Hubert Burda Media

Nejla Matam-Finn & Michael Finn: Life Partners

The husband-and-wife team behind vintage fashion e-tailer The Fifth Collection share the secret to their success.

Hanging from the ceiling, in the middle of Nejla Matam-Finn and Michael Finn’s living room is a projector. Black and angular, it looks a tad out of place with the aesthetics of the otherwise art-filled and colourful home. “It sticks out, doesn’t it?” Matam-Finn says with a chuckle, as my eye scans the room. “It’s Michael’s. Each time we move. I have to think about how to fit it in.”

Despite the mock disapproval in her voice, the projector takes its place in the family home. If anything, it is a classic example of the kind of compromise one commonly has to make when a living space is shared.

This give-and-take approach of the Finn household extends even to the business the pair co-founded: Vintage fashion e-store The Fifth Collection, which recently raised US$1.4 million in seed funding.

“We’ve never incorporated any type of hierarchy into the office. When faced with a problem, we listen to what the other has to say, engage in a discussion and adopt what’s best for the business.” Finn, the company’s chief operating officer, explains.

“This also applies to our team. They are very involved in our business and we value their inputs. This is how our company operates,” Matam-Finn, the firm’s CEO, adds.

When the pair started The Fifth Collection in April 2014, the idea of an online luxury vintage store was still very much a novel concept. “We started by going into the wardrobes of people we knew. They told their friends about us and word spread. Today, we have approximately S$4 million worth of luxury goods in storage and up for sale,” she says.

The firm’s success is attributable to the level of trust that the couple has painstakingly built up with their clients. Each item handed to the The Fifth Collection, for instance, goes through stringent quality checks and is authenticated by an experienced team, as well as Entrupy, a device that takes and analyses microscopic photographs of a bag to ensure its authenticity.

“The efforts we take pay off as shoppers are confident that we offer only authentic vintage pieces that are in good condition,” says Finn, whose background is in finance.

More than simply a retail platform, The Fifth Collection also champions the vintage fashion movement. Just in December, it organised Vintage Forward, a pop-up event that showcased 40 exceptional pieces, including an Hermès Kelly in Charmonix leather from 1997.

To give this star item a local twist, the pair worked with tattoo artist Bernice Chua to tattoo the bag with a tasteful illustration of mynah birds and Singapore’s national flower, the Vanda Miss Joaquim.

“I was uncertain about the project but Michael gave me the strength to do it. It was about making people see vintage from another point of view. I was afraid of damaging the bag but he told me: ‘Look, in the worst case scenario, you will end up with the only tattooed Kelly in the world,’” Matam-Finn, who formally worked in marketing, says with a laugh.

Her fears, however, were unfounded. Since the debut of the tattooed Kelly, Matam-Finn has had to turn down several such requests from clients. “But only because we are still figuring out how the pigmentation would affect the leather. Who knows, perhaps in the future?”

Such positive milestones taste even sweeter given that the company has gone through its fair share of challenges, says Finn. This includes the time, when in the firm’s infancy, six months of hard work came to naught due to the inefficiency of a third-party vendor.

“It was insane. But somehow, with the support of each other and the team, we pulled through. And here we are,” he says.

NEJLA MATAM-FINN

We met…when Michael was 14 and I was 11 in boarding school in Switzerland. We bumped into each other again on a flight from Zürich to Geneva about a decade later.

Women should…stop calling themselves “girl boss” and simply stick to “boss”.

The fashion business is…going through a revolution and it’s called up-cycling! Also, online shopping is a must. If it’s not online, I’m not interested.

MICHAEL FINN

It all began when…I  was trying to stuff my oversized bag into the overhead compartment on a flight. Nejla walked past me and I found her familiar. I approached her at passport control and said: I think I know you from somewhere. We went for drinks after. 

Our greatest love is…the family we’ve created for ourselves and that includes our TFC team. And of course, our five-year-old daughter Délia.

Men should…listen more to the women in their lives.