Who says engineers can't be good marketers?
Abeer Al-Azzawi, a 24-year-old University of Ottawa student who already has her undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering, started her specialty web business last summer with the help of the Ontario government's Summer Company program for students. However, instead of treating her business, Queendom Hijabs, like any other summer job, she is already thinking like a seasoned marketer.
Ms. Al-Azzawi's key product is the hijab (a traditional Muslim headscarf) reengineered. She recently called up the wardrobe department of CBC's internationally syndicated comedy Little Mosque on the Prairie and asked if they could use her hijabs on the show. "They told me they had just finished filming this year's season, but they said, 'That's not a bad idea, hold on and we'll get back to you on that,'" she said.
When OBJ contacted her, she was fresh off the phone with CBC Radio from Manitoba as an expert on the subject of hijabs because of a controversy involving a Winnipeg teen who had been barred from a judo tournament for wearing a headscarf. One line of Ms. Al-Azzawi's hijabs are especially designed for sports and she herself took karate while wearing a hijab. You can't buy that kind of marketing. . .
Ms. Al-Azzawi's business revolves around her specially designed hijabs with lightweight and breathable material with a pocket to tuck in long hair for women who play sports. There are also firm-fit styles for runners and women who do exercises like yoga. She has also designed "eco-hijabs," made with organic soy cloth, and winter hijabs, made with fleece.
Ms. Al-Azzawi said there are not many places in Canada, let alone Ottawa, to purchase what is an essential garment for many women.
"I'm Muslim and I don't know where I can go buy a hijab. There are no hijab specialty stores, especially ones that sell the modern look," she said. "There's a lot of dressy hijabs with silk and satin, but as far as I know, I haven't seen any for sports like this."
Judging from her sales, this isn't just an Ottawa problem. Ms. Al-Azzawi has made repeat sales as far away as Singapore, but she also has many customers in the U.S. and Europe. She has had a lot of positive feedback from customers, but because of the very nature and function of the hijab, which is to promote modesty, some have been critical of Queendom Hijabs.
"One person wrote to me saying I was commercializing it too much. That's why I never use the word God in my advertisements and I never mention Islam. A lot of religions use headscarves," she explained. Women from many different cultures in Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East wear headscarves.
"I never use (live) models, I only use mannequins, because promoting physical appearance defeats modesty. Even the colours I use, I try to keep them simple. Even if some of the other patterns might sell a lot, I have to hold myself back." (MORE)