Sofia Al Asfoor; a young Bahraini name emerging from a mixed culture of power and creativity. She is contemporary, highly expecting, challenging and daring. She is beyond passionate about leather, the craftsmanship of bags and everything in between. She is rooted to the Arabian world and continues to explore borders.
Startup MGZN met with young Bahraini entrepreneur Sofia Al Asfoor for an exclusive one-on-one for all of you young business brainiacs out there.
Sofia, when did you realize you had a passion for fashion?
Ever since I was a child! I would spend most of my free time painting or buying fabrics from the souq to make my own clothes and constantly cutting things up and putting them back together. I would always find so much joy in creating, till today, even though I am up to my head at work, I’ll still buy fabric and make my own things.
As for my passion in accessories, it’s like entering a whole other level. First felt at university when I started to get hands on with the tools and the drawing board. With that came a vision and a sensation of inner ambition that has not allowed anything to stop me.
What’s your educational background?
I attended a local school here in Bahrain until I set my way to university. From then on I have been lucky to experience and interact with cultures from around the globe in major fashion capital cities, Milan, London and New York.
Introduce us to your designs.
Belonging to the Shield Collection, a range of designs emerge from soft and sensuous skins; The Classic Shield and The Exotic Shield, so luxurious they empower the mind, heart and soul.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
Whilst working on my Final project during my year in London, I spent few weeks walking around the streets of London with my camera taking photos of anything that caught my attention from water puddles to buildings. There was one window display that caught my eye that was a piece of art/architectural work; from there I went deeper into the exploration of textures, origami and anything that my mind perceived. From then on, I spent hours cutting and stitching all sorts of materials, teachers telling me to change my direction, I have lost count of how many times someone said to me ‘It’s not possible’, but I stuck with it until there it was, my first handbag.
Is this your first working experience in the world of business or did you have a previous regular job?
Growing up I was always expected to go into my father’s company, I would stand by his side most weekends during high school or I would be in trouble otherwise, and because of that I have seen and learnt so much, from architecture to perfumery and even watches, the list goes on. While I was at London College of Fashion, I did an internship with a ‘new’ designer at the time, JW Anderson, which today I am glad to see has been making his mark in the fashion scene. I have absolutely gained a lot of knowledge in a variety of domains that uniquely benefited me during my own time establishing my own products.
Do you think being an entrepreneur with all risks involved is better than having a job with regular income?
Yes, because you are building something for yourself where there is always more self satisfaction. Nothing good in this world comes easy, it’s all part of the excitement even with all the risk and worry, the smile of fulfilment it delivers is so much more personal and gratifying.
What’s your target market and do you plan on expand?
There is no limit to a customer. I design for the elegant & confident woman. A woman who appreciates quality, knows what she wants and how to make a statement. I focus on individuality, timeless elegance & luxury.
How did you fund your project and how did you successfully manage the financial aspect of your business as a start up?
It was difficult but not impossible! I started off with deciding to go onto the UNIDO entrepreneurial program to help guide me along the way. I managed to get a loan that only covered up the huge expense for my development and first production.
With sales slowly increasing, I am able to move on and progress more and with time, venture into new dreams that I am yet to achieve.
Every success story starts with some struggles, so tell us what kind of obstacles and difficulties did you face and how did you overcome all of it?
Being a new designer brand within the contemporary luxury playground is a challenge as competition is high and the clientele is very demanding. This is a constant challenge that my hard work, designs, clients and fan base justify. As for life as a new designer, risk is a major part of the game. There are many examples within the International market to learn from but it has been a continuous roller coaster for me from every angle.
Who is your supporter and confidence-booster since your beginnings?
I am fortunate to have had my father to support me growing up until I decided to take my own path, where I received tremendous support from friends and coverage from the local media. I would also like to truly thank Sheron Hujair, Ali Al Rifaii and Shooq AlShawi for being by my side.
Being a young Bahraini Entrepreneur, what piece of advice would you like to share with our readers?
Everything is possible, dreams do come true, there is no easy way, so buckle up, go with your gut instinct and be persistent.
This is also available in Arabic if you'd like.