The right planner is sometimes the most important tool to keep you organised. Some of us may have used dated notebooks to keep track of appointments and stay on schedule. For Fazila Said, however, even when she was only 14, the planners available then were not up to par. “At the bookstores, all the planners were simple and just didn’t make me look forward to my everyday life. So, I created something for myself that would kick-start my day,” she says.
Fazila would design her own planner, choosing fonts she liked and adding images or details that suited her. She would then use her home printer to materialise her work, sticking on artistic covers. Although she used a basic method of book binding, the finished product kept her motivated. Impressed, her friends started asking her to make planners for them as well, and she would personalise the pages to their needs.
She later studied interior design and event management. But her passion for creating planners was still strong. “I always had an interest in doing design and taught myself with the help of YouTube videos and other tutorials,” adds Fazila, who went on to work in an event agency and took up freelance gigs.
In 2014, she started an Instagram account for her business, Perky Preen. “The first step was determining the concept I wanted to sell for a particular year, and then developing the designs, viewing options and finally narrowing it down. For the first year, we had eight designs,” she explains.
One of her early challenges was determining how to fit a wide variety of organisational needs into 200 pages. “It’s an interesting process to learn what each individual wants different, so you need to come up with something that helps a lot of people,” she says. Still, Perky Preen managed to sell 500 books in the first year with a range of black and white designs.
Fazila’s business requires a great deal of on-the-go learning and paying very close attention to the audience. With Instagram polls and customer feedback, each collection of planners improved, resulting in better formats and inlays. “Throughout the years, I learnt that people need more space and [that’s] what I needed to add, so the planners get better every year,” she says. Perky Preen’s spiral bound inlays are inserted into artistic hard covers that follow a theme each year and Fazila has launched 40 different covers to date.
Taking orders from Instagram and Whatsapp messages was quite tough. “Managing the orders was challenging and I kept missing orders or customer information. I realised this was not working and did not want to keep on getting complaints. So two years ago, I decided to start a website to streamline the whole process,” Fazila says.
Over the last few years, the inlays have been more or less similar, including fun projects to keep one driven, such as motivational quotes and brain teasers like Sudoku and word searches. “My inlays are made for the busy woman. So when you view the monthly spread, you can see your important dates. When you flip to the weekly spread, you can go through all your appointments. You can also keep track of your habits, like drinking water,” Fazila explains.
There are also more mindful activities and weekly challenges that are simple, such as wearing your favourite colour to more meaningful things such as making a donation. These planners are like a pre-formatted bullet journal, making them more useful and holistic than the run-of-the-mill planners out there.
Production was another steep learning curve for Fazila. While mass printing the inlays was easy, producing the personalised covers — which would have the customer’s name on them — was tricky. It took a couple of years to find a system that worked best. “When I started, orders came in, and I would have production print out the covers one by one. Each customer had different designs and different names so I needed to go one by one. But that took a lot of time and it was not fair to make the customers wait. So, after a while, I had to expedite the process,” she explains.
It was only in 2020 that Fazila implemented a more efficient process. She now orders a certain number of pieces per design, and only sends them back to production to print the customer’s name when an order is placed. From a 10- to 14-day wait, deliveries now have a three- to five-day turnaround.
Perky Preen’s 2021 range has rather abstract designs. “Covid affected a lot of people last year, so we wanted to do something uplifting. Each book has its own story and we wanted people to relate their lives to each of them,” says Fazila. The collection includes Rebirth, Redefine, Reflect, Reaffirm and Recoup, and each has an empowering story. For instance, Redefine includes this description: “To ‘redefine’ yourself is to act boldly and purposefully as you navigate this journey called life. Much like the colourful brush strokes in this design, we aim to inspire you to paint your story so you can redefine what happiness and success mean to you, no matter how big the odds are”.
In order to be more environmentally conscious, Perky Preen sells Second Life notebooks and planners. “When the books come back from the printers, there are always rejected ones that I don’t sell to my customers. Not wanting to waste them, I came up with the idea of reusing them and selling them at a lower price,” says Fazila. She has received surprisingly high sales for the Second Life pieces.
Perky Preen currently has bundles that cater for different lifestyles. For example, the Go-getter set includes the brand’s signature planner and a notebook, as well as a pen and gold foil planner stickers. Other sets have a “Stress Away” Roll-on Essential Oil and a handy collapsible cup.
Fazila hopes to expand her team to grow her business. “Perky Preen has always been a place for me to explore my creative side. When I design things, I would like to add value to people’s lives. Our products are a mix of functionality and design that is quirky and aesthetically pleasing,” she adds. She is also aiming for Perky Preen to be a lifestyle brand — her product bundles are a little taste of this — that sells more stationery, tote bags, clothing and other merchandise.
This article first appeared on Apr 26, 2021 in The Edge Malaysia.