I wait excitedly for the phone to ring from Arshiya Kherani, the creator of Sukoon Active, a New York-based fitness fashion line that caters specifically to women who wish to dress modestly.
I am excited because Kherani is fellow alum of my alma mater, New York University. Her email said she would call at 5:30pm, and as the clock struck 5:30pm on the dot, my phone rings. A sweet, bubbly voice says “As-salaam alaikum, this is Arshiya!” She immediately made me feel at ease as we spoke about our years at NYU and reminisced about the city.
Kherani was raised in Ohio to Indian parents, and moved to New York City with big dreams at the age of 17. She went on to achieve two degrees from NYU, one is Economics and one is Public Policy. Little did she know how much those years would influence her life after graduation.
Seven years ago, Kherani did a semester abroad in Italy, and it was during this time that she looked inside herself, thinking of ways to better herself, and to figure out what she truly believed in. She had moved away from home and needed to make adult choices, challenge her thinking and form her own identity, and she did this by making a step towards faith.
It was during this time that Kherani started looking into how the way she dressed related to her faith. She never wanted to miss any prayers because she was wearing short-sleeves and didn’t have a sweater nearby. It was at this time that she made the decision to put on the hijab, which little did she know at the time, would change her life.
We at Muslim Girl had the pleasure of speaking to her about the steps she took to launching Sukoon and how she plans to move forward.
Muslim Girl: Tell me a little about why you started Sukoon Active. How does someone with a Masters in Public Policy end up launching a fashion line?
Arshiya Kherani: Sukoon Active is a line of activewear that caters to the modest, Muslim woman who wants to look good while exercising, without compromising her values. We achieve this by engineering activewear that provides superior coverage and is breathable, dry wicking, comfortable, and trendy. We currently have prototypes for four pieces in the collection — the classic hijab, the up-do hijab, the classic tee and a signature bag.
The idea for the line was born a little over a year ago when some friends and I decided to run a half marathon in Washington D.C. The weather was miserable, hailing and raining. I was wearing a hooded jacket with a bandana underneath, and somewhere along the way the bandana fell off.
I kept running, but was thinking that if it got sunny, I would have to keep my hoodie on, which would just look weird. I’m a very active person and have always played competitive sports, and I’ve tried beanies, bandanas, scarves — but nothing was reliable. I eventually crowdsourced my friends, asking them where I could find a great hijab that would hold up while I was working out.
There was nothing out there — and that is when a light bulb went off in my head and I figured I would try to make my own.
You didn’t have any design experience before you started Sukoon. Were you at all hesitant before starting? How have your previous experiences prepared you for this role?
I have over five years of experience in the business development and real estate finance. So I was prepared for that aspect of starting a company.
But the design side was different. I had to learn as I went along, through trial and error. I knew I never wanted to experience anything like what happened in Washington D.C. ever again, so Sukoon Active started as a problem I was going to solve for myself.
I made our first prototype by cutting a Uniqlo tank top in half and sewing it together in the middle. I was thinking that the material is so breathable that it would be perfect, but it was way too slippery on my hair. That helped me figure out what qualities to look for in the fabrics I wanted to try. I knew a basic hand stitch, so I would go to the Fashion District in N.Y.C., buy some fabric, and glue or hand stitch pieces together to come up with the pattern. I would then take the prototype to the local tailor to help me with the next steps.
I educated myself on the quality and construction of different types of fabrics. It was a slow learning process, but eventually I came up with a prototype that worked.
How do you select the designs you want to sell?
My first idea was to only create hijabs, but like any small business, I knew I had to do my research. So I sent out a basic Google survey with just a few questions to some friends of mine.
I expected maybe 30 people to respond, but I got well over 250 responses! I thought to myself, I should’ve put some more questions on there! But the feedback was truly helpful. I realized that I didn’t want to exclude any woman that doesn’t wear hijab. Not all Muslim women wear hijab, but they still want to dress modestly.
They want higher necklines, longer sleeves, and a looser, but still stylish fit. So my team decided to include a couple different types of hijabs, a basic tee shirt and a bag. We plan to introduce pants, leggings, accessories and swimwear as the company grows.
How are you handling the marketing for Sukoon Active?
We basically are starting from the ground up. I have spent over a year getting the prototype perfect, doing market research, identifying our customers, and reaching out and surveying the market.
We’ve been lucky to partner up with some amazing brands and food organizations such as SoulCycle Soho, Dream, Girl and Kitchen3N. We have been preparing ourselves for any challenges, and most of all, gearing up for our launch with Kickstarter.
Tell me about Kickstarter. What are your goals and what do you plan to do with the pledges?
We decided to go the Kickstarter route because we are a small startup company and need pledges to help us with production. As of right now, our first ship out date is November 2016. We began Kickstarter in May 2016, and reached our goal of $10,000 in nine days!
We have nine days left to go, and are eager to give our customers more color options. If we reach $20,000, we’ll be able to introduce all shirts and hijabs in four fantastic colors. We also plan to use about $5,000 to help us build an easy-to-use website for our customers.
And as part of Sukoon’s charitable giving initiative, this Ramadan — we plan to match 10 percent of the funds raised and donate that to the Zaatari Taekwondo Academy, a non-profit organization based in Jordan that teaches Syrian refugee children martial arts.
We chose to partner with them because of the work they are doing to create a voice and outlet for girls. Using physical fitness as a tool to empower a generation of refugee women? We can get behind that!
What has been one of your proudest moments in business so far?
Getting to where we are today. At some point you have to decide to go forward with what you believe in. I’ve been blessed to have really good friends and family supporting, helping and mentoring in any way possible.
We’ve gotten a great response from the community, and I know that this is a needed, high quality product that will make women feel beautiful and confident.