I met Nafisa Bakkar at a networking event and was instantly impressed. Her company, Amaliah.com, was founded to address the difficulty Muslim women face when searching for clothes that are modest and fashionable. Now, having grown over the last 18 months, Amaliah is fast becoming a platform for the voices of Muslim women in over 85 countries. For International Women's Day, I spoke with Nafisa about her vision for Amaliah, the unglamorous side of start-up life and how she's working hard to help give Muslim women a voice.
I'm so inspired by your story. What was the catalyst for starting Amaliah? And once you had the idea, how did you get started?
I realised that it was a genuine problem. It being Muslim women finding it hard to find clothes that are modest and fashionable. I've always wanted to empower others and I realised that fashion is a really strong vehicle to exert your own identity. It shouldn't be a struggle for a Muslim woman to find clothes to wear.
Past this, I realised the Muslim woman's voice is hugely unrepresented. We've since evolved into a platform that represents the many different voices in the Muslim community through our content contributors.
I started by learning as much as I could about startups. I read books, watched videos, spoke to people who had done it.
I thought it was very important to build some sort of foundation of knowledge. I then learnt to code so that I could go to the next level: building the first version.
I love how Amaliah is built upon the goal of empowering muslim women. Can you speak to the idea of reclaiming the muslim female voice and narrative? How do you plan on expanding upon that this year?
We plan on expanding to more countries with our contributors. Our community is from 85 different countries and I want to reflect that in our voices section.
For so many years, people have spoken on behalf of Muslim women whether it be in the media or even Muslim male scholars. It's time that our own voices and stories were surfaced. It shouldn't be a struggle to find the opinions and voice of a Muslim woman in the mainstream, but for now it is.
Ultimately, we want to send out the message that you can be who you are as Muslim women, hold the beliefs that you have, and be a person of purpose and impact in a society.
What is the biggest thing you’ve learnt about yourself since starting Amaliah? What have been the challenges and/or sacrifices?
First part: the toll starting a company takes on your mental health is a hard hit. I think the start-up world is VERY glamorised and people don't speak enough about the fact that it's bloody hard. The biggest challenge I've had is managing the toll it takes on your mental health. I think you sacrifice a few things -- a big fat pay check for one, and also your relationships. But, at the same time, I remind myself that doing what I love is a luxury and it comes with the choice.
You’ve successfully raised seed funding and turned Amaliah into a monetised business. In doing so, how has your definition of 'success' changed?
I'm a real success skeptic. I always say don't believe the hype. Raising money is not success, neither is being in Forbes or the Metro. But people seem to see these things as a sign of success.
Looking at your background, you seem to have always had entrepreneurial ambitions and ’thought big'. How have you managed to stay motivated and not be restricted by your own self-limitations?
I always say that where we are now is very much down to other people. I have constantly surrounded myself with people who help pick you up when you're in those low moments or full of self doubt. I've also accepted that motivation dips. I think people think if you run your own company then that means you jump out of bed every day, raring to go.
There are periods when you won't feel motivated and you'll want to give up and that's okay.