Ambrose, Nabil, and Yen give us the lowdown on how teamwork, collaboration and a unified drive to reach a common goal paved the way for their unique business concept, None Of The Above men’s fashion wear.
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Tell us about yourselves?
Nabil: Growing up I always had a curiosity about how things were made, how they worked. My interest in tailoring and shoes went beyond the aesthetics – it dived into the mechanics too. We started NOTA just over a year ago now. It was a fairly organic start to be honest.
Ambrose: I used to be an accountant, Nabil works as a lawyer and Yen is a management consultant. You wouldn’t necessarily expect any of us to go into the fashion industry!
Yen: Nabil and I first met at a party where we got to chatting and realised that we had a lot in common and shared quite a few similar interests. I had already known Ambrose for a while and knew that he had an interest in working in men’s fashion. When we first met, Nabil and I touched on a few really cool ideas and not long after the three of us decided to meet up and explore these some more. It was all a complete coincidence how it all started – but I’m sure the fact that there was alcohol at the party also helped us connect better.
I myself have always had a passion for the industry but I just hadn’t figured out what I wanted to do with that yet. I think the turning point for me was just over a year ago when I visited Bangkok and experienced a few of the artisan workshops there that specialised in footwear. I fell in love with the quality of the shoes they were creating and couldn’t get it out of my head.
We threw a lot of our own thoughts around that first time we sat down together and very quickly realised we actually had a lot of viable ideas on how to go about the designs and the direction we would take as a brand.
Ambrose: We each had individual ideas of our own, but it wasn’t until we came together as a collaborative unit that things really started making sense and falling into place.
Yen: It sort of just took off from there!
Was it a hard decision to start a business together?
Nabil: The key thing for all of us was the desire to work with people who we shared similar energies and passions with, and for us, possessed that raw, natural energy about them. We all connected really well – that was apparent from the start. That definitely made it easier for us when we finally made the decision to go into business.
What is None Of The Above (NOTA) all about?
Nabil: We’re a custom menswear business. For now, we provide personalised shoes and accessories at a level of quality that used to only be within reach of those who were very wealthy. We noticed that customisation was inaccessible and the only real option men were left with weren’t very exciting. None Of The Above was created out of a desire to give men everywhere the ability to express themselves in what they wear, making every item truly unique.
Yen: I think what distinguishes NOTA is our focus on quality and accessibility. We’re a canvas for discerning gentlemen to project their personalities on. We hate over complication – the inspiration in curating our collections was simply to create a refined selection of shoes which would serve every man from Monday through Sunday. The NOTA man is classy, confident, bold, and knows how to have fun. He enjoys our custom shoes because he can add his own personal touch to them and really make them his own.
Ambrose: It’s funny because when we first started we were worried about the market being oversaturated, but most of our competitors actually appeal to a different market than we do.
Nabil: Their focus is on the ability to customise, whereas ours is directed by a strong sense of our brand and design, and we put a huge emphasis on the quality of our products. We deliberately limit the amount of customisation that we offer on each shoe because we don’t want to lose the essence of our brand. We know how we want our product to look like, and we don’t want to change that too much. Instead we facilitate minor customisations – such as being able to add a monogram, or a coloured sole – so that each product is truly unique and reflects the personality of the owner.
Has it been hard balancing your personal friendships with your working partnership?
Ambrose: We work better when we work together. We’re usually on the same wavelength and we always make decisions collectively. We want the brand to continue to represent all of us and our combined passions, interests and goals. We obviously complement each other well, so it’s pretty much a no brainer to work the way we do.
Yen: None of us make creative decisions without checking in with the other first. I think our similarities allow us to make group decisions easily, but our differences allow us to bring different perspectives to our decisions.
“Along the way, things might get tough, but whatever you do, don’t lose sight of what you stand for…”
Nabil: We like to work as collaboratively as possible, but in saying that, we have our own strengths that we bring to the table. Ambrose is more on the operations side, and he deals with the factory, completing and fulfilling orders and manages as a lot of the photography. Yen’s strength is in strategic planning. He really helps us drive and chart the path of our brand, mapping out how we move forward. He’s usually always three or four steps ahead of us, which I think works well when we are making group decisions. He can provide us with input on whether or not what we’re currently doing helps our brand move forward and oversees how it all fits in with our overall plan.
As for me, I love the creative stuff and work heavily on the designs. I also look after our social media presence. While we each have our semi-defined roles, we all provide input where it’s needed. One thing we never do is keep our roles completely separate. We just don’t work that way. I don’t think it’s very constructive, nor does it help create a collaborative working environment for our ideas to grow together.
What’s been your biggest challenge?
Yen: Our biggest challenge so far has been establishing our differentiated approach in our minds as much as in our customers’ minds. We weren’t sure our general audience could relate to the problem we were solving. We were intimidated by the fact that men often spent thousands and thousands of dollars customising their cars for example, but not $400 on customising their shoes. It’s not something that happens naturally, so we definitely had to break through that barrier to show our customers why they needed our product and service and help make it a thing!
What advice would you give to others who are thinking about going into business to pursue their passions?
Yen: If you’re going into business to pursue what you’re passionate about, definitely stay true to yourself. If you’re going into business with friends, know from the get-go why each of you are passionate about the business and why you want to be involved in it. It’s so important to be on the same wavelength when it comes to each individual’s idea of business growth, personal values and end goals.
Nabil: Along the way, things might get tough, but whatever you do, don’t lose sight of what your product, or your brand, stands for. Create a product you love and you’ll win every single time. Don’t stop studying your surrounds – that’s how you find out what people need or want, and how you can fill that space.
Ambrose: Don’t give up if one idea doesn’t work because your very next one might. Perseverance, hard work and dedication is key! I also think it’s important that you never underestimate the value of the relationships you have with your customers – that’s what will make or break you.
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There’s something unique and refined for everyone, visit www.notashoes.com and experience it for yourself.