With an eye for fashion and marketing, Raheema Chachouai, BS’18, noticed a challenge among women looking for modest clothing or fashionable hijabs, the headscarves worn by Muslim women.
“Growing up Muslim in America, I found the options for modest clothing or clothing that is hijab-friendly for women who cover are minimal, and when you find options, they are extremely expensive or only available overseas,” says Raheema. “When I would like something that a friend was wearing, they’d always mention it was bought overseas.”
Raheema has been interested in business and entrepreneurship since taking a high school finance class. At the Kelley School of Business on the IUPUI campus, she majored in marketing, which tied back to her desire for helping people.
“I wanted to learn more about consumers and how they think. Why do they buy the things they buy? How do companies attract customers? How can I help people while also earning money?”
Raheema has a keen sense of fashion, often donning bright colors, bold earrings and Instagram-worthy makeup. She also has a marketing degree from the renowned Kelley School. During her last year in the Undergraduate Program in Indianapolis, Raheema started making her own scarves. Funded by a full-time job, Raheema decided to launch her own Hijab business.
“I was invited to attend a local art event in my community that showcased Muslim artists and designers, and it was essentially the first launch of my brand. I sold my most expensive scarf that night, among others, when I didn’t expect to sell anything. I realized at that moment, I could make money doing this,” she says. “I got started in the business somewhat accidentally but realized I loved it. I spent my last semester at the Kelley School connecting with classmates who were also going down the entrepreneurship path and building my brand.”
During her studies, Raheema joined the Women in Business organization, Muslim Student Association and the African Student Association at IUPUI. She took advantage of events at Kelley that featured entrepreneurs and women speakers by introducing herself and her business.
“I stayed connected with many of those individuals and sought out guidance about marketing careers or business in general. I gained some great insight,” she says. “Even today, I reference notes from my accounting classes to do my own business accounting. I am a one-woman show running my business, and I kept those notes because I knew one day, I’d have to figure out profit loss statements, accounts receivable and overhead costs. I reference those notes to see if I’m making revenue or profit.”
Even today, I reference notes from my accounting classes to do my own business accounting.”
Raheema launched HijabsSoForeign (HSF), an online headscarf store, and put the business name on her graduate cap at commencement. She designs vivid, colorful headscarves made from linen, satin, velvet and chiffon that range in price from $10 to $30. The company name addresses directly the misconceptions about hijabs—and Islam—with which Raheema has grown familiar.
“Unfortunately, the hijab is still such a foreign concept for so many people across the world,” she says. “I thought: Why not use my fashion sense, my entrepreneurial drive and my marketing skills to push the brand and awareness in that way?”
And with each hijab, Raheema is having a conversation with a community that may not understand her fashion or her culture. On the HijabsSoForeign website, photos feature fellow students modeling her brand. Each interaction with someone new to headscarves gives them the opportunity to learn about Raheema, HSF and her background.
“Many people don’t have the opportunity to be exposed to diverse groups. I’m fortunate to have two parents from completely opposite sides of the world—Morocco and the United States—and this forced me to see and understand different cultures. Being in my Muslim community also helped me to understand people who speak with accents and recognize where they’re from, just based on their name. I think that global perspective and understanding is important everywhere–from the corporate world to college—and missing out on those opportunities limits your ability to connect with others and grow.”
That global perspective and understanding is important everywhere–from the corporate world to college.”
With a drive and personality that matches her vibrant and approachable designs, Raheema feels that educating others around her is an important responsibility.
“Because I’m outgoing, because I answer questions and because I’m not offended when people ask me questions, I know I can really influence someone’s perspective, actions and overall experience with people who are different from me,” she says.
For her part, Raheema sought to make HSF as open to others’ experiences as she is. Recognizing that there are many non-Muslim women who wear headscarves, she works to make her brand and its image inclusive to all women.
“I wanted to create a brand that wasn’t just for Muslim women but women who enjoy covering their hair. In many cultures, women cover their hair for cultural or personal styles, and I wanted to have a space that was inclusive in reaching all types of women.”
During the day, Raheema is a marketing analyst for Cummins, Inc. She remains close with friends and colleagues from IUPUI and even had her first fashion show for HSF on campus. She encourages other students with entrepreneurial dreams to find and connect with mentors.
“It doesn’t necessarily have to be a businessperson from the field you’re interested in but find and connect with someone who has built something from the ground up,” she says. “Whether it’s getting to know a family business or interning at a small startup, get all the hands-on experience you can find. It will help you anticipate the road ahead of you.”