Sereni Linggi and Shen-tel Lee’s foray into entrepreneurship could be described as accidental.
Their story started in 2009 at a Lady Gaga concert in Singapore. The pair made their own headbands to wear to the concert. The fun and quirky designs instantly caught the attention of stylists and magazines, and soon interviews and talk shows followed.
Demand started coming in, and Sereni & Shen-tel was born.
“We started off as just as 'crafters',” says Sereni. “We used to do a lot of arts and crafts together and just made crazy things,” the graphic designer adds with a smile.
Ten years into the business, both inspiring ladies from Kuching (Their headbands are proudly branded as ‘Made in Borneo’) are now mothers and running multiple businesses concurrently.
If you love something, you will always make time for it
Shen-tel is the force behind Photobooth Events and Bowerhaus, an Australia homemade jewellery brand, while Sereni kept her full-time job as a Business Development Manager and Centre Manager for Kuching-based neighbourhood mall Green Heights Mall.
“You have to be really organised as working moms,” says Sereni.
“I think if you love something, you will always make time for it,” Shen-tel adds. They both are early risers (‘We are in bed by 9pm’), allowing them to fit in as much work in the early part of the day and spend the evenings with family.
Our Greatest Achievement
Sereni & Shen-tel has grown to become a popular name in Malaysia.
The brand’s big break came in 2012, when its headbands got featured on US hit television series Gossip Girl. Eva Longoria also wore one of their designs on Desperate Housewives.
There’s a natural creative process between the two of us. A lot of it comes from humour
Since then, its unique, quirky and handmade pieces are often a staple among the fashionistas in the Kuala Lumpur social scene.
“I think there’s a natural creative process between the two of us. A lot of it comes from humour,” says Shen-tel when asked about what creative elements go into designing its pieces.
“We laugh a lot about a lot of things and that actually spurs innovation, believe it or not.”
“A lot of people don’t believe it, but we don’t follow trends,” she adds, preferring to ‘design what we love’. Every single headband is still meticulously sewn by hand from Sereni & Shen-tel’s workshop in Kuching.
“For us, we innovate our products by really listening to our customers,” Shen-tel adds.
And it is by listening to their customers, the pair has ventured into making headbands for children, after receiving persistent demand from customers.
“We didn’t understand it back then but after having kids, we realised that it was a really great target market for us,” says Sereni. “Kids love things that are colourful, cute and fun – so that’s our main market now.”
The brand’s children’s and baby headband collection are now among its top sellers, along with the bridal collection, gift sets and festivity headbands for celebrations like Chinese New Year, Hari Raya and Christmas.
“We usually start four to six months before the season. We predict what the colours are going to be really hot,” says Shen-tel.
“We also have to decide, whether we are going to focus on children or adults. Then we come up with the collection together.”
Festive Season Preparation
Sereni & Shen-tel also collaborates with other fashion and beauty brands as part of its strategy to explore new growth areas, among them clothing line Roa Skye footwear brand Cipella and beauty giant Lancome.
“Collaborations are definitely key to growing a business because you get to grow to other markets and reach different customers,” Shen-tel.
For both Sereni and Shen-tel, having an eponymous brand means their personal and professional life often intertwined, and that means being in the public eye through platforms like Instagram and Facebook.
People want to know who is the behind the brand
“When you talk about our own personal brands, I think that has shifted because of social media. People want to know who is the behind the brand. Sereni is her own person, I have my own personal branding - that is independent from Sereni & Shen-tel,” Shen-tel explains.
“But when you see us together at events, we become the brand. I think that’s what people expect. They don’t expect to see the two of us not in some form of accessory.”
“I think our personal brand for Sereni & Shen-tel, it’s about friendship.”
“We love fashion, we love to have fun. So together, we evoked the brand which is that of a colourful, happy, beautiful friendship,” she surmises.
A decade into their business, there had been ups and downs, but the best friends persevered, through a good a good dose of ‘laughter, determination and good work ethics.’
“We both have different strengths and we just let each other be strong in those areas. Sereni is really strong in business and operations and I’m obviously strong in graphics – she doesn’t mess with me in that sense,” says Shen-tel jokingly.
“But when we disagree on something – and this is the beauty of it - we just don’t do it. No questions asked. We think of another way that we’re both happy with the solution. So, we don’t force it on each other.”
If We Don't Agree, We Don't Do It
The accidental entrepreneurs consider staying strong in the business after ten years is a success in itself.
“I think when we started in Kuching, our friends and our local communities were so sure that we were going to fail,” says Shen-tel. ‘We are still in shock that we are still in business for ten years,” she adds modestly.
“I think our biggest achievement is that people still do love our products,” Sereni says.
“There’s still passion there to keep creating. If we lost it, then that’s when it is over,” adds Shen-tel. “But I think that’s our greatest achievement – is that we are still going.”
For 2019, the pair hopes to strengthen the brand and come up with new, fun collections. “We want to experiment further,” says Shen-tel.
“I think this is the year where we continue to keep creating things and make people happy,” adds Sereni.
It's About Friendship