The Start of a Muslim Swimwear Company : Splashgear
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Read her story below!
Today I’ll be continuing my conversation with Sister Shareen Sabet about her company Splashgearusa.com, a modest, full-coverage, muslim swimwear company. In our last post about Splashgear we covered her “coming to” or “coming back to” Islam and how her journey led her to create a company that solved her own problem. However, it wasn’t just her problem – it was many other’s problems too. So… in this post we progress the conversation to the execution of her idea. I think this is a very important piece for anything we do in life. I mean, we all have dreams right? But those dreams stay dreams if we don’t execute them. This, I advise myself first then, if you all reading this want to get on the “execution” bandwagon, then by all means do!
…Ok so now Sister Shareen is wearing her hijab and finding out that her love for Scuba Diving and anything that has to do with water didn’t go away. Her mind is spinning on how she can get in that wonderful water but be Islamically compliant. (*chuckle* I find this statement funny because compliancies seem to go hand in hand with rules and regulations of school or something man made and Islam is the only religion in which Allah (SWT) made those rules that people follow! Imagine that: a Divine rule! Subhannallah!) Sorry I digress! So here goes:
Why did you start the biz? What was the main objective?
Splashgear was born as a direct result of my deciding to become a Hijabi. As an avid scuba diver, I started wondering how to continue to participate in my beloved hobby but as a Hijabi. Just so you can get an image of how hard this was: As a scuba diver, one usually puts on a wetsuit while on the boat, in front of mixed company. As a Hijabi, I knew that I couldn’t do that anymore. But I did not feel the desire to give up scuba diving entirely either! Alhamdulillah, I found that I could use what is called a drysuit to continue to scuba dive as a Hijabi Muslimah. So, that solved my scuba diving dilemma; but then my mind slowly turned to other water recreation—How could I go swimming in our community pool? How could I go snorkeling on vacation with my husband? How did other Muslim hijabi women do it? Obviously, I couldn’t wear the conventional bathing suit in public anymore, so how were other devout, observant Muslim women doing it? I realized that they weren’t—Muslim hijabi women were not at the beach or at the pool or snorkeling on vacation. Then my mind began to expand even further and I began wondering about how other religious women participated in water recreation, like Orthodox Jewish women; and what about large, obese women?!
My mind literally went into slow motion while it expanded on a daily basis and I started to think about all of these women whom no one else really notices are not enjoying the water with everyone else! I was shocked when I realized that there were a LOT of women who did not partake in water recreation or activities simply because the clothing options in the marketplace were very limited to swimwear that only small bodies could fit into and that were designed for those who did not view modesty as a priority. While I realized that there was a potentially diverse market, I focused my attention primarily on Muslim women and hijabis, because I was that woman who needed a solution to the problem of being modest in water recreation in mixed company, and I also wanted to help my fellow sisters. I began testing various clothing garments that already existed in the marketplace to see what worked and what didn’t work; but a retired family friend encouraged me to design my own brand, to manufacture my own line of full-coverage swimwear. As someone who had zero knowledge and experience of the apparel manufacturing industry, I thought this was a joke; but he was very serious, and if it were not for this man’s encouragement, I would not have established Splashgear. So, may Allah(SWT) bless him for starting me down this road—Aamiin.
How long have you been doing this? Do you do this out of your home?
Splashgear is 8.5 years old now, Allhamdullilah and the corporate office is based out of Huntington Beach, California.
What are were the main challenges in the beginning of your business?
Haha! There were many challenges in the beginning because a) I did not have any business or entrepreneur experience or knowledge; b) I knew absolutely nothing about apparel manufacturing; and c) I knew nothing about computer programming and how to design and establish an e-commerce site.
Of course, if I had lots of financial resources, I could have hired other people to take care of some of those responsibilities; but I had to borrow money, like most entrepreneurs, and I had to do everything on the cheap, meaning that I wore all the hats in my company—I had to design and administer the website, source ALL of the materials then find factories and oversee the production, fill the consumer orders, and do marketing, as well as handle all of the annual legal and tax responsibilities. Keep in mind that I had to do all of this and work at the same time. This was very very challenging for me, and I even asked myself how I had gotten myself into such a position. I do not come from a family of business people, so, this was quite difficult for me to handle all on my own without any physical support.
What are the challenges now?
