Not many couples come up with a business idea on their honeymoon, but Sharmeen Arain and Rax Huq are not your average couple.
Arain and Huq are the creative spirit and business nous behind Aleeyas, a Sydney-based shoe label. It was founded in August 2011 but only launched in September last year.
“I completely love my shoes, but I needed to downscale the number of pairs I was carrying in my suitcase fast,” Arain says.
“And yet I thought there must be a way to modify one pair of shoes to match different fashion needs.”
Arain talks to StartupSmart about what it’s like being in business as a married couple, and why a YouTube video was one of the best investments the business ever made.
You say you’ve come up with the perfect summer sandal idea. What is it?
Aleeyas sandals are exquisite leather sandals with interchangeable jeweled tops, which are sold in sets, giving you two pairs of shoes in one.
You can swap the top of your sandal to match your mood or your outfit.
What convinced you there was a demand for this?
From my travels overseas, we came up with the idea of multiple shoes in one. From there, we knew we were onto something unique.
How did you fund the business and what were your start-up costs?
The business is privately funded. Our start-up costs included samples, designs, overseas travel, inventory, and, of course, our website and marketing.
We will definitely be looking into external funding in the future to really take the business to the next level.
How many staff do you have?
Myself and my husband, Rax Huq. We have had a lot of support from friends who work within the digital media space who have helped us along the way to get to where we are now.
Once the business grows further, we plan to hire a fashion/digital intern to help us manage day-to-day activities.
How do you promote the business?
Aleeyas is promoted predominantly online. We are very active in the social media space, particularly with Facebook and Instagram.
We also run some paid search on Google and have a YouTube advertisement running, which has had over 20,000 views.
Producing a video was one of the best investments we made – it explains how our product works and we also run this on our website under our ‘How It Works’ page.
We have also been fortunate to have numerous young Australian fashion bloggers write about us, which has helped raise our profile within the fashion space.
What are your revenue projections for 2012/13?
As our business is still very new, it is too early to work on revenue projections for the year.
Our goal is to raise awareness and build our brand – raise our profile amongst our target demographic and educate women about Aleeyas.
We are focused on building a community/following through social media and increase traffic to our website.
We are happy to be offering a gorgeous, unique product, and the sales thus far have been beyond our expectations.
You and your husband travel extensively. How does this influence your designs?
We were inspired by the beautiful jewels we saw from our travels, particularly in Morocco, Spain, Turkey and India.
I love bling and absolutely adored the jewellery in some of these exotic places – the stones, crystals and glass were amazing.
We definitely wanted to incorporate some of that glamour and sparkle into our designs.
And what’s it like being in business as a married couple?
We love being in business together. We learn something new from each other every day, and are constantly sharing new ideas.
Sometimes it is hard to switch off from work and just enjoy life but the business is very new and growing every day, so there’s always something to work on.
We also have different roles within the business. I focus on the shoe designs and customer interaction/social media, and Rax takes care of the digital marketing and the finance/admin side of the business – the paperwork.
What has been your greatest challenge and how did you overcome it?
Our greatest challenge was getting our product perfect. It was quite difficult to find a manufacturer who was able to grasp our concept of interchangeable jeweled sandals.
We also had to ensure the quality was impeccable, which includes only glass/crystal stones and working with 100% leather products.
This was our greatest challenge and the most time-consuming. Once we found the right people to work with, the ball really started rolling.
What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs in fashion retail?
It is a difficult industry/market to enter as there is a lot of competition and there’s always a hot new label. Our advice is to build your brand and stay optimistic.
If you have a fantastic product and truly believe in it, it’s only a matter of time before everyone else will think so too.
Photographs are also very important with fashion retail. Your eCommerce photos and website need to reflect the quality of your product.