Our debut fashion series titled 'Behind The Brand' takes a closer look at a number of prevalent clothing companies inspired by Islamic culture. In this five part series we dissect all the components of what makes a business run, and also learn more about the budding entrepreneurs behind the vision. In this article, we speak to Faisal Choudhry founder of IZAHA London.
Faisal Choudhry's charismatic humour and unique approach to creating Muslim friendly content have helped him gain over 12 thousand subscribers on YouTube. His video content straddles the realms of entertainment and religious adherence, in his words: 'I want to show people that you can be a practising Muslim and also a regular part of society'.
His Youtube channel 'Faisal', although established in early 2016, has been a part of a pioneering group of 'social influencers'; creating entertaining content grounded in principled Islamic values. At the age of 22 he also currently runs his own clothing brand after graduating from university with a degree in Criminology. Faisal was kind enough to sit down with us and share some of his thoughts on life, Islam, business and the struggles of entrepreneurship.
What spurred your decision to start YouTube?
I have always wanted to do YouTube because I have always found vlogging really interesting and I have always had fun editing them too, but I was never confident enough to put them out. I have actually got videos of me around five years ago of me making vlogs but I never put them up anywhere. So, I have always made vlogs, but the thing that inspired me to make these current vlogs specifically was that through studying criminology and through finding the Deen I realised that there are not many Muslim role models for the youth.
I am not trying to say I want to be a role model, and I guess that’s one of the challenges of putting yourself out there on YouTube but, the Muslim youth need to see Muslim role models. Now there is obviously Sadiq Khan and Naadiya Hussain but before that, there was only really, Amir Khan. So we need more people who are successful Muslims, so I thought maybe if I tried my best with what I can, maybe people will say ‘ah look he runs a business’. I just want to show people that you can be a practising Muslim and also a regular part of society.
When was your brand launched and what was the inspiration for starting?
We launched around September 2014, almost 2 years ago now. The inspiration behind it was that I had previously run a clothing brand. It was difficult for me to push that clothing brand forward because promoting the clothing line often involved promoting it through media outlets and it was essentially a regular urban street wear brand. So, I needed to find something that was more niche and I started Izaha because it mixes Arabic culture with UK street wear. So it was a more niche version, that was what inspired it I guess. I also wanted to spread good messages, such as peace and love.
What does the name Izaha mean and why did u choose it?
There is no meaning! There is no meaning behind it, I’ve never told anyone this before so this is a proper exclusive [laughs] We were sat in the office in 2015, it wasn’t even our office it was like underneath my dads’ shop, we made like a makeshift office. My brother and I were thinking of a name and I said I wanted something that sounded ‘arabiky’ but also something that would be available on social media because quite often everything is taken. So eventually we put these letters together and came up with Izaha, and it does sound quite middle eastern doesn’t it?
What are some of the messages you are trying to portray in your designs?
I’m definitely trying to portray messages that are positive that is why I try to put positive wording in Arabic on the clothing itself. I am trying to spread a positive message through my clothing and I also enjoy being creative so I wanted to be creative through something I can push out and market.
What genre would you consider your clothing to be?
I would definitely say UK street wear.
What are some of your favourite pieces from your line?
My favourite piece is probably this hat because I literally wear it everywhere! The salaam trucker cap is my favourite. The reason why I like the caps is because I put a lot of effort into them. I’ve seen a lot of companies with a lot of different hats and they either have a sticker instead of embroidered text or the quality is that of a pre-made hat.
I take pride in the fact that for these hats we find materials, we get the materials made, we get the hats embroidered and stitched. It’s completely from the ground up, from a really good factory, these are not pre-made garments that are then printed on. I’m really proud of the quality.
The Islamic clothing scene has quite recently become extremely saturated. How are you hoping to stand out?
Because I run something very similar to a lot of clothing brands that are out there, especially with the Arabic vibe. One thing that I can honestly say with a hand on my heart, the thing that separates us is quality. If I am going to put something out there I am going to make sure it is good quality. I have learnt from my old clothing line that when I did put out bad quality stuff that there is no point of putting something out there for the sake of it.
So, I think what makes us unique is when somebody buys our clothing they are going to see that the quality is high compared to others. We really do take pride in taking our time when it comes to producing our clothing.
