This International Women’s Day, the Verona Collection designer shares her struggles selling an Islamic brand in today’s climate while also raising two kids as a single mom.
As part of a series to mark International Women’s Day, Moneyish asked some prominent people to share their thoughts and experiences regarding issues important to females. Read more here.
Faith is what defines me; what keeps me going. In fact, my faith is what led me to an amazing business opportunity.
It’s difficult to pinpoint one aspect of Islam that I love, but if I had to choose, it would be how much charity is encouraged. It is continuously repeated in the Quran to give to the poor and to do good deeds. So after I converted to Islam in 2011, I immediately decided to wear the hijab. My hijab became, and still is, my identity. I wear it for Allah.
Unfortunately, there’ve been instances where I’ve been verbally assaulted and stared at in an aggressive way. Getting used to the discrimination was a big transition. But thankfully, the majority of people that I come in contact with are open and accepting of my hijab and faith.
Although I love my hijab, fashionable and affordable clothing options for Hijabis (hijab-wearing women) just didn’t exist, and what few options were out there were hard to come by. That led me to create the Verona Collection in February 2015, when my cofounder Alaa Ammuss and I launched with only $7,000 and four hijabs, two skirts and a dress. I like to describe our pieces as simple, elegant and timeless. In fact, once you take the headscarf away, nearly all of our items would work for anyone wanting to add a bit more style and modesty to their wardrobe.
Our small launch online was extremely successful. We sold out in just a week, and we soon doubled our inventory — then tripled it, and quadrupled it. As funds would come in, we would reinvest it back in to our company, providing more product options to meet our rising customer demand.
A few months after, I became a single mother with two young children. I had a growing business that was booming, but only $800 to my name. But when you’re in a position where you have no choice but to make it, you give it your all.
I start my day with my phone ringing off the hook and text messages coming through. Sleep is difficult: There’s an endless number of conference calls, sometimes scheduled before my pre-dawn prayer. Then, I get the two toddlers ready for school while I try to answer messages.
There are days I feel like a bad mother because I have so much work on my plate, while also knowing I have to work for them. Sometimes I want to give up, but I keep pushing forward for them and their future.
At the end of 2015, we opened a second shipping distribution center in London to serve our European customers, and in early 2016, we launched our first brick and mortar store in Orlando, Fla. The hard work was finally paying off, but to take our company to the next level, we needed to offer our products on a larger scale and sell at a department store.
In 2017, we were accepted to The Workshop at Macy’s, a business development program for women- and minority-owned businesses. During the program, we learned from experts in the field and gained so much knowledge on how to grow and take our business to the next level. At the end of the Workshop, we had one shot to present our brand to the Macy’s buying team at a trunk show in Herald Square. We completely sold out. You have to know your brand, know your customer and have confidence in what you have to offer. Fast-forward 10 months, and Verona launched on Macys.com.
This is one of the largest retailers in the U.S. — a dream come true for any fashion designer, and an even bigger one for a Hijabi Muslim fashion designer living in America. And while the monetary potential of the market is enormous — Muslim shoppers are expected to spend $464 billion on fashion and $73 billion on cosmetics across the globe by 2019 — we are driven by the ability to give back to our community. My main goal is to give women the confidence to be proud of who they are and how they choose to dress.
Lisa Vogl is an international fashion photographer and the co-founder of the Verona Collection modest fashion brand.
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