REAL.M FOUNDERS’ ON PASSION, PURPOSE & RISK
Women’s Entrepreneur Journey. In conjunction with International Women’s Day, the three founders of Real.m — Naadira, Najmia, Atiyya — take a moment to reflect upon their entrepreneurial journeys thus far. From sisters to business partners, part of Women’s Entrepreneur Journey. From one stage in life to the next, these are their stories on investing in passion, working for purpose, and taking risks.
Could you share a little bit about yourself?
I was born in Los Angeles, California, USA and spent most of my adolescence in on the outskirts of Washington, DC. I am most passionate about children, early childcare, outdoors, nature, and most importantly, travels. I believe travelling is the best form of exposure and life-enriching experience. And of course, I have a special love for fashion & photography. I believe I’m moulded by my family, my religion, and my experience living in the western culture but, at the same time, being brought up by conservative Asian parents. That wasn’t easy. We have to constantly remind ourselves of our roots and values. My family then moved back to Malaysia after 10 years — and this move has taught me a great deal in making peace with changes. I am lucky to have many teachers in life — inside and outside of schools — including my children. I am learning so much of myself through them right now.
You were already a mother of two boys when you and your sisters started Real.m. And soon after you were pregnant and gave birth to a baby girl. How did you manage to juggle so many things at the same time? Were you afraid that it might be too overwhelming?
Real.m as we know it today was conceived since my sisters and I were in secondary school. We have a strong bond and always knew we would one day want to do something together. When I left my architecture practice to become a full time mom, I realised I am not cut out to just be a domesticated lady. I love working my brain and use my creativity to produce something. Soon, I approached my sisters to revisit our childhood dream of doing something we all enjoy together,
something that we all believe in, and something that would help contribute to the betterment of the society.
We would have many meetings after work hours at my house to brainstorm ideas. We toyed with many ideas, including fashion house, interior design and F&B, but they remained ideas for a while as we were still afraid to take the leap. However, I couldn’t take it out of my mind, wondering at the possibilities. It was certainly daunting for wanting to start a business without any financial means, business background, manpower nor experience. But I was a mother who wanted more for myself and my family. I knew there are many amazing women out there who have accomplished so much in life. I wanted that.
My sisters and I also wanted to live a real meaningful life, not slaving away in an office we feel no connection to. We wanted to be proactive and make a difference in the world. We wanted real material. We wanted our own Women’s Entrepreneur Journey. Fast forward 1.5 years later, after many long meetings at my house (which were often interrupted by crying baby), we fell
in love with our first range of Turkish towels for its aesthetic and versatility, which Mia discovered in her travels. Atiyya soon put her branding and creative juices to the brand name (Real.m), which she had been secretly working on ion her college years. And we have it — Real.m, a lifestyle brand that offers natural, real material for daily living. What keeps me going is really my love for my children and my family. I wanted this for them as well, especially my sisters. I want to give us a chance to build something great together and give back to the world together.
As many people will attest, mixing business and family can be explosive. Can you describe how is it like working with your sisters?
Working with my sisters, first and foremost, makes me proud. It is a struggle to align our visions and opinions. We do have very distinct working and communication styles. However, whenever there is a conflict, we address them immediately, lay it on the table and try to resolve it by having an open mind and considering many alternative solutions. We have always come back together as one unit, putting the team’s interest at the front, not individual interest. The beauty of working with my sisters is that I always have full support and understanding as they are my family. We will always have each other’s back.
How do you think venturing into this business has helped you grow as a person?
Venturing into a retail business has taught me to be on my toes, think and act fast, and to be grateful of every small achievements. I’ve also learned the art of listening and being open to the endless possibilities of business. I’ve learned to be more flexible and humble. In the heat of chasing deadlines and making ends meet, I’ve learned to let go and return to what is real for me — which is my family. I’ve also learned to have fun. Real.m and raising a family is hard work and fun all at the same time. When things get tough, I’ve to teach myself to smile and to be thankful for what I already have. I also now see the power of teamwork. No man is a self-made man nor an isolated island. We are social creatures dependent on each other