BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – Fear over the uncertainties and risks of starting a business, or fear of being in a job that does not realise your potential: Which is worse?

It seems to be the latter for today’s Generation Z (Gen-Z), which comprises youth born between 1995 and 2009.

In a study cited by Forbes, where 50,000 students from the Gen-Z pool were surveyed, 36 percent of the participants “fear they will be stuck in careers that do not allow them development”. According to the survey findings, the Gen-Z population prefer to take the entrepreneurship route and start their own business.

And this rings true for Brunei’s Gen-Z as well, it seems.

The Scoop sits down with three under-21 local entrepreneurs, and although they may not be running Fortune Global 500 businesses, they may be well on their way. Through hard work, innovation and creativity, Brunei’s Gen-Z entrepreneurs are proof that while setting up shop may be tough, the journey is immensely worthwhile.

Adreana Shawls: Venture into what’s right for you

With entrepreneurial experience since the age of 8, Adriana Farhana Wardi started selling baked goods online and at food fairs with help from her mother.

“I would join the Tutong Food Con, sell my cupcakes and enjoy experiencing the exchange with customers,” she says.

However, the 13-year-old saw an increasing demand for shawls in Brunei, and decided to seize the opportunity. Whilst she still enjoys baking, she says that it is too time-consuming and tedious, especially since she has to juggle business and schoolwork.

This was when she decided to take the leap into fashion.

Thirteen-year-old Adriana Farhana Wardi started Adreana Shawls at the end of 2016 and has sold almost 1,000 pieces to date. Photo: Rafidah Hamit/The Scoop

“I felt like I needed to venture into something more durable; I wanted to take on a new challenge,” says Adriana.

She adds: “Baking is fun, however the goods can’t be stored and must be fresh every time. With shawls, you can always customise simple to intricate designs which can be worn for not just one, but every occasion.”

Armed with a new-found goal, determination and a startup capital of a few hundred dollars from her parents, she started selling 60 basic plain shawls at the end of 2016.

“I initially started selling to my classmates, teachers and extended family members. Word spread and that was when [my customer base grew signifacntly],” she says.

Fueled by encouraging response from existing as well as new customers, she set to work on developing her own brand called Adreana Shawls and crafted pieces with floral or feminine designs.

To date, the teen-aged entrepreneur has released more than six lines and sold more than 1,000 pieces, each with its own unique look and distinctive designs.

“[Most] people were surprised to find out I started a business at such a young age — they would ask me so many questions on how I started and [why I] kept going. Honestly, it’s been a rewarding experience.”

Grateful for the lessons she has learned along the way, the Year 7 student says her leadership and communication skills have improved since she launched Adreana Shawls.

Some of the exclusive pieces from Adreana Shawls. Photo: Rafidah Hamit/The Scoop

“Apart from that, it has also helped me with time management. Even though I mostly run the business during the weekends. If I need to complete any orders during weekdays, I make sure to finish all my school work beforehand.”

With the popularity of her business growing, Adriana made the decision to expand her business by turning a space at her home in Madang into a showroom and office.

“I thought it was about time to have a convenient space for customers to have a look and try on the scarves.”

In five years time, Adriana hopes to see the business expand further with the establishment of a boutique in the country as well as overseas.

“I believe I will be able to handle the business [better] by then and it would be an honour to represent the country at the same time make my parents proud.”

She advises aspiring entrepreneurs not to be discouraged or afraid to start, adding that: “Age is just a number”.

“What matters most is your passion and the experience you gain. Be prepared and conduct research beforehand, gather enough capital, have a strategic or creative marketing plan and find a good space for your business.”

FusionBN: Creativity is key to progress 

Passionate about the local art and creative industry, 11 students from Sengkurong Sixth Form Centre (PTES) banded together to form FusionBN. Their aim is to highlight and feature designs by young budding artists.

They place these artwork on the covers of 120 units of A4 and A5 sized artblocks.

“We wanted to involve aspiring artists to contribute as we believe it’s important to provide them with a platform to showcase their work,” says FusionBN President Kelvin Tan Jun Wei.

Priced between $5.50 and $7.50, Tan said the first batch of artblock designs are centred around patriotism — the country’s culture, landmarks as well as people.

“We aim to encourage our customers to unleash their creativity, so we thought choosing to produce artblocks was appropriate. There are no lines, no indication as to where you should start drawing or writing down your notes — we want to let everyone’s creativity flow — you are free to start however you want.”

Creativity, says the 17-year-old, can lead individuals to become more progressive, which is what the country needs. FusionBN also hopes that through this project, youths would be more inclined towards design or architectural careers. 

“We need more locals to venture into these fields and hopefully when they do, they’ll be able to contribute to the modernisation of Brunei at the same time, still keep a part of our culture [in their designs].”  

The company is currently producing its second batch, which will be notebooks, with completely different designs.

FusionBN president, 17-year-old Kelvin Tan Jun Wei posing with two of the artblock cover designs. Photo: Rafidah Hamit/The Scoop

Tan shares that a portion of the profits would be used to help keep secondary schools around the country clean.

“As we are unable to help physically, we would be giving monetary donations to help them buy the necessary tools to keep the areas clean. We want to play a part in making even more schools green and sustainable,” he says.

FusionBN started through the Junior Achievement Programme (JA) — an NGO that teaches youth financial literacy, work readiness and entrepreneurship — and came in first place for Brunei’s Student Company of the Year. 

Tan and his team hopes to continue the business over the years to come.

“Learning the ropes was not easy, we definitely faced a lot of challenges but if it encourages others to take a step towards their dreams be it starting their own business or becoming more creative, then we have succeeded.”

Young Entrepreneur Co: Doing it for the end goal

Coming in second place as the JA Student Company of the Year was Young Entrepreneur Co (YE), a 21-member team.

The Meragang Sixth Form Centre (PTEM) students came up with the idea to produce washable pouches illustrated with designs created by the founders themselves.

Its president, Ak Md Nazrul Azmin Pg Lademan, said more than 100 pouches were produced in three designs.

“We didn’t have any specific designs in mind, we just wanted to let the team have creative freedom. We wanted to encourage teamwork.”

The 17-year-old says YE initially wanted to produce various types of fashion-related items but decided to launch pouches first.

“We conducted our own market research and pouches was voted the third most popular product. And, it was the most feasible to produce for us, so we decided to start with that,” he shares.

Selling mostly to friends, family and through their Instagram page, YE is currently in the process of producing its second batch of pouches. “We sold out pretty quick because apart from being washable, people enjoy using the pouches for various purposes.”

Now in their first year at PTEM, Ak Md Nazrul Azmin says the group definitely plans to continue the business after completing school.

“We’re not just planning on continuing, but also expanding our business internationally because we want to show that no matter how young you are, you can do it too.”

And when they do, he wants the company to create employment opportunities for others.

“That is one of our main aims. We didn’t want to just gain experience and profit, we want to create jobs for youths. We want to make the country proud and inspire others to take on entrepreneurship,” he says.