Often young people have an initial idea for a company/brand but they are hesitant towards taking the plunge, what was it that made you take the plunge? and what is your advice to others who might be hesitant in doing so?
For me, it was slightly easier because my dad has been a businessman all of my life. So in regards to that, it's something that I have been around all my life, seeing someone grind and run their own business. I also had my older brother with me so when we started our first business we started it together and when you do something together it almost like ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’ so it's not as daunting.
My advice to anybody would be just get started. I don’t know if it comes across as this but I am really not a business type person. When it comes to the nitty gritty parts of business I really struggle and it is still something that I really struggle with. But, you are not going to be good at everything, you can’t always avoid the nitty gritty parts of business because you only enjoy the creative parts. So, if you are not good at a part of the business or you are scared that you are not going to do well in a certain aspect I still say: just get started. Start small, I started Izaha with one hat! For months it was just one hat on the website. So, start small but don’t be scared because even I am still learning every day. I am lucky to have people around me who help me and guide me, but you’ve got to get started.
Sometimes you feel like giving up on a project or on a business but the only thing that will then keep you going at that point is passion. Because no matter what, you will hit a point in your business where you feel you haven’t got a chance. And at that point, the only thing that keeps you going is the passion. If you are not passionate about what you are doing then you will end up quitting.
What are some of the important qualities you need to run a successful business?
You don’t need all of the qualities. You need the quality of knowing that you can build qualities [laughs]. So, you need to know that you will learn as you go along.
One really important thing which I am really strong on is that you need to have this idea of not caring what other people think. That doesn’t mean you can be rude to people or you can be obnoxious or arrogant but you have to have confidence in what you are doing.
Unless it is the people who are around you, who love you or unless they are the opinions that you value. You need to put those things to the side. That comes with self-confidence, if you are confident in what you are doing or confident with yourself then you will naturally become like that. But you are going to get a lot of people telling you that you are doing something in the wrong way. And you are even going to get people close to you telling you that you are doing something wrong.
So to a certain extent, you need to have self-confidence. But, there is a very thin line, there is self-confidence and then there is arrogance. But what helps us with that is that we are lucky enough to have Islam, even if we get a bit arrogant we are putting our head on the floor five times a day and realising that we aren’t really anything major.
What are some of the challenges of starting a clothing brand?
The thing with a clothing a line, which is different to so many others is that now with the technological era you can launch a business with no money and build yourself up. For example, you can make a website where you sell logos, apart from buying software here and there you aren’t actually putting much in. With a clothing brand, you have to batch order products, so you have to spend money first and then make money later. So that is one thing that I found an issue with but it's not the end of the road. I started with one product, and from then I moved on. That’s one of the challenges of starting a clothing line.
Finding manufacturers is definitely a HUGE challenge. It took me about a year to find the factories that I have found now, which I think are my biggest asset. I was mentioning before that the one thing that I take pride in is the quality of the products and that is because I found such amazing people to work with. There are so many companies and there are so many factories, so you have to find the people you have the best relationship with and the people who can help deliver you the best product and understand your vision.
Looking forward what are some of your future aspirations?
Business wise I would just like to grow Izaha to the limits, the limits are endless I don’t have a place where I want to stop. I want to get it out there, I also want to get some physical stores (start off with a few pop-up stores). And also look into other avenues so not just unisex and menswear but potentially children’s clothing as well.
Personally, I am working on improving my personal brand so that I can try my best to inspire young Muslims and show that you can be Muslim and you can still be successful in this world, as well as in the afterlife.
While inspiring Muslims I would also like to show non-Muslims who watch my videos that ‘hey look at me I’m a young Muslim guy with a beard who prays five times a day’ but I’m also not what the media portrays me to be. I wouldn’t consider myself an outcast of society. I have my morals that I wouldn’t negotiate on but that doesn’t stop me from living my life as a young British Muslim.
The 'Behind The Brand' series celebrates clothing brands and their stories, and what better way to celebrate than to give away some clothing to our readers. For a chance to win some exclusive Izaha items click the image below and follow the instructions. Best of luck!
Many thanks to Faisal and the guys at Izaha who took the time out to organise an interview, May Allah SWT reward you.
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