New York University, Stern School of Business
Industry: Modest Fashion
Founding Student Name(s): Mariam Ouedraogo
Brief Description of Solution: Ouéd Collections is a champion in empowering and inspiring Muslim women to unapologetically wear their hijab and jilbab. Ouéd Collections believes modest fashion belongs in every room and at every table from business, to the college classroom, to the masjid.
What led you to launch this venture? Many American Muslim women have grown up seeing images of Muslim women being depicted as oppressed or weak. This stereotype promotes islamophobia and causes many Muslim Women around the world to denounce the hijab and conform so that we aren’t associated with war and victimization.
However, in recent years, Muslim women have begun to challenge these media depictions. We are questioning back, asking, “What is society’s obsession with wanting to uncover Muslim women?” Now with increased access to self-publishing tools, we have turned to telling our own narratives through Instagram, Twitter, blogs and even through our businesses (like Ouéd Collections).
I launched Ouéd Collections in this unique moment of change and women’s empowerment. I started wearing my jilbab in my sophomore year of high school, a charter school in Newark, NJ, that required a uniform. As I decided to switch from wearing my uniform to wearing my jllbab, I shared my journey on Instagram, where I connected with other Muslim girls that said they were inspired by me and my story. Ouéd started with me selling just a few garments a month and has now grown to me shipping 500 garments over the past several years all across the world. Ouéd is inspiring a movement of Muslim women to be empowered and unapologetic in their hijab.
What has been your biggest accomplishment so far with venture? I’m particularly proud of the sheer volume of demand and the widespread (global) interest in my products and social movement.
How has your business-related major helped you further this startup venture? I am a student in the Business, Technology and Entrepreneurship Program at NYU Stern. This degree program is packed with experiential learning opportunities that have allowed for me to implement what I’ve learned as early as my freshman year of college. I learned about the importance of customer relationship systems in my information technology class and worked on a garment guide alongside our rebrand with one of my BTE colleagues for the Ouéd Collections website, Ouissam, over the summer.
Which business class has been most valuable in building your startup and what was the biggest lesson you gained from it? Our BTE immersion classes taught by Professor Ashish Bhatia have been most valuable in growing my startup. This class has a particular emphasis on experiential learning, effectuation theory, and design thinking. The biggest lesson that I learned from this class is to embrace the unknown when it comes to the ideation process of entrepreneurship. With Ouéd Collections, my main focus has always been to find innovative ways to market the jilbab so that we can fulfill our mission. This process can be very stressful as the possibilities are endless, but my BTE immersion class taught me to embrace the uncertainty by practicing the design thinking method. With design thinking, I can generate lots of new ideas, accept that many will fail, and learn and iterate on my products to create a cycle of improvement.
What business professor made a significant contribution to your plans and why? Without a doubt Professor Bhatia has had a significant contribution to my business. One of the most memorable moments with Professor Bhatia was when we had our first town hall meeting after our first BTE Design Sprint. Professor Bhatia wore a shirt titled “There are artists among us.” He expressed at the meeting the importance of gaining inspiration from the world around us and not restricting our creative processes to the NYU classroom.
Professor Bhatia is particularly passionate about teaching our cohort to embrace non-linear, entrepreneurial thinking, which is an approach I adopted in my own practices even before being accepted into the BTE program. I am deeply focused on how I can use the entrepreneurial skills I learned in my classes to advance my mission for my business.
While my best-selling product isn’t a game-changing software or new technological product, my products have changed the lives of many young Muslim women who were once afraid, which is a basic human right for anyone to feel they can follow their religion.
I was captivated by Professor Bhatia’s way of thinking and made an effort to go to his office hours almost every week. I’ve done pitches of my company to large student groups, developed long-term plans for my business, and recently led a team rebrand project over the summer with one of my peers at NYU.
What founder or entrepreneur inspired you to start your own entrepreneurial journey? How did he or she prove motivational to you? Virgil Abloh has inspired many of the creative processes that go behind the scenes at Ouéd. Virgil Abloh broke barriers that seemed impossible for young Africans by being the Creative Director for menswear at the house of Louis Vuitton while also being the founder of his own luxury line, Off White. Virgil Abloh has made great accomplishments in the fashion world but he surprisingly graduated from the University of Wisconsin with a Bachelor of Civil Engineering and a Master’ of Architecture from the Illinois Institute of Technology. Virgil’s path to success was nowhere near linear, but he was able to connect the dots across different sectors that would help him fulfill his purpose. Virgil’s purpose can be interpreted in many ways by his supporters, but he inspires young people, especially marginalized people, to defeat the odds and reshape our narratives from the stereotypes placed on us.
As a Black Muslim fashion entrepreneur in a tech-based world, it is easy for me to feel out of place. But Virgil Abloh’s story reminds me again and again that the world is our classroom and there is a beauty in being delusional enough to create your own lanes and safe places for people of your community.
What is your long-term goal with your startup? My long-term goal will always be the same and that is to continue to motivate and inspire Muslim women to gain the confidence to wear their religious garments. The goal of Ouéd Collections goes beyond selling thousands of garments. My goal is to touch and move thousands of hearts.
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