clear finance model on where you should project your money. Put aside the money that you are going to spend on stock, equipment, and especially marketing.
Do not be afraid to make mistakes: There is no such thing as too many mistakes. Make mistakes, learn and do better next time but make sure to never let your mistakes drag you down.
Experience comes from bad judgment: You can always go to 10 entrepreneurship seminars a week but the truth is, when you get out on the field you will face your own individual obstacles. The more mistakes you make in your early days, the quicker you get on to making your company big.
“Jual Muka” – a Malay idiom that means “to promote yourself”: In the early stage of any start-up is when you must not be ashamed or feel shy about what you are doing. Go to events and mingle around, tell people about your product. Get good friends to spread the word too. Engage with future customers and clients. In 1 or 2 years, people will know your name and from that, start taking everything seriously in terms of operations, planning and customer relations. – Aidil Putra
Mahlstrom’s LiteFlex gear for men is already available online on their website. Future releases are coming in April and May. Check out their social media platforms here:
Written by Jane-Menn Cheong
Photographs courtesy of Mahlstrom.