#5. Sherry Qureshy: Halal Socks
About This Episode
In 2017 the husband and wife duo, Sherry and Sara Qureshy co-founded Halal Socks. Sara wanted to get some festive Eid Mubarak socks for her husband as a gift. Searching all over the internet she could not find anything. She found many festive socks for other seasonal and religious holidays but nothing for Eid or any other Islamic holidays for that matter. She eventually gave up looking for them. One day her creative juices started to flow when she was doodling while they both watched TV. She came up with a sock design saying Eid Mubarak. Sherry really liked the design. He sketched the design into Photoshop and they had mocked up their first design.
Opening Question – If you could have super socks, what would make them super?
Not taking it seriously yet, they wanted to see how this would look on a pair of socks. They found someone locally in Toronto that would be able to manufacture the socks as a prototype. It cost them $100 to make. Sherry wore his new sock to his local mosque the following Friday for Jumu’ah (Friday Prayer in Islam).
Sherry initially received a lot of negative feedback about the socks. People made comments that they were ‘haram’ (forbidden) since they said Eid Mubarak or they were ‘haram’ because they had Arabic writing on them. Sherry and Sara were surprised by the feedback and did not want to embark on a project that is forbidden and making a mockery of their beloved religion. They sought the advice of local Imams and professionals within Toronto. The advice was positive. They took on suggestions for changes and soon Halal Socks was created.
Being brought up in Toronto, Canada, both Sherry and Sara’s parents were always actively involved within their local mosque and surrounding communities. Sherry and Sara would often help out and volunteer. Sherry highlights the importance of this and how this instilled their community spirit mindset within their own lives and the values behind their brand.
Running a business with your spouse can be difficult. Sherry describes how the couple manage with their three year old son. They get a lot of support from their family. Sherry also shares how their son takes part in coming up with ideas. Some of those ideas have been brought to life. A new kids range of socks will be launched soon, some of the designs are inspired by their son.
Always thinking about socks
Sherry also talks about how he and Sara work together and the need to disconnect from the business sometimes. They constantly are thinking about socks! When they go to dinners, when he is driving, when they talk, all they think about is socks. It’s a big part of their life and as things progress and develop they can look for time to start finding a better balance. For now it’s full socks ahead!
The couple both bring strengths to the business and these balance out perfectly for them. Sara is the creative cat of the business, focusing on design, colour schemes, photoshoots and managing social media. Sherry focuses on operations such as all logistics, coordinating with suppliers and ensuring all the technical aspects of the business are functioning well.
“I kept failing until now”
Halal Socks is Sherry’s eighth startup. He has always had the entrepreneurial spirit. His previous seven startups were software focussed. From each failure, he took the lessons learnt and used them as stepping stones. The biggest lesson for him from the previous startups is having a cause or purpose behind what you are trying to achieve. This transpired to Halal Socks where they established the three core principles for their brand aligned with their own:
- Celebrate Islam
- Fighting Islamophobia
- Giving back to the community
With a technical background it always felt like going into developing software / apps was the right thing to do for Sherry, hence his previous seven startups were software focused. He shares the challenges within the industry and how difficult it is. However he learnt many lessons from these experiences and one of these was that the product needs to be perfect.
Thanks to Halal Socks
Sherry goes on to share an email from a customer after the they saw Justin Trudeau wearing the socks, he was thanking Halal Socks for letting him know about Islam after they had looked up at what the Eid Mubarak meant (which were the socks Justin Trudeau wore).
Sherry explains the steps involved from design to production. Getting feedback on your product is important but Sherry mentions how you cannot please everyone. He tells a story of one particularly upset person who felt that the socks were insulting her flag. With a bit of diplomacy, Sherry was able to explain to the person how the socks were not offensive. In the end, people are entitled to their views but you need to know which customers from the spectrum you are targeting.
The Halal Socks branding really stands out and Sherry shares his views on why having a fun and light hearted approach supports their overall principles.
Justin Trudeau wears Halal Socks!
So Justin Trudeau wore these Halal Socks…twice in public! Sherry explains the back story of how this happened and how unexpected it was for them to see the Canadian Prime Minister wearing their socks twice, once on a pre-Eid event and the other during gay pride. Yes, you read that right! This led to a huge exposure for the young entrepreneurs.
Sherry shares details of all the interest this attracted – trending on twitter, being on the news, Time magazine, media requests and a surge of interest from non-Muslim customers. There was also some controversy. The Canadian PM wore the sock on Gay Pride. Sherry and Sara went back to the Muslim leaders for advice and the Muslim leaders provided a positive statement.
Sherry shares a few stories from non-Muslims being interested in their product on the back of the recent euphoria. One of the stories was of a small business owner ordering 10 pairs of socks so that his employees can join in with celebrating Eid with their Muslim colleague. This reinforced Sherry and Sara that their socks were fulfilling their ultimate aim, celebrating Islam and overcoming the Islamaphobic barriers.
Quick Fire round:
Socks on or off when sleeping?
Stars and stripes or union jack socks?
Mix and match socks or pairs?
What’s your personal favourite sock?
You were given the chance to speak to your local Muslim Community, what is your message?
Don’t miss the great offer for 10% off your order!!
- You would not believe the feedback we got, people would say the socks were haram because they said Eid Mubarak or they had arabic writing on them [6:55]
- Sarah is the creative one behind the business and I am working on the technical side making sure everything works. One won’t work without the other, we need each other [15:40]
- I have had eight different startups, everytime I learnt what not do to, everytime took me a step further [17:40]
- We wanted to celebrate Islam, fight Islamophobia and give back to the community. These three things are core to our brand [19:30]
- When I would wear the socks a lot of non-muslims would ask about the socks. This would give me the opportunity to educate them about Islam [20:13]
- I had so many different startups and one of the biggest things I learnt is that the product needs to be perfect, as an example the packaging we prototyped it five times [23:15]
- Our core values are part of this business, to give dawah, to give to the community, those values are core to us as Muslim, this business aligns to those personal beliefs [24:15]
- A big reason why people hesitate around starting a business because of what other people may think. Or they don’t fully believe in themselves . Just believe in yourself. Take a risk and don’t worry what other people think.
- There was a non-muslim who purchased 10 pairs of socks, he did this as one colleague was muslim. On eid they had a party and they all wear the socks, this shows how the socks can make people feel inclusive [35:45]
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