Ordinarily Extraordinary – Aida Azlin

 

  1. Assalamualaikum! Tell me more about 114.co. Why did you start it?

Ma Sha Allah, The 114 happened quite a while back! Plenty of fond memories, and valuable lessons learnt. I started wearing the hijab pretty recently, in 2012. When I first started wearing it, I knew I had to re-learn my religion. I felt very… rusty. And as soon as I began busying myself with classes and started re-discovering Islam, I fell in love with the beautiful spirit that is our Deen.

I had a bunch of notes/quotes from the books I read and the classes I attended, so I started designing them. I started to share the idea of making modern, contemporary artworks that are centred around Islam with a few friends, one of them being my then friend, now sister-in-law, Umm Muawiyah. -grin-

She and I worked hard to launch The 114 but we had a ball of fun doing it because she was super creative and full of enthusiasm, which really rubs off on me, and we started working with Moroccan artisans. After I got married to my husband, The 114 then became a three-member team.

We named The 114 after the 114 surahs from the glorious Quran and while we all had a lot of fun working on it, each of us started to get occupied with individual projects. Unfortunately, we had to cease The 114 indefinitely. We still have a Tumblr page with all the artworks, which Alhamdulillah, are still getting shared and re-blogged. Never for a second did we regret starting and working on The 114.

 

  1. Why The Shawl Label?

I had always believed that The Shawl Label, or TSL for short, was a beautiful accident. But I now realise that there is no coincidence in life, as Allah beautifully plans everything.

My husband and I moved to Dubai when we first got married. 6 months later, we began to miss Morocco. You see,  my husband is British-Moroccan and I used to travel to Morocco often and for extended periods of time. We were seriously considering moving to Morocco. My husband asked me, “What do you want to do when you are back in Morocco, Aida?” and I remember telling him, I really want to learn how to quilt and sew. I said I wanted to source for fabrics and just spend my days working with my hands. My husband was the one who suggested to me that well… “You should really consider selling shawls. Everyone wears them anyway!”

To be honest, I was very, very, very, very hesitant about it. My gut feeling then told me that there are already too many sellers out there selling shawls, and they were all doing a brilliant job. And I didn’t want to be known as “the girl who sells tudung”. -laughs- But I contemplated the idea for a while, never quite dismissing it completely nor embracing it fully.

When we got to Morocco, that’s when my perspectives changed. It’s true what they say – the space that you are in can inspire you and change the way you see things. I saw how entrepreneurship was so common in Morocco – almost everyone I know has a small shop or trade somewhere selling or offering some product or service. We have no malls here in Tangier where we live, nor big brands and corporations. Thus, everything is local, and made by the people in Morocco. And that is awesome! I learned that being an entrepreneur is far from just having website launches or flashy marketing gimmicks, but truly, it’s about human interactions, about trust, about giving your best to the product you are selling, about standing by your word. It’s about working hard and starting with what you already have.

After seeing how beautiful the fabrics are here, and how skilled the ladies are in sewing, embroidering, knitting and EVERYTHING you can think of, I thought, “why not?”. I can help the ladies here earn some money, and I can offer shawls that are beautiful, ethically made and not mass produced. From the start, I wanted TSL to be way, way, way more than just about the shawls. I wanted to have a close-knit community of Sisters, or a Sisterhood because I firmly believe that when all of us work together, empower and encourage one another, accept each other and love one another, magic can happen.

I also wanted TSL to focus on the Slow Movement. Instead of stressing ourselves out and pushing for collection after collection, and stripping away the joy of working with earnestness and dedication, which takes time and patience, we would only launch a few collections a year. Each collection has less than 4 to 5 designs. We believe that beautiful, good quality things take time to make. Because my team is not a well-oiled machine and is made up of us souls, humans, who are first wives and sisters and mothers, I know that the best working environment for them is where they can be free to give their best work without the stress of datelines and production timelines.

That being said, that doesn’t mean TSL is a hippie-ish organisation; I do try my best to have structure, but at the end of the day, to me, it’s more than just about making money, making a sale. It is about pleasing Allah, about giving your best work, about kindness, not only towards the Sisters who buy our shawls but also towards my team and all of their families.

I could not have done it without the help and support of my husband and my good friend, N, who was my partner for TSL in the first few months we started. I then took over completely in March or April this year.

