Reaching out to Siti Nurhazira Binte Noor Azman — who goes by Hazira — to see if she would be open to being interviewed, the first thing I notice is the three smiley face emojis in a row at the end of her reply.
As a big fan of emojis, I have a feeling that I'll like her.
The next day, she joins our video call with a bright smile and a cheery "Hi, Jane!"
I thank her for her time, and she immediately says warmly, touching her hand to her heart, "Thank you so much for inviting me!"
The 23-year-old's gentle and warm nature shone through in the rest of our interactions.
And so it makes a lot of sense that she has been an air stewardess for two years, and that her "side hustle", a clothing company she started, is called Manis Look (manis means "sweet" in Malay).
We chat about how she coped with Covid-19's impact on the airline industry, by taking up part-time work, running Facebook Live auctions, and eventually starting her own business.
In the course of our 75-minute call, I come to realise just how well Hazira's personality and attitude are suited for her two roles, and how her heart and dedication help her make the best out of any situation.
Childhood dream to be a stewardess
Fresh out of polytechnic, Hazira jumped straight into her childhood dream of being a stewardess, starting work in April 2018 before her official graduation and skipping the ceremony as it clashed with her training.
Not everyone was immediately onboard with Hazira's dream of becoming a stewardess; her mother wanted her to go to university instead.
But Hazira did not want to burden her mother financially, who had raised Hazira and her older siblings by herself.
Hazira figured that the air stewardess job would allow her to support herself while saving up for a part-time degree.
Unfortunately, two years into her first job, the Covid-19 pandemic arrived and threw her plan off course.
In May this year, Hazira's flights started getting grounded. From June onwards, she was only flying one flight per month.
She considers herself lucky to be able to continue drawing her basic salary albeit with a 10 per cent cut.
But she is no longer earning her flying allowance.
Took up part-time jobs to supplement income
So instead of pursuing her original plan of going back to school, she decided to take up part-time jobs.
"I've got to be honest that my job is not really stable right now. I'll never know what will happen. I do not want to take a risk of having a bank loan just to cover my part-time degree.
That's why, instead of doing degree, I did something that could benefit me financially also, in my free time right now."
She started doing GrabFood deliveries, which she says doubled up as a good reason to get out of the house amid Circuit Breaker movement restrictions.
However, she soon noticed a growing trend of auctions on Facebook Live, especially during the Circuit Breaker, as shopping in physical stores and malls was greatly restricted.
After Hazira's fiancée suggested that they try it out, they spent a few thousand dollars on a batch of electronic items to resell, which arrived in a large pallet.
Over the course of three Facebook Live sessions, the couple managed to sell all of the items, making a tidy profit.
(Re)starting Manis Look
After some success with Facebook Live auctions, Hazira wanted to try her hand at selling clothes.
In fact, Hazira had actually started her own clothing brand — Manis Look — in Dec. 2019, as a way to earn some extra income during her free time while working as a stewardess.
It didn't quite take off initially.
"I only had my first customer after a few days of launching. I was excited, lah, so I felt demoralised."
However, in June, Hazira decided to give it another shot, as she already had established relationships with suppliers.
She brought her fiancée onboard to help breathe new life into Manis Look.
Within a month, Manis Look's Facebook page had more than 2,000 followers:
"I think one time, the highest number of viewers I had was 171. I think that's not a lot of viewers for other people, lah, but for me it's very big, and I was overwhelmed.
It makes me happy, lah."
More demands on her time
However, the pivot from being a stewardess to running a business was not all smooth sailing.
One of the main challenges Hazira faced was the demands on her time.
As a stewardess, she didn't have to take her work home, but running Manis Look has her working around the clock to liaise with customers, keep track of stocks, host live streams, and coordinate with suppliers.
"My sleeping pattern is crazy also, as compared to last time, because dealing with suppliers is a 24-hour thing.
If I really want to keep up, if I want to make sure that my business is rolling and I do have things to sell, I will need to constantly find suppliers from overseas, contact them, message them."
Judging by her WhatsApp messages, which I've received as late as 4am, calling her sleep patterns "crazy" is no exaggeration.
New challenges at work
In fact, she finds it easier to work on a two-hour flight than to host a Facebook Live video for two hours.
"Because Live, a lot of people are looking at you, so you really need to know what your products are.
It's very exhausting. And I feel like that's the only way you can keep in touch with your customers, and really tell what your products are."
"And then you have to stand for two hours!" she adds incredulously, laughing. "In flight, you don't have to stand. You can just sit on your cruise seat."
On top of that, once the live stream is over, there is still much to be done, such as answering customers' questions, packing orders, and liaising with suppliers.
"I took my air stewardess life for granted," she says laughing.
Fluctuations in income
And unlike the regular salary she earned as a stewardess, owning her own business means more fluctuations in her income.
During peak periods, Hazira's profit from clothing sales far exceeds what she earns as a stewardess. Conversely, it is her loss to bear when sales are slow — "part and parcel of [running] a business," she says, nodding.
The mysterious case of deleted Facebook pages
After working hard over the course of two months to build up their customer base, the Manis Look Facebook page was taken down in late-July, in the middle of one of Hazira's live sessions.
Apparently, the page had been reported as spam.
In minutes, Hazira saw her months of hard work — and more than 2,000 followers — disappear.
"I cried so much, because I built that page to an audience, I built it so that the customers trust us.
But then it all went downhill, in the middle of me doing Live."
Luckily, many of her customers followed her new Facebook page.
Sadly, the replacement Facebook Page that Hazira and her team put up in the end of July when their first page was removed was also taken down in mid-September.
"But I think that one is our mistake," she laughs sheepishly. "Because we used Spotify's music as our background sound, so it's a bit of a copyright thing!"
They've since created a third Facebook page, Manis Grabbers SG, and are being especially careful to avoid getting taken down again.
Connecting with people in a different way
Despite the difficulties that come along with running her own business, Hazira still enjoys it:
"I feel like I love doing my business. It's not a hassle for me. I don't feel burdened doing it."
Customer interactions have turned out to be the best part of her job, she says multiple times during our hour-long interview.
"I like that part of this business, lah. It's a new thing for me.
As an air stewardess, you do interact with people in the plane, but then in business, it's a different kind of thing. You have a connection that's lasting."
In fact, she shares that she would be happy to keep it going in the future in her free time, even once flights start up more regularly again.
With the possibility of retrenchment looming in all parts of the economy — and the aviation industry in particular — Hazira admits that she is worried.
Still, she maintains the can-do attitude she embodies in all of her ventures, and says that she would be able to manage even if she were retrenched, and that she would simply find another way to support herself.
From seeing her mother struggle through part-time jobs to raise three children on her own, Hazira had gleaned the attitude that she has now developed toward working hard to support herself:
"[My mother] is an inspiration to me. She makes me work for it, and be independent and not to be dependent on people, lah. That's what she taught me."
Hazira shares a phrase in Malay — evidently a phrase she lives by:
"(Kalau) ada rezeki, ada. It means, 'If it's meant to be for me, it'll be for me.'
I believe that as long as you work hard for it, as long as you hustle for it, if it's yours, it will be yours. I really believe in that."
Stories of Us is a series about ordinary people in Singapore and the unique ways they’re living their lives. Be it breaking away from conventions, pursuing an atypical passion, or the struggles they are facing, these stories remind us both of our individual uniqueness and our collective humanity.
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Top photo courtesy of Hazira. Some quotes have been edited for clarity.