How did you get your idea or concept for the business?
We’re Shamima & Alicya - the co-founders and designers at Electric Bazaar. We both live in the Northwest of England but are from India and Pakistani ethnic backgrounds. Both of us always enjoyed incorporating our shared South Asian cultural styles into our Western wardrobes and our friends and fellow students always used to compliment the unique outfits we would curate - so we quickly realised a gap and demand in the market for that kind of style.
The concept was thus born out of our identities in a sense, as British Asians - trying to forge our Motherland traditions with Western styles, and as head-covering Muslim women - pertaining to how much we choose to cover with our clothing pieces. We design all our clothing therefore to be modest-friendly, whilst incorporating Asian regional embroidery styles and handicraft techniques.
Ethical values and sustainability are also very important to us, so we hoped to create our pieces in a way that shifts away from exploitative fast fashion processes. We wanted to put the people that we don’t often see, and their amazing talents at the forefront of the process - empowering low-income, highly skilled garment workers and artisans to earn a sustainable and beneficial livelihood. Giving back not only to individuals but to the wider communities in our motherlands was integral to our vision - as we hoped to encourage women to earn a living using the skills they have and create a safe-space for them to work.
What is unique about your business?
Firstly, we believe our business is unique as for us, the concept of ‘modesty in fashion’ - which has become quite a buzzword as of late - is more than just a woman covering more. We believe modest fashion is for all, and should incorporate fundamental ideals, of modesty and humility in our actions - not just in the way we dress.
We represent these values through our commitment to the individuals we collaborate with and our efforts towards environmental sustainability for example. We want to rid the perception that our faith limits what we can wear, but look to it for guidance in encouraging us to always think and practice beyond the self - and consider wider implications on people and the planet.
The uniqueness of our brand also lies in our pieces themselves - which are one-off creations, each incorporating a traditional artisan technique. This ensures that anyone who wears an Electric Bazaar piece, can be assured that individuality is never lost.
What are the biggest challenges that you faced while setting up your business?
Running a business comes with plenty of challenges, especially when you’re setting it up whilst pursuing your studies. The major challenge we have faced is producing enough pieces in our collections to fulfil the demand from customers. As each piece is handmade and we ensure artisans are given a fair amount of time and wage to produce the clothes, the process of production is timely.
Currently we are navigating how to scale this up whilst still retaining our core values. As a start-up we also lack the financial resources to collaborate and engage in projects on a bigger scale or to spend on advertising and marketing that could boost exposure of our brand.
What are your responsibilities as the business owners?
We both design all the clothing pieces together, while Alicya’s role is more focussed on the ground forging partnerships and overseeing the production process in Pakistan, and Shamima’s is centred around seeking out opportunities and securing collaborations here locally in the UK.
We both do the day-to-day running of the business, which includes everything from managing and updating our website, social media channels and orders - to organising campaign shoots and pop-up events. Basically all the little roles you can think of that it takes to run a business on your own!
What are your future goals for your business?
Our future goals centre around empowering women from low-income communities in Pakistan and beyond. Women in these societies are usually expected to lead a life that revolves around the home and often fail to complete their secondary education. Women going out to work is also frowned upon as public spaces are highly dominated by men and hence deemed as unsafe. We would love to empower women to follow their passions while taking their needs into account - as they often lack appropriate support channels on how to pursue their goals - whether that be starting up and growing their own small-businesses or pursuing further studies. The lack of entrepreneurial female role models in their communities means that they have very little to aspire towards and we would like to tackle this.
We currently run a Sewing Machine Project that provides sewing machines to women from these communities to start up their own debt-free, self-sustaining businesses. We want to take this one step further and set up a Sewing-Cooperative where women are taught valuable skills training in embroidery, sewing and stitching in a women-friendly space. We would offer them personalised training and support to grow - organised and delivered by women, with workshops on personal development and improving their business management skills.
Working in a women-friendly workspace eliminates worries families may have and can act as a safe haven for the women. This can hopefully open up opportunities for these women to challenge the norm surrounding a woman’s place in society and can help to create conversations for change.
What advice would you give to students who want to start their entrepreneurial journey?
The advice we think is truly valuable is that your business idea should aim to solve a problem around you, as it’s a lot easier to gain a solid customer base. Your startup should definitely find a niche in a certain market as there’s no point in doing something that already exists - think about how you can make that certain ‘thing’ better, whether it be a product or a service.
Also, if you want to start your journey, remember businesses start small and are not an overnight success! Don’t neglect applying for jobs and still think about your other career goals. Launching a successful startup is a process and takes time. Once you have a healthy inflow of cash from your company, you can go full time - but this could take years (we still haven’t taken a penny out of our business since we started up 2 years ago).
University is a perfect time to start up your business as timetables tend to be flexible and there are plenty of other students around who are looking for platforms to showcase and gain exposure for their skills and talent. Collaborate with your friends as there are many talents the wider student community can offer - for example we had friends skilled in graphic design and photography that helped us greatly with creating marketing materials. This is the time to work with others also looking to grow in different fields and engage with the people around you!
Alicya Mamo & Shamima Khonat (Co-Founders and Designers at Electric Bazaar)
Interview by Adelina Fughina