#MiraHatConversations with Nejla Matam-Finn

"You keep on changing, you keep on iterating and at the same time you have to stay focus"
- Nejla Matam-Finn, Founder and CEO of The Fifth Collection 

Hi Nejla, could you share with us what does your morning look like?

Chaotic. I literally jump out of bed - grab a coffee, sit outside on my balcony and catch up on my emails. Check customer service line, Instagram, Facebook, a bit of news and another round of coffee. I will continue to monitor all the social channels and then hit the shower. Someday I will send my daughter to school taking turns with my husband. And as soon as I'm at the office, I'll be with my computer - checking Google analytics and how our Facebook advertising is doing. Generally, I start my day by just checking on everything.

I need to have a bird's-eye view, if we need to adjust something or if there’s any emergency. We do have customers who want a quick delivery - purchase at midnight and wants it by 9am.

Even on weekends as well?

Yes, I guess weekends I’ll stay in pyjamas longer, but I will still be doing work. I’m always glued to my phone. And we use different tools to work as a team. Some of the team is based in Singapore, others are overseas. Therefore I need to check that nothing is left unanswered.

That sounds chaotic indeed! How about we take it down a notch, and tell us a little  bit more about yourself?

I grew up in a multicultural background, having lived all over the world. I'm of Algerian descent, grew up in Algeria till I was 8 years old. Then I moved to Switzerland till I was 18 years old and studied in Paris for 7 years. After that, I was in Singapore and then Shanghai for 4 years and gave birth there. I finally found a home in Singapore when we moved here in 2004 - a place where I'm so comfortable with all of my different cultural backgrounds.

People try to place a certain nationality or race on me, it's really hard. But the reality is, I'm from wherever I decide to be.

Now, what makes you want to start The Fifth Collection?

I used to work in luxury goods and always had an affinity for it, not necessarily from a shopper's perspective but I'm mesmerised by the power of branding and experiences. I got really into it when Gucci made a comeback in the 90s. They were closing most of their stores and nobody was interested in the brand anymore. Then, comes two geniuses, Tom Ford and Domenico De Sole..next thing you know, Gucci became the IT brand again. At the end of the day, the relationship that consumers have with the brand is just beyond design.

When I lived in Shanghai, I noticed that modern women shop differently from their mothers. I was then too bored with shopping in the store, being dictated what to buy this season and at what price.

Moving to Singapore, I had an idea to start something along those lines. I have always love vintage pieces. One night, I was at a friend's engagement dinner party and someone asked, "Are you wearing the same outfit then two years ago at an F1 party?" That sparked a whole new conversation around the table - older women and their shopping habits. They went from women who liked to shop high end to fast fashion, as they don't see the point of spending so much and not wearing it out often.

Back in the day sans social media, people repeat their outfits for weddings or parties and nobody would know but that's not the case now. From that conversation, suddenly I have access to a focus group that shares the same problem as me. And I thought let’s give it a try and that’s how The Fifth Collection was born.

How was the first year of your business?

This year would be our third year since we launched. But we’ve been working on this project for four years. It took me a whole year to put the business plan together, to build a site, find a team and space etc. It was a tough first year. I wasn’t working by then but I was a young mum, my daughter was 18 months and starting school. I used to work in corporation and in different luxury consultancies but it was the first time that I've to do everything from scratch for my project. In the corporate environment, if your computer’s broken, there’s an IT department. When it is your own company, you’re the IT department.

That was it? Any particular moment that stood out?

Yes, see, you really have to build everything. It's not just about the idea. I didn’t know much. Where I used to work at Richemont, we had a whole customer service team and they took care of it. All of a sudden, "Oh FAQ, what do I write on those?". It took us a full year to launch. But it was a great experience. I learned, read and educated myself a lot.

It's very fashionable to talk in engineering acronyms. I remembered the first meeting, I was just taking notes and went like, ‘What are you talking about, what are you talking about?’ And doing a glossary for the notes. Now, it's very natural. The first year...is a steep learning curve.

What’s your biggest challenge so far?

Now that we are a team of 11, certain things are getting easier, but all of us are still multitasking. Everyone is stretched tight. I think the challenge is how to increase our focus in each department and to build a more in-depth branding. The team is amazing, we have a chat button on our website - nothing gets unanswered and it's not rare to get one of us to answer at 1am or 2am. To the point that some customers that we’ve never met know us by name and they actually tell us, "You can answer tomorrow, go to bed."

Speaking of which, was there a time in the business where you have lost your confidence?

In any young companies, I guess you grow through doubts. Sometimes, it's on an everyday basis. At the beginning, there's constantly ups and downs – bigger and smaller ones. I think the hardest part is you launched and then suddenly you worry if the customers are going to show up or not and how will they react to it. And that is very stressful.

People have asked you for a particular design, you launched it and you went, "Wow, it's not working. Did I miss something?" And its constant. You keep on changing, you keep on iterating and at the same time you have to stay focus. Which is the hardest part. I think doubt is good too because you keep questioning and then you keep pushing yourself. If you have no doubt then nothing will ever change as you get too comfortable.

If there’s only one advice that you could give to your daughter. What would it be?

Keep learning. Never stop educating yourself. We live in an era where knowledge is widely available. Unfortunately, people don’t read that much anymore, which is a shame. I major in marketing and communications for instance and read pieces on engineering and if I don’t understand, I can still go find someone to explain it to me. That is the only thing people can’t take away from you - your knowledge.

What is your life motto?

Everybody is responsible for change if they want to, especially around their community. People often asked, ‘Why do you care so much?’ I think that if everybody cared a bit more around them and made it a duty to change certain mindset, the world would be a better place. So I never stop. Even my husband say, ‘Why do you keep fighting for certain things?’ Also, a lot of people forget that what we (The Fifth Collection) do is sustainable, green and less waste. If everybody did a little at all levels then change will happen.

Visit Nejla's luxury vintage fashion online platform, The Fifth Collection at www.thefifthcollection.com


Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published