Now we have a small team of tailors and ladies working with me. In Shaa Allah, we will start collaborating with a few brick and mortar shops in Canada to carry our shawls, and we plan to expand to the UK. Please keep my team in ur dua please!

 

  1. What was the greatest challenge you faced as an entrepreneur?

I guess the most major challenge for me is to be firm in my beliefs and my principles as an entrepreneur, without really caring too much about what other people are doing or saying. You know, there will be a lot of people who will doubt you, and there will be many others who will try to bring you down. And with social media making the world so much smaller now, you will constantly be in the presence of other people who are way more talented than you, way cooler than you and with more resources than you. Sometimes, it is hard to remember the strengths and skills that you uniquely have. It is so easy to compare yourself to other people, and I learned that that is dangerous! Comparison is really the thief of joy.

  1. How did you overcome that challenge?

By remembering Allah. By being grateful. By reminding myself that, as long as Allah is pleased with me, I am happy. Nothing else matters. Nothing.

 

  1. What keeps you up at night?

Alhamdulillah, nothing. Every night when I go to bed, I am usually exhausted-happy. Because I know that I woke up that day, that I did my best, that I tried my best, as a Muslimah, as a wife, as a daughter, as a sister, as a friend. As long as I know I have done my best, I sleep well. -laugh-

 

  1. Who inspires you?

Everybody! -laugh- Seriously! Everyone has their unique strengths, and I usually learn a lot from everybody as long as I keep an open mind and seek out the good. -grin- But if I have to name a few, I would say, my husband, my parents and my parents-in-law, Khadijah RA and our beloved Prophet Muhammad SAW. Trust me, these are not textbook answers! -laugh- They truly inspire me!

 

  1. What are you most thankful for as an entrepreneur?

My freedom. No amount of money will ever buy me this kind of freedom – The freedom to work on the things I love and believe in, the freedom to work in my pyjamas, the freedom to choose my team. But this freedom doesn’t come easy. Entrepreneurship also taught me to show up, stop complaining and start working. Hard. It taught me perseverance. It taught me patience. It taught me responsibility. It taught me humility. And because of TSL, I get to meet beautiful ladies every single day. I can never express how grateful I am for that. Alhamdulillah ala kulli haal.

 

  1. What is your vision for the Ummah?

You know, we are so behind in terms of how our Prophet (peace be upon him) and the Sahabah used to live, despite our “modernity”. However, I also know that there a lot of Ma Shaa Allah, amazing individuals who are just tirelessly and quietly working hard to revive the Sunnah and seek out the beauty of the Deen, to bring everybody together and to spread positivity.

I have faith, I have a lot of faith in the Ummah, that one day we can be people of Compassion, of Knowledge, of Creativity, of Love. We have to remember we are all ambassadors of Islam, and we should represent our Deen responsibly, and with honour. If we can all do that, I have no doubt in my mind that the Ummah can accomplish so many beautiful things, and can make things that truly matter.

 

  1. Aida, you are a changemaker. You’re a wife. You’re a writer. You are a khalifah. How do you manage your time?

-Laugh- Ma Shaa Allah! I wish I am a super perfect woman who can tell you I have no problems managing my time. But I am not. I do however, treat my time as more important than my wealth, after my health. Every second of my time is like a precious jewel, so I try to distance away from distractions which are plenty in our time, sadly. I also schedule my things around the 5 prayers, which is working perfectly for me. I’ve also learnt the importance of saying “no” – “no” to projects that wouldn’t really add value, or “no” to certain social gatherings. “No” is really a powerful word that could free up a lot of your time. Another thing is having a schedule. I cannot live without having a proper schedule. At least for the week. Funnily enough, I don’t like planning months or years ahead, just weeks! -laugh-

 

  1. What would you say to people who are scared to venture into entrepreneurship?

Just do it! What’s the worse that can happen? If you set your intentions right, Khair In Shaa Allah. Like what I always say, believe in Dream, Du’a Do.

Based in Morocco, Aida is a life-long seeker of knowledge and a pro-hugger who loves to collaborate with her husband in endless matchmaking sessions (they are determined to make the Haram harder and the Halal easier!). Other than running The Shawl Label full time, she also advocates Self-Worthiness and the importance of having Balance to her fellow Sisters in faith and humanity through her writing at www.aidaazlin.com

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