Founded in Jakarta in 2014 by Inoek Brouwer, Noox sells playful accessories such as pillows and toys that are vibrant and unique for “tiny grown-ups”.
In 2016, Brouwer met sisters Isliana Ismail-Bonnifay and Maslina Ismail who then founded Noox KL Design. Isliana — a human resource manager with an MBA —was looking for something to do in retail while Maslina was a petrol engineer who was out of a job as the price of oil had tanked.
When Isliana told Maslina about the opportunity, the timing was perfect. “I agreed because I also liked the products. We felt that if we liked to have them in our home, most mothers would want them too,” says Maslina.
There are now Noox companies in Thailand and Japan as well but they are not franchises. They have their own designs but most of their pillows have the familiar blue backing. “The founder does not dictate how we run things but she lets us decide. The business model for Noox is quite territorial. Meaning that if I am based in Japan, then I only manage Japan, which is fair to all of us. Somehow, all the business owners in these four countries turned out to be women,” explains Isliana.
“The two of us were not in marketing or retail, but my husband always tells me, if you want to run a business, you have to take the risk. ‘You go for it and if you fall, don’t be scared, he said’,” says Isliana.
When the sisters began, they faced a few speed bumps. “New to retail, we didn’t know how to negotiate the consignment percentage,” Maslina explains. Through trial and error and with help from their brother, who is in marketing, they found their groove.
Noox KL Design’s Malaysian-inspired accessories include a bas sekolah soft toy, big Petronas Towers pillow, scooter keychain and foldable KL playmat. It also offers customised products such as a bas sekolah soft toy with a special hashtag (#risingtogether) for the 2017 Southeast Asian Games Kuala Lumpur.
With products being sold on a consignment basis in Apom Bangsar Village, Kaleidoscope in Publika Shopping Gallery and 5.4° North in Penang, Isliana says the business practically runs itself.
“Another thing with Noox is that we make sure that we come up with a story. So the paper tag actually carries a lot of weight in terms of representing the city. Each design comes with a greeting card and it has the story about the product.”
Noox’s products are made with child-friendly ink that is washable and fade-proof.
Maslina and Isliana use their own mothering experiences as well as feedback from parents they meet at bazaars to improve their items. Isliana explains that quality is always foremost in their minds. “We cannot be selfish. We have to make our product as if we are the owner and we are going to consume it.”
They add that they took over the management of Noox Indonesia on Feb 1 as Brouwer has moved back to the Netherlands. “The founder gave us free hand to run the business like ours,” says Isliana. As Noox’s business in Indonesia slowed down last year, the sisters hope to reestablish relationships with retailers and grow sales online. They also hope to retain current bestsellers and create a new range of designs.
On the Malaysian front, the partners are working on putting their products online and they hope to move the manufacture of the products here. Noox’s items are currently made in an Indonesian factory that empowers women. The plan is to continue the tradition in Malaysia.
Isliana adds that they would also like to start a lifestyle space. “We would like to have a Noox café where people can hang out, have coffee and be mesmerised by our products. It will be a space for parents to not only have a meeting or get together with friends but also where children can play.”
This article first appeared on Apr 8, 2019 in The Edge Malaysia.