02 Sep 2020
Q+A With Farah Azmi (MBA 2021), Founder of IXORA Apparel
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by Ashley Wheeler

Farah Azmi (MBA 2021)

Frustrated by frumpy and dated outfits during her time working in investment banking, Farah Azmi (MBA 2021) started IXORA Apparel, trend-driven made-to-measure apparel for young professional women. As a Rock Summer Fellow, she has been creating fashionable day-to-night clothes that fit perfectly to help women look and feel comfortable and confident.

The Q&A below explores the world of custom apparel, how Azmi has used HBS resources (and the community!), and the challenges of being a female founder.

On Ixora and made-to-measure apparel

Where did the name IXORA come from?
Ixora is a flower that is commonly found in my home country in Malaysia. In Malay, it translates to “needle flower.” I’d like to think of the IXORA woman as not only a growing, blossoming flower but also as a fierce, sharp one, too.

What is the difference between made-to-order/stock and made-to-measure/custom clothes?
Made-to-order/stock is where we all usually get our clothing. Most apparel companies take one year from design to manufacturing to delivery in store. Building and ordering product this far in advance requires a lot of guesses as to what consumers want and how much. It creates a lot of inventory risk and a lot of waste, both environmental and in employee time. With custom clothes we’re able to create exactly what the customer wants, when they want it.

Custom-made clothing has started to get really popular—what are its other benefits?
As a consumer, custom clothing gives you something that is uniquely yours. Normal sizing conventions actually fit very few people; with custom, consumers can get something fitted perfectly without taking it to a tailor. COVID has exposed many challenges faced by apparel companies, such as long lead times and high amounts of inventory. Custom clothing eliminates long-lead times so we can make and deliver what customers want, when they want it—also reducing waste in inventory that consumers may never buy.

Farah Azmi searching for fabric to use

What does the process of launching a company look like?
I’m still figuring this out myself! It’s been a lot of research and taking the leap to create product. I’m taking it day-by-day!

What do you hope the future looks like for IXORA Apparel?
I honestly just want to continue having fun and living out my childhood dream. I’ve designed since I was 10 and sewed since I was 16. I’ve always wanted to run an apparel company, so seeing this come alive has been incredibly rewarding. I would love to see IXORA expand to other apparel categories and continually innovate and change how we shop for clothes.

On Entrepreneurship at HBS

How has being part of the HBS entrepreneurial community enhanced your experience starting the company?
The HBS community has been incredibly helpful and supportive. For every problem that I’ve had, there was always someone or a resource to address it. I’ve utilized Entrepreneurs in Residence, the iLab’s Venture Incubation Program, Rock Center workshops, and more. My section mates and my professors have been my ultimate cheerleaders and supporters. They’ve always been willing to brainstorm with me, share resources, and make introductions. As a sole founder, this journey is definitely hard, but my HBS family has always been on this crazy ride with me.

What is it like being a Rock Summer Fellow?
I never thought that I would have the opportunity to pursue my own venture—it always seemed like a far-off dream. Being a Rock Summer Fellow has afforded me the opportunity to make my dream a reality without stressing about my financial security. I’ve been given so many supportive resources and attended so many helpful workshops. It means that I can take this leap and not feel like I’m flying into a dark abyss.

We love a good female-founded company; what has your experience been as a female founder?
Given that less than five percent of venture capital money goes to female-founded companies, I’ve been amazed by the number of incredible HBS women who are founders. I consider myself incredibly lucky to be a part of this cohort that challenges and supports one another, and I hope to see more female founders in the future.

What are some of the challenges of being a female founder, and how can HBS better address them?
Explaining the importance of my business to men has been incredibly challenging. When I talk about my apparel business to men, they often just don’t get it—which is problematic when 90 percent of venture capital partners are male. I’ve found that men in the HBS community are willing to listen and learn and hope that this culture pervades into the investor world and helps open doors for more female founded companies.

What is your advice to other female founders?
Take the leap and just do it! As women, we often think we need to be 110 percent ready before we apply for our dream job, ask for that promotion, or in my case, launch a company. If you’re passionate about what you’re doing, don’t overthink it. Just do it!

Don’t miss the launch of IXORA Apparel! Sign up for the waitlist on the IXORA website or follow along on Instagram @ixoraapparel.

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