Muhamad Yenash was only 18 when he started selling slippers in the night market. His business model was simple. Yenash would buy slippers from wholesale suppliers in Kuala Lumpur and lug the purchases back home on his trusty motorbike. Then, Yenash would re-price the slippers, set up a stall at the night market and sell it as individual pairs.
I chose to sell slippers because they are dried goods. There is no expiry date, unlike food stuff. Shortly after, I started selling shoes too. – Yenash, who operated the slipper business everyday from age 18 to 23.
Since young, Yenash had a keen mind for business.
I remember hardly anyone buying my slippers for the first two weeks when I sold them because my stall was located so far away from everyone. I remember hardly anyone buying my slippers for the first two weeks when I sold them because my stall was located so far away from everyone. – Yenash, recounting his past experience.
Slowly but surely, Yenash started enriching his trove of business knowledge.
That was the start of my learning curve in the business industry — I learned the importance of a good location, being good to customers, and always being friendly to them. – Yenash.
In 2019, after five years of saving up profits, Yenash accumulated enough capital to start his own clothing business, YenZ Exclusive in Sungai Buloh.
Bread Or Book?
Going through all this was not easy for the 26-year-old. In 2019, there were 2.91 million households in the B40 category and Yenash was part of that statistic.
My parents divorced when I was 1 year-old. My mother is a single mother, raising 4 children. I am the youngest. – Yenash
Yenash revealed that he had a hard life growing up watching his mother, Latipah Omar, 56, make kuih-muih to sell at restaurants. Sometimes his mom would work as a cleaner in others’ homes to earn extra income to keep the family afloat.
Yenash’s mother would send him to school by motorcycle, but because of her busy schedule, Yenash had to make the trip home by foot, a distance of 4km.
He did not mind the hardship because he witnessed how hard his mother had to work to feed the family. Yenash would even help her make food in the morning before going to school.
There is a strong correlation between socioeconomic status and children’s attendance in school. UNICEF surveyed out-of-school children in Sabah and found that 41.2% of households cited financial constraints as a reason for not enrolling children in school. The need to work for income is one of the descriptive reasons. The same reason also underlies why one-third of the surveyed children drop out of school.
Yenash, however, never thought of dropping out.
I had to at least finish my secondary school studies. I worked part time to gain experience while finding extra income to help out my mother. I worked in catering when I was at school, on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. – Yenash, sharing his experience in juggling school and part time.
This middle-ground approach is not uncommon in B40 students who are compelled by the circumstance to chip in their family’s livelihood. The work and study approach takes a great toll on students and their ability to do well in school.
There are times I feel very tired and can’t keep up. But I persisted anyway to go to school and attend class everyday. – Yenash
For a long time, Yenash was stretched by the tension of maintaining academics and sustaining livelihood. After the SPM examination, he decided not to pursue higher education and venture into business right away.
Education is the most effective determinant to improve the lives of B40, where children with tertiary education are 4.6 times more likely to move up the socioeconomic ladder. Household Income & Basic Amenities Survey Report 2019 revealed that families with members holding a degree or diploma, on average, had an annual income more than 3-fold (RM14,939) that of an SPM-holder (RM4,374).
Unfortunately, Yenash did not have the luxury of options. The need to put bread on the table superseded the need to attain a degree. Opting for education also means the household will temporarily lose an income contributor, a dire situation for those dancing the line of absolute poverty.
Where public primary and secondary schools incur no fee, the cost for tertiary education, even public ones, could mean a significant burden for already-deprived households. The total cost of non-science programmes ranges RM7,500 – RM9,800, while science programmes RM8,000 – RM15,000. This has yet to include expenditures like textbooks, accommodation, and pocket money.
Paddle Against the Flow
After a year of opening YenZ, Yenash’s business has grown but it is still not at its fullest potential. There were obvious roller coaster moments for this new entrepreneur.
The first three month of selling shirts, we made no profit at all. It seems like nobody believed in Yenz’s T-shirt. Some even questioned if anybody would ever buy it? – Yenash
There is another undercurrent that flows beneath. B40 households with lower income often resort to loans and debts to survive their day-to-day expenses across the period of the pandemic.
A nationwide survey involving 504 B40 households found that 43.7% of them are burdened by vehicle loans every month, 38.3% of them by private loans, and 28.2% by housing loans. With more than a quarter (27.2%) of B40 households reporting 1-3 months of the financial reserve – an unplanned event (eg. hospitalization, property damage or venture failure) could render the household beyond recovery.
Yenash’s business went downhill during the start of the pandemic, and he had to grit his teeth not to fall into the roaring current.
I became determined when I thought about my mother and how she raised us. Like her, I wish to help my family and siblings. I want to repay those who believed in me when times are hard: my wife, my staff. – Yenash, citing his mother as a source of inspiration for him to persevere.
That is when YenZ Exclusive decided to switch to online sales. The online business took sometime to set up and gain momentum – but finally, Yenash is able to break into a smile.
YenZ Exclusive has over 7,000 agents across Malaysia acting as point-of-contact for sales. The brand now sports a team of designers, researchers, and marketing experts working to produce at least two new collections every month.
YenZ’s products are now distributed to Brunei, Singapore, and Indonesia. Yenash is aiming to penetrate the Southeast Asia market by 2025, then enter the global stage by 2030.
Gain and Give
Yenash remains grounded despite his ambition. As someone who is still a student of entrepreneurship, he spent a significant portion of his effort teaching and sharing his knowledge with aspiring youths.
I wish to see young people who share the same fate as me find their own direction and make their lives better. I wish to help them and teach them what I know. With it, they can improve themselves by becoming a leader, thus also alleviating the lives of their family. – Yenash, on the spirit of giving back.
He has taught more than 400 young people to become entrepreneurs themselves, each exploring their own path.
The way out of the poverty cycle is not cut-and-dry. Perhaps Yenash’s story can serve as an inspiration for those less fortunate and a reminder for those fortunate to do better in safeguarding the youths from impoverished backgrounds.
Seek for opportunities, don’t wait for it. If you want change, start small. It might not amount to anything now, but you will reap the result in due time. Don’t give up easily and have patience. – Yenash.
To learn more about YenZ Exclusive, visit them here.
There are a number of social enterprises making their business a force for good. Check out this list of social enterprises that are working directly to improve the lives of B40 communities.
Explore Our Sources:
- Savitha. A.G. (2021). Malaysian man who sold slippers at night market now runs own clothing business, trains over 400 young entrepreneurs. Malay Mail. Link.
- mStar. Pernah jaja selipar di kaki lima, founder muda tak kecil hati disamakan “Mat bangla”… kini bangga mampu jayakan lebih 20 usahawan. mStar. Link.
- DOSM. (2020). Household Income & Basic Amenities Survey Report 2019: Key Findings. Department of Statistics Malaysia. Link.
- UNICEF. (2019). Children Out of School: Malaysia, The Sabah Context. United Nations Childrens’ Fund Malaysia. Link.
- Muhammed Abdul Khalid. (2018). Climbing the Ladder: Socioeconomic Mobility in Malaysia. MIT Press Direct. Link.
- Zulita Mustafa. (2017). How much would it cost to pursue higher education in Malaysia? New Straits Times. Link.
- Sharmila Thinagar, Siti Nurul Munawwarah Roslan, Mohd Khairi Ismail, & Norshamliza Chamhuri. (2021). COVID-19: B40 Household’s financial and consumption during the implementation of movement control order (MCO). Planning Malaysia Journal. Link.