Unhampered by MCO, Naelofar refreshes brand and pushes on with retail plans

Modest fashionwear brand Naelofar has undergone a brand refresh six years after its launch. Led by founder and celebrity Noor Neelofa Mohd Noor (pictured right), CEO Mohd Aqief Mohd Noor (pictured centre), COO Noor Nabila Mohd Noor (pictured left), the modest fashion brand has catapulted to fame in recent years as more Malaysian women grow interested in modest fashion. The modest fashion brand currently draws inspiration from Neelofa's personal style and luxury looks from Dior, Gucci and Chanel.

According to the company, through its initial years, the brand lacked a cohesive look and with the new branding, tagline and purpose "Go far", it hopes to showcase its efforts to take on a more global feel, especially through its designs. Moreover, while other modest fashion brands in the market mainly target the older segment, Naelofar sets itself aside by garnering traction with Millennials and Gen Zs. As such it positions the brand as affordable, practical, functional and stylish. Along with this demographic, Neelofa told A+M that it also has a loyal group of consumers from the age group of 34 and above.

"We cover quite a wide age range from your late teens to your mature customer so we have to work really hard to make sure the range and designs are balanced and can be bought into by a wide range of people," she said. Neelofa added that one of the brand's main objectives for 2021 is to start expanding on its international presence while building its local brand affinity.

Neelofa added that the idea to refresh the brand first came about pre-COVID-19 during her travels, when she saw a potential to "take the modest wear brand far and wide". She added that the team wanted to prepare Naelofar for that expansion and to reach more people whilst still bringing its core customer on the brand's journey.

"We always have our brand values to refer to - grounded, courageous and empowering. Those key pillars really reinforce everything we do at Naelofar. We want to keep empowering our customer to be courageous in every part of their lives whilst retaining a sense of humility," she added. Naelofar did not comment on A+M's queries regarding the monetary value of the brand refresh.

Brand partnerships a key

Currently the brand primarily banks on its celebrity founder with over 7.6 million followers on Instagram to promote the product. However, it also engages at least 20 influencers to create content for its campaigns and target the younger crowd. Naelofar has been aggressive in approaching brands and influencers to collaborate to push its brand and offerings forward, COO Nabila said. Examples of brands that Naelofar has worked with include Starbucks, AirAsia, Lancôme and Swarovski.

Nabila added that this is an important strategy for the company as one of the biggest mistakes any brand can make is to bank on one influencer alone to represent them, whether or not they resonate with consumers. "Choosing the right influencers and the right brand partners, is key to great partnerships," she said.

To expand on its on ground reach, the brand is also launching three stores in the next two years. Its first store in Taman Tun Dr. Ismail has always catered to loyalists and the brand wanted to connect with a newer group of consumers with the launch of the new stores. Naelofar's upcoming store in October will be located at Bandar Utama Shopping Mall and will feature the new branding as well as a curated experience. It plans to launch two flagship stores - Setia Alam in 2021 and Putrajaya in 2022.

CEO Aqief said the upcoming stores seek to bring the experience to young professionals and young mothers. "We always welcome new customers but we also value our return customers who are happy with our products, service and shopping environment that we provide," he added.

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Digital elevation

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic and Movement Control Order (MCO) in Malaysia, Aqief said Naelofar remained strong especially in its online business and achieved much higher growth. According to him, the brand ventured into the eCommerce scene during the early stages of its business. Hence, the infrastructure and resources were fundamentally in place.

"Thankfully, we have also just gone through a series of revamping exercises just before the MCO to enhance our website as well as UI/UX to be more mass market-friendly. We also revamped our internal processes to better cope with our online expansion in 2020," he added.

In an effort to double down on its eCommerce activities, Naelofar also expanded its digital reach onto Shopee earlier this year, coming on board the Shopee Celebrity Squad. According to Aqief, Naelofar has since received positive feedback from the market, with notable brands reaching out for collaboration opportunities.

"We identify and adopt both long-term and tactical campaigns to constantly boost our eCommerce and digital presence in line with our annual master plan. We are now constantly working with partners from different industries such as payment providers, telcos, banks and at the same time in talk with other notable brands on crossover and co-marketing," he said.

Naelofar currently focuses on digital spend as the brand believes that is where its consumers are and aims to use that to reach a wider audience beyond the physical boundaries. While Aqief did not specify the portion of its marketing budget allocated to digital, he said Naelofar's digital marketing budget has increased since MCO, based on the products it launches and the market's responses.

"We have been constantly optimising the return over ad spend and allocating the budget accordingly. Overall we are gaining more by putting more budget in recent months as the market is reacting strongly to our products and branding, and the signs are showing a strong momentum going upwards with all efforts put in," he explained.

Currently, Naelofar is present on Instagram and Facebook. While it has explored TikTok, Aqief explained that the platform "might not be [its] focus to gain the type of objectives [it wants] at this juncture". Instead, Instagram and Facebook are still its main focus as most of its new and existing clients engage with the brand on the platform. It is also looking to reactivate its YouTube channel as it views video content as "an effective ways to inspire and engaged with audiences".

Futureproofing for 2021

The year 2020 is a year of experimenting and taking risks to produce artistic and editorial creative work. Aqief explained that the creative team at Naelofar has the freedom to produce creatives they like and not be tied down to data sets. Moving forward, the brand's creative vision for the next year is to balance both worlds. This essentially means to produce creative work that not only engages and draws audiences, but also ties back and contributes to the business. "Visually, it will be beautiful, artistic and aspirational but also something that the audience can resonate with," he explained.

Aqief added that in 2021, Naelofar's goal is to constantly evolve in terms of what grows and what consumers respond well to. "We do not alter our brand voice or creative direction but come up with ways to produce or present the assets in a way that the audience will engage," he explained.

naelofar team

Naelofar has a 80 employees with 500 stockists worldwide. Leading the teams at Naelofar are eCommerce manager Addison Lai (pictured left), head of creative Shazwany Zaki (pictured second from left), Aqief (pictured centre), head of design Damilola Bankole (pictured third from right), retail manager Sandy Lim (pictured second from right) and head of marketing Azureen Rusdi (pictured right).

Meanwhile on the operational aspect, Nabila stressed the importance of maintaining agility and speed throughout the supply chain. She explained that the team uses its weekly sales data to observe the buying patterns and trends, and leverage on that to adapt for the upcoming collections. It also carries out focus groups to test new products and obtain feedback. "We toss what does not work and continuously produce what works, with improvements based on feedback," she added.

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