“I had always been interested in aromatherapy but added herbalism, holistic skin care and holistic medicine. I was making most of my skincare at home and friends would often bring a tub around to fill with my latest potion.”
Catherine Clarke: When and how did the idea for Sunnah Skincare come about?
Ruqaiyyah Malak: The idea for Sunnah Skincare came about approximately five years ago when I first considered life after maternity leave from my job as a microbiologist. I spent a number of years researching formulations, sourcing good suppliers of raw materials and finishing some holistic courses I had started years earlier. I had always been interested in aromatherapy but added herbalism, holistic skin care and holistic medicine. I was making most of my skincare at home and friends would often bring a tub around to fill with my latest potion. A few suggested I should sell my products, and it started to seem like a good idea.
Around this time, I set up a charity in Manchester to help local women in need. Some were desperate for employment that they could fit in around their children and preferably do from home. That’s where the idea of a cooperative, rather than just a business started. I would formulate the recipes, and a group of us would make the products. All sisters would get a fair wage and we could use the profits for things needed by the charity and also support another charity.
CC: Can you give us an insight into the brand’s philosophy and ethos?
RM: Sunnah! We wanted to embody what the word sunnah means in everything. We buy our raw materials from fairtrade groups so the workers are not exploited and get a fair wage. We use recycled and easily recyclable packaging, don’t test on animals or use raw materials from companies who test on animals, or buy materials from companies who support organisations we don’t agree with. Sunnah skincare is organic and doesn’t contain alcohol, animal fats, or unsustainable or endangered ingredients. We aim to be friendly, honest and keep prices as low as we can whilst still supporting ourselves and others through charities. And the bonus – at least one ingredient from the sunnah is in every product we make – olive oil, blackseed oil, salt, yoghurt, vinegar, honey, milk, pomegranate, fruit extracts, essential oils etc.
CC: What (if any) practical challenges did you face in setting up the business?
RM: Two children under the age of two! I started the business expecting it to take a long time to build up a customer base. I naively thought I could work on the business for just a couple of hours every evening when the children were in bed. Sadly the reality was a little different, and I have spent many a night staying up until Fajr trying to get orders out on time and keep up to date with making batches and sorting paperwork!
CC: Did you have any previous experience working in natural skincare or running a business?
RM: I had very little previous business experience. I did a compliance course, which did have elements of business in there but very little. It has been a steep learning curve from day one, and continues to be so.
I have lots of experience in natural skincare as I have been making my own products for years. I started making products specifically to address certain problems such as hormonal skin, adult acne and eczema since becoming pregnant for the first time and having the children – both of whom suffered with dry skin conditions: one with eczema and one with psoriasis. If you see it on our website, it means it did what we hoped it would and worked for us, our friends and our volunteer guinea pigs!
CC: Is the Muslim market your sole focus or do you market the products to non-Muslims also?
RM: The Muslim market has been our sole focus to date for several reasons. Our initial budget did not stretch to advertising so we knew word-of-mouth would be essential for our business, and I have many friends and contacts among the local Muslim community, particularly the revert community. The name Sunnah Skincare should mean something to most Muslims who come across us. Also, from a business perspective, it is far better to start small and concentrate on a micro-niche (Muslim women) than just a niche (women) – it is much easier to get exposure to your target market when it is smaller. For us, we never intended to be a big company. We think small is better and like to give the personal touch where possible. I love it when customers come up to us at events and put a face to a name. Many of our customers I feel I know so well, even though we have never met – it’s like having one extended family. We do have stalls at local artisan markets, and it is nice to be able to engage with non-Muslims, especially in the current climate. It is good to mix business with daw’ah and show a positive side to Islam.
CC: What are the plans for the future of the business insha Allah?
RM: Our first big plan was to get premises so that local customers could browse before buying and come and get free skincare consultations. The bigger picture is to get premises big enough to house an organic café that would sell subsidised food so everyone can afford to eat good food, emergency accommodation for homeless sisters, and possibly a room or two for free classes and to offer to therapists and others in a similar line of business to us. Kind of an organic supermarket all under one roof!
Catherine Clarke is a history graduate living in Scotland with two young children. She has an interest in all things health, fitness and family related and is on a mission to banish the chemicals from her home.
Read More: Sampling the Delights of Sunnah Skincare