Neelofa reacted with shock and disbelief when she learned the Asian edition of Forbes was including her in its annual 30 Under 30 list.
After all, the actress, TV host and entrepreneur only started her line of headscarves, Naelofar Hijab, less than three years ago.
“I was like, ‘Why was I chosen? Based on what criteria?’,” the 28-year-old Neelofa recalls. Forbes Asia first approached her in February via e-mail, and later followed up with a phone interview.
“Prior to this, Naelofar Hijab also received other awards and even for those, I felt it was a little too early for my business to be recognised. Then Forbes came to me with this and I was like, ‘Is this for real?’.”
It was for real. Not only is Neelofa recognised for her achievements under the retail and e-commerce category, she is one of only 10 individuals to have a feature written about her in the magazine. (In total, there are 300 honourees across its 10 categories.)
She looks back on the rocky beginnings of her business in 2014. “When we first started, the demand was crazy and we had to catch up to it. There were a few hiccups and we took a few steps back and revisualised.”
Whatever she did, it worked. By the end of the following year, her business raked in RM50mil, according to a BBC report.
The businesswoman says she won’t be releasing new products for the time being, choosing instead to focus on improving what she already has. “After a while, when you have a lot of products, you tend to lose focus,” she offers.
While Naelofar Hijab has begun to spread its wings overseas – with the collection being sold online in 37 countries and the opening of a pop-up store in an upmarket district in London last year – she intends to concentrate on its roots in Malaysia first.
“My focus is to strengthen the brand locally, whether in terms of production or taking care of our existing stores and stockist system. Only then can I go overseas,” she expresses.
Asked the secret to her success, Neelofa replies: “No matter what happened in the past, the many challenges and problems we had to overcome, you have to keep moving forward.”
The star also adds that Naelofar Hijab is a family-run business, and “there are no trust issues or money problems”.
The Kelantan-born beauty also acknowledges her star power has something to do with the success of the company: “My platform in the entertainment industry gives me bonus points to market and advertise my products.”
Neelofa first got her start in showbiz after winning teen beauty pageant Dewi Remaja in 2010. She gradually built her name, acting in film and TV as well as hosting entertainment programmes.
Still, it was her lead role on the wildly popular Suri Hati Mr. Pilot last year, which took her acting career to the next level.
“Who else is as hot as Neelofa right now in Malaysia?” hurr.tv channel director Elaine Daly says of her decision to film a reality series on Neelofa.
hurr.tv, an online lifestyle channel and video streaming platform, is producing #FollowLofa, a six-episode, 10-minute long webisode that follows Neelofa as she goes about her professional and personal life.
Prior to this, she had received offers to star in her own reality show but always turned them down until now.
“I didn’t want to do it at first because I was afraid I couldn’t control the content that goes out,” she says at a press event.
“But with hurr.tv, they allow me to be involved in the editing process. That’s why I said yes.”
Neelofa explains why she went with the online medium eventually. “If possible, I don’t want to expose my private life too much. But since this is online and each episode is only about 10 minutes, (the exposure) is not too drastic.”
While Neelofa isn’t followed by cameras all day long, the webisode provides viewers front row seats to intimate moments in her life. This includes a cook-out session with her friends at home and her sister’s wedding day.
“I would say about 98% is real, the other 2% is the interview portions where they need me to explain some things further, and they provide me with a guide,” she comments on being herself in front of the camera.
Daly chimes in: “I think she was very honest. I told her this, ‘All your fans see is (what) you (post) on Instagram or Facebook. They want to know the real you. They want to see what makes you sad, happy, afraid’. And she said, ‘OK, I will reveal as much as I can’.”
Besides getting a closer look at her life, Neelofa says viewers can gain something more from #FollowLofa.
“When I have to go through situations that I don’t want to, how do I maintain being neutral and professional? How do I handle last minute change of plans? How do I overcome problems and stress? There are a lot of lessons viewers can learn which are captured on the show.”