Aida Azlin, Founder of The Shawl Label

Based in Morocco and Singapore, Aida is a life-long seeker of knowledge and a pro-hugger who loves to collaborate with her husband in endless matchmaking sessions. Through her brand The Shawl Label, Aida shows how big she is on sisterhood and fabrics stitched with purpose. Her main mission is to build and grow a sisterhood of ladies who want to pursue self-betterment, empower one another & stand proud in their own completeness. She writes love letters, runs workshops, produces the ‘Woman Up’ podcast series and makes videos. 

Assalamualaikum Aida! Tell me more about The Shawl Label. Why did you start it?

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.

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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 in 2014. 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!

What inspired you to start classes for your fellow sisters? Why do you want to share your knowledge?

From the very beginning, when we started TSL, I knew I wanted TSL to be more than just a label that sells shawls. I wanted to build and grow a community of Sisters, that will spur each other on to be the best version of ourselves. And starting TSL Classes was a natural decision for us. When I do TSL Classes, I feel useful. I feel like I am doing something meaningful with my time. I love sharing things that I’ve learned with the sisters around me, I love seeing how much our classes have changed and inspired the sisters who took our classes. Every time I get an email thanking us for the classes we run, the same thought runs through my head: “Alhamdulillah. You see, this class can help sisters, Aida. More than a shawl, more than any clothes you make. Why are you hesitating to make a difference? Why are you so afraid?”.

Why do you call your newsletters love letters? What’s the best part of sending love letters to the sisterhood?

I don’t call them newsletters because I really treat every single email that I write to them as a love letter, where I share things that I don’t share anywhere else. When ladies sign up to our love letters, I treat that as a huge honour. Because “liking” and “following” a brand on social media is easy, but to give your email address is another commitment altogether! So when ladies allow me to be in their inbox – I treat that privilege and responsibility very seriously.

But the best part of sending these love letters is knowing that I get to connect on a one-on-one basis with the sisters. And this is extremely important to me because having an online business doesn’t really give us much chance to have real life interactions. Our love letters allow me to not only share valuable content to the ladies but to also build trust and build solid friendships. Alhamdulillah, I’ve been blessed to have many of my “customers” now as friends. Perks of the job, really!
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.

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.

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-

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.

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.

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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.

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-

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.

 

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