Doll Me Up (Chapter 1): Starting a business

We wish it were easier, but there is no zipline to our dreams. Our reality is a messy terrain of endless adaptation, and we have to zig-zag through a world riddled with risk. The adventure of starting your own project — and then starting your own business — seems daunting, but it beckons flirtatiously to those with patience in the journey. The journey may be slow and slippery, it will turn and terrify, and it will frequently tumble and thrill, but the path is yours, and yours to create and seize with the sheer power of your dreams. Biz Stone, the founder of Twitter, once declared: “Timing, perseverance, and ten years of trying will eventually make you look like an overnight success.”

One might wonder how an entrepreneur navigates from “here” to “there” – what exactly happens in-between? Quite a lot, apparently, and if you speak to any entrepreneur, you will learn that they never actually reach the point one might call “there” – they are always “on the way” because they are constantly adapting.

Shopkeeper Stories with Nazlin Hilal the founder of Doll Me Up Cosmetics and Boneca cosmetics make-up in Singapore

“I realized that I don’t just enjoy doing make-up, but I actually enjoy teaching make-up.”

Nazlin Hilal has patiently driven her business forward over the past seven years with her husband and children embracing her leap of passion into the ring of risk. With Nazlin, the inklings of her passion began as a student when she helped the dance team at her school with one essential expression of performance: make-up.

When I was doing my diploma at Temasek Poly, I was put in charge of the make-up for the dance team. At that time, there wasn’t YouTube or other way you can learn. So, I had to just know it. It was my own creativity. There’s beauty make-up, stage and drama, fashion make-up. So I learned a bit of each. Then I realized that I don’t just enjoy doing make-up, but I actually enjoy teaching make-up.

When she started working in a big company, her friends and colleagues asked for make-up tips, so she provided workshops to meet the demand. Her service quickly scaled to the next level when she was invited to conduct courses for staff at other companies.

I started gaining the confidence and experience. So I continued. After that, my students were the ones who actually gave me the idea. They said: “We always learn make-up from you… Why don’t you sell make-up instead? After you show us how to use it, we can start trying it out. I said, Okay. I said, That’s interesting. Because it was really very closely related. 

Shopkeeper Stories with Nazlin Hilal the founder of Doll Me Up Cosmetics and Boneca cosmetics make-up in Singapore small business make-up fashion enterprise

“It actually took me almost three years just to make sure that I got a manufacturer that I liked.”

At this juncture of experience, Nazlin took the first steps to launch her own business. However, rather than become a reseller for existing cosmetic brands, she felt strongly about producing her own brand using manufacturers that she personally sourced in the United States and Europe. It was a long trial of experimenting and sampling to make sure the quality met her expectations.

It actually took me almost three years just to make sure that I got a manufacturer that I liked. Because we have to test the products and all that. And then, to actually launch the product as it is.

She dabbled with the market research and, finally, left her job to focus properly on the business.

That was the scariest thing because you are so used to getting a fixed salary every month, you get bonuses and all that.

The decision to leave her job was the pivoting point of risk: the first intimidating threshold that so few of us are willing to cross; the final frontier separating a corporate career from the trials of constant uncertainty. On the road beyond this barrier, you are forced to turn off the “auto-drive” and switch your gears into “manual” mode. This move plunges you into a territory where every cent you earn… is manually earned.

You buy without knowing whether it will sell, and you don’t want to keep stocks for these things too long, and then also to quit my job— I guess that was the most difficult time, at least the first six months of starting the business.

But, it slowly gets easier.

And then you start seeing that you’re okay, you know you have return customers, repeat customers–  so I guess that boosts the confidence.

Shopkeeper Stories Doll Me Up Nazlin Hilal cosmetics fashion make-up small business enterprise in Singapore

With her journey in full motion and family in tow, there was no looking back for Nazlin. Over the past 7 years, she has moved to a new studio three times, expanding a little time to make room for the workshops that she personally designs and conducts.

Do you wonder what it is like to produce your own cosmetics? It sounds entirely fun and exhilarating, and Nazlin shares the ups and downs of making make-up in the next article coming up. I’ll post the articles on this blog, and you can also follow the photo-essays on Facebook and Instagram @ShopkeeperStories.


Read the series!

Chapter 0: Introduction

Chapter 1: Starting a business

Chapter 2: Creating a product and brand

Chapter 3: Marketing

Chapter 4: Growing up

Chapter 5: Family life


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