The challenges now are different than the ones I initially faced and dealt with. In the beginning, I knew that I would face skepticism and derision from both Muslims and non-Muslims alike, and I knew I had to prove that the Splashgear full-coverage swimwear would work and deliver on its promises. Now, after 8.5 years, Splashgear has achieved proof of concept. Splashgear has satisfied customers worldwide, but mostly they are from the USA, Canada, Great Britain, and Australia. Splashgear’s customers are loyal return customers, and many are referred via word of mouth. The challenge for Splashgear now is to grow as a business and to get the line carried in stores by retailers. Splashgear does have two wholesale buyers—swimoutlet.com (USA) and 78swim.com (Canada) are two e-commerce retailers that carry the Splashgear line. In fact, Splashgear pioneered the ‘Modest Swimwear’ category for swimoutlet.com, the largest online swim retailer; but Splashgear’s customers want the line carried in local physical stores, especially local customers in Southern California. So, Splashgear’s challenge now is to find stores that would be willing to carry the line, especially sporting goods stores, swimwear boutiques, and surf shops. Splashgear is the only full-coverage, or Islamic, swimwear company that has been awarded the Melanoma International Foundation’s Seal of Approval for its UV protective line of swimwear, and having Splashgear in local shops will reach a greater customer base that includes those who are sun-sensitive or who are allergic to sun block lotion. So, that is the goal I am working on now, to get Splashgear into physical shops.
Where do you see your business in the next 5 years?
In the next five years, I envision that Splashgear will be a household brand name within the Muslim community across the USA, and will be available in mainstream stores, such as sporting goods stores and surf shops. Splashgear will also have a men’s modest swimwear line alongside the women’s line within that same time frame.
How can your business contribute to the Muslim Entrepreneur landscape?
Splashgear offers a product that is innovative within the Muslim marketplace, one that is designed by a scientist. In January 2007, there were only four manufacturers worldwide of full-coverage, or Islamic, swimwear and Splashgear was one of those four. At the end of 2007, and after much media coverage, many copycat companies popped up; however, it was very clear to me that many companies failed to deliver on their promises and were only producing to make money, and not to sincerely offer modest, safe, and comfortable full-coverage water apparel. Splashgear is unique to all of the swimwear on the market—whether mainstream or so-called Islamic swimwear—in the sense that:
- It complies with the consensus Islamic fatwas on modest dress (it is not tight-fitting, revealing, or see-through)—some so-called Islamic swimwear that is currently being sold is skin-tight or see-through;
- It complies with mainstream public pool requirements;
- It it sells its swimwear as separates to accommodate different tastes and a diverse clientele;
- I personally tested each piece in the pool before the line went on sale to be sure that it was safe and comfortable to use and that it performed modestly as required; and
- The line is based on surf wear to give it a more Western look that is familiar to non-Muslims, which allows Muslim women, and anyone else who wears the line, to blend in better with a non-Hijabi crowd without feeling too strange or out of place.
That was very important to me to make sure that Muslim women, who already stand out in a crowd, are not stigmatized any further while wearing full-coverage swimwear in public in a non-Muslim society.
Splashgear contributes to the Muslim entrepreneur landscape by serving the needs of both Muslims and non-Muslims. While the majority of Splashgear customers are Muslim, many are not and they purchase Splashgear for a variety of reasons.
“Muslim entrepreneurs should always be constantly thinking of how to serve humanity and not just the needs of Muslims. That is our destiny, that is the legacy of our beloved Prophet Muhammed (saws), that is the commandment of Allah(swt). Splashgear is proud to be part of the Muslim entrepreneur landscape and will continue its mission well into the future, Insha’Allah. “
What 3 tips can you give a budding entrepreneur just starting out?
- Be patient. Business success takes much longer than one thinks. It may even take at least a year before you can pay yourself, so, just know that the reality of being an entrepreneur is that it takes time to establish a successful company or business, so, be prepared for the long haul.
- Do your research well in advance. Don’t wait until after you’ve started a company to know who your competitors are and what are the needs of your customers. Even if you don’t need a business plan in the beginning, you should still write one, or something close to one, which will help you realize, understand, and articulate your company’s mission and objectives. So, do your research and use that to navigate your way.
- Be financially sound in your business expenses.
This means several different things, including the following:
- ALWAYS pay your vendors on time and in full. Be sure to respect your vendors and pay them their full due on time each time;
- Look for ways to help your company save money, such as choosing the right credit card that can give you cash back or enrolling in rewards programs that can help your company save money or earn cash rewards. Be frugal, but don’t be too tight with money, as you will need to invest it in order to gain a return. So, it’s a balance between being a savvy purchaser for your company, but knowing when you need to invest prudently to get ahead;
- Be open eyed and sharp minded—there are those who are willing to cheat you or who are less than competent. You are the only one who cares about your business—no one else cares about your business interests as much as you do. So, always be on alert and protect your company from fraudsters and those who are not delivering on their promises.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
“Don’t do it!!”
Just kidding. =:-) Seriously, though, this was a very arduous road for me to take because the learning curve was so high in different areas, and there were several years that I worked full time and I was not able to give Splashgear the attention that it needed. However, if I were able to go back in time and give advice to myself, I would tell myself to invest in a marketing and public relations firm that could help me to grow the company a lot more quickly. Having mastered the legal and tax sphere as well as the production side of the company, the one area that I have constantly needed help with is marketing. So, I would tell my younger self to invest in a marketing and PR company to help Splashgear launch more quickly and reach much higher in a shorter amount of time.
Get Wet Today! Visit: www.splashgearusa.com