Bajipreneur of the month is a series I am initiating on the blog to introduce successful women entrepreneurs in Pakistan. My intention behind this series is not just to promote and empower the phenomenal women and the products that they create – but also for some everyday inspiration for you and me. I want all of us to learn about someone else’s story as they created a product out of love and passion and their journey to success.
This month’s bajipreneur is Amal F. Ashoor from Sulafah. I know Amal because we were together in A levels and then in university too – albeit different campuses. I never really got to know her too well as a person and remember her to be a quiet, hardworking girl so imagine my surprise when I saw her a few years ago as the founder of one of the most successful shoe stores in the city! Her shoes are easily one of my favorite in the local market and I always get a pair on my trips to Karachi. Her journey has not been easy and she took her father’s dream upon herself to soldier through years of hard work to achieve the brand and reputation she has finally carved today. The intricate details on her shoes and her excellent PR skills speak volumes of the time and thought she puts into the entire process.
In this feature I have spoken to Amal about her journey and her brand. Her meticulous responses made me super happy and I hope they inspire you too!
1. Hi Amal! I’m so excited to have you as the first baji-preneur of the month, because I’ve always been so inspired by your journey and can’t wait to hear more details. So, tell us about Sulafah. What is it and how did you come up with the idea!
Sulafah means: “Some one who has high aesthetic sensibilities. “Onchi pasand rakhna wali.” The idea of introducing Sulafah evolved over time.
One of my father’s investments in a shoe business didn’t go as planned . He lost heavy money in it since he was only an investor and did not know how to run it. My father was not returned any money he had invested but was given leftover, ugly shoe stock instead. At that time I was about to finish my BBA at IBA.It was somewhere in October of 2011. My father came up to me with a lot of hope in his eyes that I would do something for his dwindling investment and salvage some money out of those shoes stock lot.
I had other dreams, other plans but my father has always been special for me so I said ok lets do it! Ever since naming the brand, I havent looked back. Sulafah is like a child to me. My father goes to his own work in peace, I go to my own office. Less than 6 years later, Sulafah has become a successful footwear brand for the urban woman of Pakistan.
2. Wow. That’s incredible. I’m interested to know: what is a typical day of work like, for you?
I am an early riser. Breakfast is with family. We discuss our days plans while sipping tea. Then at 9 45 am I head to Sulafah’s head office. I have a team of 10 core members and a general staff of 60+ people. Managing the affairs of the business on a day to day basis consumes most of my time. I return at 9.30 pm after my daily walk in a park nearby. I go to sleep by 12.
3. I understand you are a business graduate. No actually, I’m just being formal. I remember you were with me in IBA. Ha. So what made you go towards entrepreneurship and how do you feel about running your own business?
I think I answered this quite a bit in the first question. Running a business at a commercial level is serious work. Millions of rupees are always at stake. I have to ensure I make enough money to credit salaries in the accounts of 60 employees every month. Anxiety, nervousness, mental break downs during Ramadan and wedding season is a given. It’s a lot of mental and physical work that goes in running a commercial business successfully. It is extremely rewarding in the end. I have this feeling that I am capable of uplifting the lives of 60 families through my work. There is a sense of innate responsibility in me. That makes me work harder. I think I draw my energy from my employees. I have seen their lives improving through my company.
My drivers’ kids are in school mashaAllah. My personal assistant has wedded his sister off with ease and sending his mother to India after 20 years for a family reunion. I name my employees kids and daughters are named after my name out of pure love in my employees’ hearts. My business has given me power to touch lives. That is the only reason I continue to take this upon me everyday.
4. That’s so lovely to hear. So what’s your work setting like? Do you work from home?
I have an independent office.Its a fairly large setup. We are a company with functional departments.We have a finance and accounting manager, supply chain team, online sales team, a photography set up. There is a separate factory across the road from the office. Lots of labor is working there too. There is madness at Sulafah’s premise.
5. To create something as big as that, there must have been several hurdles along the way. Tell us about your struggles and how you coped.
There have been struggles. The financial is the most difficult one to cope. I had to do a lot of work myself because my budget was limited. I would spend my days learning photoshop, photography, designing, networking, exhibiting and so much more single handedly which would leave little time for my social life. It also takes a toll sometimes health wise. I have been in an out of hospitals and straight to work because I couldn’t dodge my work due to deadlines. Managing and motivating a huge workforce is not easy too especially when you are as young as I am. Almost everyone in my team is older than me. Creating a balance where your team obeys you and loves you too is an art that one learns with time. Being a woman, you are sensitive. It can be tough emotionally and physically both. But all is well if it ends well hopefully inshAllah.
6. What’s next for Sulafah? Where do you see yourself and Sulafah in 5 years?
I want to innovate. I am a huge engineering fan. I want to find new ways to incorporate science and medicine in my designer footwear. A comfortable and confident walk with a high fashion quotient is our mission in 2018. I have lots of dreams with Sulafah but I do not like to plan too much. I am not an MNC and I do not think like one. No visions or mission statements. I take it slow and change my business with the environment. Flexibility is key. Visions and mission statements are too limiting.
7. Okay all of that work and pressure sounds exhausting. How do you relax on the weekends? What is your ideal weekend like?
I am working on sundays also. In all honesty, the only time I relax is in planes. I love to read when I get time. I am a decent cook. I love making chinese. Earlier I was a fitness junkie so I would exercise and jog and walk and do yoga but with work that has really taken a backseat sadly. I would love to restart doing what I loved doing in future. When business is more established perhaps.
9. I hope so too, Amal! So here’s the last, very cliched question: what is your motto in life? The one thing you live by.
We all will become dust one day. Do not take any sorrow or joy too seriously. They are part of the same coin. Whatever is in your control, change it. What could not be changed, was never in your control. Do not fret or cry over it. Channel your heartbreak in creative rather than destructive ways. Stay away from experimenting with leisure drugs. Whatever religion you believe in, follow it as much as you can.Every religion teaches good things and helps bring discipline and hope in life. Love everyone and everything. Think it is given to you by your Creator and He could never let you be in a circumstance had it not been for your own good. I too live by the same motto in life. I do not take success or failure too seriously.
If you would like to check out Sulafah and their creations, you can follow the on Facebook and Instagram!
If you would like to be featured please fill out the contact form on this blog specifying details of your business.