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When she started out in 2004, she went from door to door selling her homemade rempah (mixed spices).
It was tough. Doors were constantly slammed in her face and people used to “laugh and look down on her”.
But Norhuda Rabani didn’t let that stop her.
The founder of food manufacturer Asyura tells The Pride that it’s not in her nature to “sit down and do nothing”.
“I don’t need distractions to affect my focus. Even after you fall, don’t just sit down. Get up. Even when you get upset and cry, get up and do something”.
Over the years, Norhuda, 49, has dealt with stereotypes like how women are expected to stay in the kitchen. She has faced discrimination for the way she thinks, like how a woman is not meant to be a leader but only a follower.
That just made her even more determined to break the bias and prove her naysayers wrong.
With the help of her husband Ramlan Sanwan, Norhuda persevered and today, Asyura, which expanded from a home-based business to an SME in 2011, sells 50,000 to 60,000 packets of paste a month in shops and online, as well as to restaurants. The variety has grown too, from eight types of rempah in 2004 to over 30 different products now.
That’s a far cry from the less than 1,000 packets a month when she first started out, laughs Norhuda.
Today, she runs the company with her husband and their four daughters — Amira, 26, Amylia, 25, Aryna,19, and Asyura, 18. In fact, the company is named after her youngest child, who was born the same year Norhuda started the business.
Example to her kids
Growing up watching their mother’s tireless hustle, Norhuda’s daughters have absorbed some of her entrepreneurial spirit.
In fact, Norhuda actively pulled her daughters into helping her business as they were growing up — from simple tasks like writing down orders, printing labels to more complex responsibilities like counting money.
Now, Norhuda’s two older daughters, Amira, 26, and Amylia, 25, work alongside her at their central kitchen at Jurong Food Hub.
Amira tells The Pride that she has set her sights on “expanding the brand” beyond food manufacturing, “even further to grow into different divisions” such as trading or even setting up restaurants under the brand name.
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Amylia contributes more on the creative side of the brand, coming up with ideas to reach younger consumers. She’s the one who “brings in new trends” for younger audiences to relate to Asyura’s content (she recently tried creating a Wordle based on Asyura’s buzzwords!) and comes up with ideas for fusion recipes like salted egg paste.
They both think it’s important that Asyura “tap into other generations” now as well.
“We believe in being sincere in what we do. Also being helpful in our community and making progress all the time in the aspect of our own lives,” says Amira.
Their entrepreneurial side isn’t limited to just the family business though, the sisters started a (now-defunct) small business selling pre-loved branded clothes when they were in their teens.
Norhuda says: “Children should be pushed and encouraged to do what they aspire when their hearts are set on a goal.”
Like her third daughter Aryna, 19, who bakes brownies with her best friend, Syarah Wardina, for sale on Instagram under the handle @heyseventyfive.
But Aryna wants to be more than just a successful entrepreneur. She says: “Since young, I’ve always wanted to help other people in any way that I can. One of the many ways I can do this is by being successful so that I can afford to help others in the community (just like my mum).”
Giving back to the community
All four young women grew up watching their parents being kind to the people around them.
The company frequently donates to local non-profits organisations such as Jamiyah and Muhammadiyah Welfare Home, and also delivers their pastes to beneficiaries for free.
Norhuda says that she always tells her children to remember three life lessons: Be sincere in your intentions; be honest in what you do; and work hard for what you want.
She says: “To all women, I ask you, what are you capable of? Turn that into something. Make it into a passion that is able to give you income.”
But she’s not content to stop just there; she wants to inspire people to dream and push themselves.
Aryna says: “My mother taught us that having the right intention will motivate us to keep improving the business, especially when something you love to do is reaching out more to others.”
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Over the years, Norhuda has done more than just #breakthebias. She has inspired her daughters and other young women to push themselves for what they want. International Women’s Day may fall on Mar 8, but Norhuda’s example is a daily reminder that women can do what they dream of.
“You don’t have to prove yourself to other people, you just have to prove you can to yourself,” she says.
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