From climbing trees to building a multi-million ringgit beauty and fashion business empire, Neelofa is on her way to the top

THE saying goes that “winners never quit”, and 30-year-old Malaysian actress and TV presenter Noor Neelofa Mohd Noor, better known as Neelofa, certainly fits this bill.

She has bravely faced obstacles, hurdles and betrayals to build a multi-million ringgit beauty and fashion business empire through her company NH Prima Sdn Bhd.

She has also won many awards for her entrepreneurship skills, including the Forbes Asia under 30 class 2017, SME 2017 Celebrity Entrepreneur of The Year, and The Iconic Role Model Award.

She is best known as the founder of the company Naelofar Hijab, which is one of the most successful hijab brands in Malaysia today.

In this exclusive interview with theSun, Neelofa talks about her childhood years, her business inspirations and what she looks for in her ideal soul mate.

Describe your childhood years.

“My childhood years were adventurous and fun. I climbed trees. I jumped in the river. My friends and I stole eggs from my neighbour’s chicken coop and played ‘masak-masak.’ Today kids are spending too much time in their house playing with their iPads, and I do not envy them.

Who influenced you to be an entrepreneur?

“My family. Everyone in my family – my grandfather, my grandmother, my father and my mother – has their own business. My mother used to buy clothing materials from Dubai and Mecca, and sold them here.

“The first business I started was Lofa Heels. I was only 18. I personally delivered the shoes to my clients.”

What are some of the challenges you faced in setting up your business?

“When we first started our hijab collection in 2013, we got our supply from a company in Lebanon. Unfortunately, the company could not supply enough material to us.

“Our stockists and agents were hammering us. So, we decided to take control, and designed our own hijab. That way, we could decide how much we want to produce.

“When we grew, we hired more staff. Unfortunately, some of them betrayed our trust.

“They stole our data and our designs, and sold them to our competitor. A few even sold our products through the back door just to make an easy profit.”

It must have been painful to have your trust betrayed. Did you feel like giving up?

“We did not want them to win. We fought back. We hired consultants to solve the problem and tie up the loose ends.

“But last year, I wanted to quit. I run my business with three of my siblings. We have different opinions about how to expand our business. I wanted to leave the business in their hands and quit. But slowly, we compromised, and now we have a better relationship.”

What are the biggest sacrifices you have made to be where you are today?

“My career keeps me very busy. I missed a lot of my family gatherings. My grandfather passed away last year. I promised to visit him more often and I failed to keep my promise.

“My younger brother has grown up so fast and I was not an important figure during his childhood years. But you can’t have everything. Sacrifices are needed in life.

“But when I became a mother, I do not want to want to miss their childhood years, and I will definitely slow down my career.”

We heard you are penetrating the overseas market. Is that true?

“I have signed a deal with an agency in France where I will be promoted as the face for hijab fashion in the European market. For now, I will attend fashion shows in France, Milan (Italy), and the United States where I will get some exposure. Once I am established, they will slowly get to know my brand. I am also negotiating to host an entertainment show in Indonesia.”

As an actress, some expected you to start a production house and produce films.

“I never dreamt of going behind the camera and creating stories. Acting happened by accident.

“When I won the Dewi Remaja crown in 2010, a film director (Aziz M. Osman) offered me a film role. I accepted the offer because I was curious about the acting world.

“But I never liked waiting on the set for my scenes. It can get so hot! I do not think I will ever return to acting. If they ever shoot a film in a cooler climate, then I might reconsider the offer.”

Some fans never stop asking about marriage. Do you get tired of answering this question?

“I understand their curiosity. Getting married is like starting a new chapter in your life, and they are interested in my new chapter.

“I want someone who is matured, responsible and easily adaptable. Some of my friends kept telling me that guys are afraid to approach me because of my status and what I have achieved.

“But I will never play myself down, just to please a man. He has to accept me for what I am. I cannot change. I cannot fake it. I believe God created us in pairs and one day, I will find my pair.”