بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَٰنِ الرَّحِيمِ
Next up on our ‘Inspiring Creatives series’ is an interview with the amazing sisters of Barakah London – Sainab and Nasra. Both of them are also bloggers and I find their blogs very interesting and girly. MashaAllah. Here goes…
- Please introduce yourself and tell us a little about your background?
Assalamu alaykum wa Rahmatullah wa Barakatuh! My name is Nasra, and I am the co-founder of Barakah London along with my sister. Before we established our brand, I used to work at an abaya boutique selling and learning the art of what makes a good abaya. There, I learnt what it means to sell to the customer’s requirements.
Assalamu alaykum wa Rahmatullah wa Barakatuh! My name is Sainab, and I am the other Co-founder of Barakah London. I used to work as a seamstress at a couture boutique. During my time there, I refined and advanced my sewing abilities. I also learnt what it takes to run a small company making everything in-house.
- How has it been working together as sisters?
In short; it’s fun! It’s easy working together as both our aims and goals are aligned Alhamdulillah. We’ve lived together since we were born, so of course, we understand each other really well, making us an excellent team. Working with your sister can prove to be a tough experience for many, balancing business and personal life, but we’ve found that as we recognise each other’s weaknesses, it’s the perfect duo (a mixture of support when needed and the strict orders when business needs to be done). Alhamdulillah, we’re a creative pair, and so we need someone to bounce off our creative ideas with-What better person than your own sister!
- Did you always use to get along growing up?
Yes and no. Like all families, we would argue, cry together, laugh together, but always support each other.
- Did you always want to be an entrepreneur? or what lead you to start your business?
Not at all. Actually, we were both used to working for others i.e. being the employee. As we both had experience in the fashion industry, we knew how vital it is to have contacts. Bearing that in mind, we just assumed that we’d have to work in fashion businesses to learn the industry. Funnily enough, my old boss (Nasra) suggested that I should make my own abayas as I was so intrigued by the creative aspect of abayas. When we realised that sisters were actually interested in our abaya style, this further encouraged us to believe it really might be the right path forward to establish our own brand. The next step was to start designing our own abayas and building our brand together!
- How did you settle your business name?
We wanted our name to encompass our vision and stand out, which is why it took a long time to decide on. Our first step was to read through the Quran for Ayaat. If we liked the sound of a word, we’d translate it and compare it to the image we wanted to present. Sometimes we’d look for words we liked and translate them into Arabic. Finally, we decided on Barakah, the literal meaning of which is blessings. We wanted our foundations to be based on gaining the utmost blessings from Allah for enabling women to dress modestly. Furthermore, Barakah is a term so often used in our duas, Muslims would undoubtedly be able to recognise it.
- What is the overall aim of your business and what need are you seeking to satisfy?
The aim of our business is to seek and gain Barakah. Our business name represents everything we aimed for from the start, which is to bring Barakah into our lives in the form of a halal income and barakah into our clients lives with modest clothing. In short, we wanted a non-stop barakah effect for all. We wanted to make modest functional clothes that don’t compromise style.
- What were some of the challenges you faced when you started?
When we started our business, the road wasn’t laid out for us. In fact, not knowing what direction to take, we had to find our own way. The first challenge we faced was of course, where to start? With such a huge market already established, and huge abaya companies out for years, we had to make sure we were recognised for something as a unique business.
When we’d created some designs together, we sent them over to a manufacturing company in Dubai. It was only when they were sent back that we realised it wasn’t ideal to have our abayas manufactured. I’m sure we can all relate to this in the sense that only we can visualise our own creative ideas. The next step was to start hand sewing abayas, introducing made-to-measure abayas in the market. This was a short-lived challenge, as it soon became one of the main unique services we offer to clients – the chance to buy abayas measured to our exact size, in comparison to the strict sizes offered by manufacturing companies.
Our third challenge was money. The road we embarked on wasn’t littered with gold coins Alhamdulillah. From the get-go, we learnt to be really stringent with our money, dividing our payment equally, but often having to put more into the business than out of it. Anyone who works a typical 9-5 job can attest that no matter how hard the month is, payment is always guaranteed. However, we’re grateful that we faced these challenges as they provided us with a long-term attitude of contentment.
- What do you wish you knew before you started?
Before we started Barakah London, there were a lot of lessons we wished we knew beforehand.
1) Being your own boss means you must work day and night to maintain your business – literally. Alhamdulillah, it’s an incredibly life-changing thing, launching your own business from scratch. But the key is to remain consistent, dedicating time and effort daily.
