First proposed by the World Friendship Crusade in 1958, July 30 is celebrated around the world as International Day of Friendship.
The International Day of Friendship was proclaimed in 2011 by the United Nations General Assembly with the concept that friendships – whether they are between peoples, countries, cultures and individuals can inspire peace efforts and build bridges.
Author Michelle Kwan said, “If you have nothing in life but a good friend, you’re rich,” – and no truer words can be said about many a friendship.
In conjunction with this upcoming special day, we spoke to two pairs of besties who gave us the lowdown on their friendship, how it came to be and how they make it work.
Entrepreneurs Tengku Datuk Indera Kaiyisah Tengku Kamil Ikram and Natasha Ozeir have known each other since they were nine and seven respectively, but although they had always wanted to start a business together, it was only two years ago when they decided on doing something close to both their hearts.
It was from this friendship that the halal makeup brand Pretty Suci was born.
“We thought, as modern Muslim women let’s do something halal, that makes it convenient and easy for us to pray, for women on the go,” explains Natasha, 33, as we chat in the sun-soaked living room of her skyrise apartment in Kuala Lumpur city centre.
“We also really wanted to educate and tell people that anything to do with religion doesn’t have to be serious, it’s a lifestyle, and that halal is for everyone, not just Muslims,” she adds.
“Halal makeup means clean practice, in order to get a halal certifications the factory has to be deemed a certain standard, products have to be clean, products are not tested on animals and there’s no alcohol in the ingredients and so on.”
With a clear vision in mind the duo set to work, inevitably receiving well-meaning yet cynical opinions from people around them about how you should never go into business with friends.
However, with a proven track record of having worked together successfully in the past – organising and executing pre-loved items bazaars – Kaiyisah and Natasha went into the business somewhat knowing what to expect from each other.
“You have to be really pragmatic and we already knew what we were getting ourselves into,” Kaiyisah, 35, relates.
“Of course there’s always the asam garam of doing business with friends but we haven’t faced anything that people warned us so much about.”
The mother of two boys continues, “You can’t really take anything to heart and for me, it’s good to compartmentalise, when it’s business it’s business, when it’s hanging out with friends we try not to talk about work, and because we are related through marriage we see each other often, which is not always a good thing.”
They see each other so often that entire family events can go by without them exchanging so much as a look, as they instinctively know to respect each others’ space.
“If you are too busy looking after each other’s feelings you won’t achieve the best,” adds Natasha.
“If you do not want to offend each other therefore you do not brainstorm properly and you do not debate, I actually believe that if you want to excel you have to hash it out like crazy, if you don’t dig each others’ brains to the fullest and get the best ideas then you’ll just be mediocre.”
To ensure they offer their customers the best, they always remind each other that the brand is not about them, it’s about the consumers and what they like, reaching out to them and trying to understand what they want.
Outside of the business, Natasha and Kaiyisah lead separate lives while also being best friends – with a family to raise, Kaiyisah has different priorities but they share a deep understanding of each other’s needs.
“She is busy with her jet-setter life, she’s single, travelling, meeting people, she’s doing all those things I did when I was single,” jokes Kaiyisah. “I’m raising my kids, there’s the business, I’m also building a home, moving house, the whole thing.”
Their personal lives couldn’t be more different, yet these pals always make time for each other outside the business.
From their teenage years they would meet up during the holidays and plan trips together, sometimes in a very spontaneous manner, leading their group of friends who sometimes wouldn’t agree to a vacation straightaway.
“We would be the ones saying, ‘let’s go!’,” says Natasha. “The others would need a little bit more convincing but it’s easier for Kaiyisah to get me on board and vice versa. We’re very spontaneous compared to the rest.”
According to the duo, there’s nothing they won’t try at least once, when their forces combine – be it a political rally, a serious talk about social issues, outdoors sports, live bands, festivals or a spontaneous lunch date with a new group of people.
Calling their friendship “ridiculously realistic”, its strength lies in how they “keep it real” between each other, and another close friend, Malisa Muhammad, who does design work for Pretty Suci.
“We support each other, we are there for each other, no friendship is perfect but we can’t put our friendship in a box, there’s no way to define our friendship,” says Kaisiyah. “We don’t judge each other and we instinctively know when to take a step back and evaluate situations.”
“I understand her different stages in life and how priorities change,” adds Natasha. “We’ve gone through so much in life, there isn’t a one liner I could say to describe our friendship. We’ve grown so much together.”
This sisterhood that they’ve built over the decades translates into the community they are building with Pretty Suci – there’s even a hashtag for it: “SuciSisters”.
Just like their friendship – which gives off an open, no-holds-barred vibe as they chat away, often bursting into bouts of guttural laughter – the idea of the brand is that it transcends cultures, races, ages and is essentially borderless and inclusive.
”We wanted to show that halal products can be sold in a fun way,” says Natasha.
Kaisiyah adds, “We’ve made it fun, most of the feedback towards Pretty Suci is that the branding itself – the flowers, the colours, when people receive goods from us they feel like they’re getting a gift, it’s so pretty.”
Pictured on their dainty, eye-catching site are both ladies in impeccable makeup, laughing with a diverse group of women who embody the brand’s concept of fun.
Then, there are the shots of just the two of them, gazing thoughtfully into the camera, with plans of world domination reflecting behind their big smiles.
For the onlooker, there’s nothing more inspiring than two friends ready to take on the world, which they hope will serve as an inspiration to women everywhere.