Updated: Jun 29
The statistics for black, women-owned businesses has continued to grow over the years and has done so for a variety of reasons, both good and bad. The catalyst, for making the leap into entrepreneurship, has often been for reasons of poor treatment and the perception of being undervalued in workplaces. Levels of unemployment, gender and racial pay gaps, have led women of color to pursue entrepreneurship due to necessity and survival. Due to the history of injustice faced by African Americans, black women have always been on the forefront of both the racial and gender discrimination, especially when it comes to accessing resources necessary to excelling.
Many times women of color do not feel heard, represented, respected, or appreciated inworkplaces, making it difficult to land and stay in jobs that make us happy. Many of my peers, and myself included, feel the need to always research and look at images of employees in a company to see how diverse they are and what the company culture is like, while determining whether it’s a place we will feel comfortable in. Concerns of being in male-dominated positions along with lack of proper representation, make it extremely difficult for us to adapt and grow in the workforce.
For the same reasons as these, it has made me seek out entrepreneurship—not only because I have a passion for it, but because I know that I will likely be put into a box and limited to what I can do and accomplish if I am not conforming. I am not just a woman, but I am a Muslim Woman of Color.
As I began working retail in high school, I started to pay close attention to the way companies market their products and how much they sell them for. I would always try to make mental guesses of how much it cost to manufacture these products then determine how price points were calculated using a variety of factors (quality, brand name, demand/supply, and competitor pricing). I began to fall in love with learning about business when I began to realize how detrimental financial literacy is to my family, my life, and my community. I wanted to understand why people struggled financially, why people dislike their jobs, and why people drown in debt. This led me to pursuing a business degree, to learn and grow alongside individuals with the same mindset and desire. I was one of the few people of color in the Indiana University Kelley School of Business, as well as being a Muslim woman who wore Hijab, in a predominantly white school.
This was a major shift for me having to come from diverse schools and having to adapt to the changes. My ideas and opinions were never recognized and when speaking out on issues I was considered “sassy” or “loud”. This eventually led me to seeking a group I knew I would be appreciated in and properly represented. I started to visit our campus multicultural center and joined the African Student Association (ASA) and felt so welcomed and appreciated. I was surrounded by intelligent, creative, and powerful individuals that made me love my culture and other cultures even more. It was because of this organization, that I gained connections with the most amazing people I’ve ever met in college. I still work with these individuals today and many of them I am thankful for motivating and encouraging me to pursue entrepreneurship.
When starting my own business, I knew I needed to be disciplined and knowledgeable, be ready for challenges, and focus on the continuum of all refining my skills. I never appreciated seeing businesses thrive off up-charging products to black women as well as Muslim women, especially when the companies profiting from us, aren’t welcoming or having us work in these
spaces. I wanted to tap into this unsaturated, overlooked market with consumers who were being taken advantage of sheerly because they had few other options. It feels absolutely necessary for us, as women of color, to use our platforms and power to create products and services that fit our needs.
It is imperative that WOC should be excelling as entrepreneurs. We have the power to change and improve the business industry to fit our needs and wants. The demand for Muslim women seeking out modest wear has reached an all-time high as trends have changed and companies are attempting to improve representation in their branding to match the consumer demand for it. Too often I’ve seen large companies try to slowly appeal to Muslim women, but at a premium price. Frustrated, I began developing my brand during my last semester of college. Working full-time during the day to pay for school, using excess funds and time to build my business. I attended a Muslim Youth of Indianapolis art show in September 2018, and brought some Hijabs I had made to showcase, with no intentions of making a sale or starting a business—I sold four that night. Not having any information to share about my brand, website, social media, or story, I saw how necessary it is to brand which motivated me to officially launch my first business, HijabSoForeign, that very night.
HijabSoForeign is a brand of creativity, strength, beauty, empowerment, diversity, and versatility. HSF was not created only to be a brand for Muslim women, but for all women who appreciate and love to cover, whether it is for culture, religion, or style. I use my brand to express my passions and creativity, while ensuring high quality and affordability. The versatility of the products, go to show women that we have choice when it comes to how we style and dress. There is no one way to do things and as women we need to embrace that freedom. With Hijab being something so dear to me as a Muslim, it has made me feel so appreciative and beautiful in my own skin, even in a world where showing more is deemed as “empowering”. I want to reduce the stigma that when a woman chooses to cover her hair, body, etc., it should never be considered oppressive or wrong. I want to reduce the stigma that the business world is not a place for women of color but a place for every woman to strive and accomplish everything she puts her mind to.
I have used my brand to hone in on the diversity of Muslim women but also women of all backgrounds, shapes, shades and religions. When it comes to photo shoots, I reach out to women who aren’t always in front of the camera to get them out of their comfort zone and make them feel beautiful. I show women who look different from one another to admire the beauty in diversity. When it comes to styling pieces, it is important to show the versatility of how women can wrap their heads based on factors, as hair, style, outfit, weather, fabric, and just personal preference, as different lifestyles are what make the brand what it is.
Part of HSF’s mission is to inspire women to feel beautiful by being themselves, and alsogiving them the freedom to showcase their personality in whatever way they choose. The goals of HSF have shifted, and I would like to work on branding my business in a slightly different way. I am in the process of trying to play with new fabrics, new looks, and in the future, plan events to showcase my brand even more. I have been the one working on the marketing, developing the website/business, finance, design, content creation, and sales leads/management of my business thus far, which has been very challenging.
Learning how to sew from my mother, referencing accounting notes from school, leveraging resources, and using my own money to fund my business, has made me more mindful and knowledgeable of the many components involved with a business. If I were to do it again, and I would, there are undoubtedly a few things I would do differently. While it has been a learning experience, I hope my success inspires another woman’s success. There is always more information to learn, unexpected circumstances, costs, fluctuations in demands, and the unforeseen that keep entrepreneurs on their toes.
It is imperative to constantly learn from others, and be vulnerable in the aspect of sharing struggles, lessons, and being teachable. Branding is so much more important than just starting a business. It starts with you as a person and how you carry and portray yourself. As WOC we know what we want and need, many times the products, services and resources are limited, so it is our job to search and reach out to as many people and companies as possible to find answers and solutions. Who you know can provide you with a multitude of opportunities, so always build your network. Additionally, understand that networking is a two-way street. You need to be willing to let people learn from you as much as you want to learn from them. Leveraging social media and technology can get us in contact with individuals all over the world, who many times can guide or assist us in the right direction. We need to stop letting people limit us to our gender and skin color and go beyond that to create and inspire other WOC.
Confidence is key; many times it takes us longer to reach the levels we would like due to self-doubt. Read, comprehend, learn, discuss and apply everything to create your dreams into tangible success. Be ready for a path of success that is nowhere near a straight line. Never fear failure, as with anything comes faults and lessons. I was never surrounded by successful entrepreneurs nor was I taught to seek entrepreneurship as a means to earn an income, but I saw a need, and I chose to be a provider for it. The right risks are worth it, and I see HijabSoForeign taking off in the future with careful strategy and devotion. I would love to
continue to witness the growth of Women of Color in business.
Photography by Arria Woolcock