2) You’re not going to please everyone: this one we learnt the hard way. Often you might have picky customers who aren’t content with any designs, making you feel more and more like a failure. With time we learnt to not let it bother us so much.
3) Some setbacks are actually good for you: this point relies heavily on tawakkul (trusting) in Allah firmly. Often we’d find ourselves in situations that made us feel as though we’d taken a step back, but it was always an advantage for us.
- What is the most satisfying aspect of your business?
Hmm, if we had to name just one, it would have to be seeing our customers wear our abayas. It’s indescribable! We’ve had customers buy abayas for heir Nikkah, normal days out, even to Umrah! You can’t imagine how relieving it feels to know that your designs are trusted. Umrah (the lesser pilgrimage), is an important Islamic duty (though not as important as Hajj). which is why we felt quite emotional knowing that our customer was wearing the abaya we’d sewn with our very own hands to worship Allah. It’s satisfying, to say the least!
- How does your faith affect the decisions you make in your business?
Our faith affects all of the decisions we make regarding business. Alhamdulillah, we are in the habit of praying Salatul Istikhara* before we make any big commitments, which we value utmost as it is Allah’s input in our business. We don’t know where we’d be without it, but it gives us great content knowing that we’ll be guided to the right path for our business In Sha Allah. Also, we try our best to avoid making any haram business deals, which often results in taking the longer route to accomplish what might have taken less. We believe it’s of fundamental importance because our business’ foundation must be halal (i.e. barakah!)
Also, when we design our own abayas, collections, custom-made abayas etc, though we do like to get creative, we have to draw a line between what is Islamically permissible and fashionable to wear.
- What are some of the lessons you have learnt as an entrepreneur
As entrepreneurs, the main lesson we learnt was – always pay yourself! Initially, when we founded Barakah London years ago, we’d put most, if not all, of our earnings back into the business which left us often struggling. Our advice is to always pay yourself, give yourself gifts, and allow yourself to flourish with your business. Show yourself some love because you deserve it, and it will undoubtedly motivate you to work harder In Sha Allah.
- How do you balance all your roles as women (answer individually please)?
Nasra: In no particular order, I am a daughter, sister, and businesswomen, among other titles. But often, I find that my roles aren’t always balanced. Of course, I try my utmost hardest to fulfil everyone’s duties over me, for example doing daily housework chores, giving my family and loved ones some extra time and an extra helping hand when needed. Small deeds like this, despite my busy work schedule, bring me such happiness and joy. On the other hand, as work takes over a lot of my day, I dedicate most of my time to helping the business grow.
Sainab – I’m a mother, wife, daughter, sister and businesswomen, unlike Nasra, meaning my responsibilities are much different (in some cases even completely!) For me, my duty as a mother comes first, taking care of my children. Often, all of my roles merge together i.e. I have to juggle all of my responsibilities together, leaving no pampering ‘me time’. What helps to balance my roles a little better is to give myself a specific time for certain roles, for example, arranging to meet my sister for strictly business purposes only, or dedicating a day to giving the house a good clean.
- A word of advice to an aspiring entrepreneur.
To all aspiring entrepreneurs, we tell you this:
1) It’s not a race to success. Give yourself time to grow once you’ve planted the seeds of your foundation. We’ve come across many businesses who’ve started with admirable zeal, aiming to achieve success overnight, but soon inevitably disappearing. It doesn’t matter how long it takes to get your business off the ground, stay persistent and patient, and In Sha Allah, you will see success!
2) Quality is better than quantity. You’ve definitely heard this one before ladies, but it’s gold. Highlight this point, print it out, stick it on your wall, whatever you need to do to remember it. We encourage you to focus primarily on the quality of your work, what will help you stand out from the rest.
Lastly, 3) Support other brands. There are likely hundreds of businesses already established selling what you do but don’t mark them as rivals and section them off for competition. Instead, befriend them, support each other, as they (in some cases) are your sisters in faith. Perhaps you may need to collaborate with them in the future for the success of both of your businesses!
Jazakillahu Khair sisters Nasra and Sainab for doing this.
*Istikhara” means to seek goodness from Allah (SWT. When one intends to do an important task or make a decision it is recommended that they do Salatul Istikhara. The one who does the Istikhara is as if they request Allah (SWT) the Knower of the Unseen to guide them to the best of deeds and outcomes.
Until Next Time,