We’re pleased to announce Sana Mahmood as AM Women’s ninth Muslim Woman of the Month!
Sana Mahmood is the founder of Veiled Beaut, one of the leading hijab brands in the U.S. Through her philanthropic efforts, the brand has evolved into much more than just the business of selling hijabs, but into one that is devoted to serving the community in all aspects.
Leading these efforts, Sana is truly a force for positive change and good service herself. She is the perfect example of someone who represents Islam not only by name, but by action, too. Born and raised in Alexandria, Virginia by her Pakistani immigrant parents, Sana’s passion for entrepreneurship and community service was greatly influenced by the hard work of her parents and the efforts they made to help others.
With that in mind and heart, she aspires to continue emulating those same efforts and to serve a purpose beyond herself through Veiled Beaut. By making women’s empowerment, faith, and social justice the core values of her brand, she is offering products and campaigns that truly make a difference in the lives of those who need them.
Sana received a double bachelor’s degree in Information Systems and Operations, Management, and Marketing at George Mason University, where she launched Veiled Beaut in her junior year. She also participated in the university’s Summer Entrepreneurship Accelerator program in order to take her startup to the next level.
Veiled Beaut has grown immensely since its start, but some things that have not changed are the exceptional products and services they have successfully offered from the very beginning, along with their continued work implementing and inspiring positive change. They offer a range of fabrics including modal, cotton, viscose, jersey, and chiffon, and their prices range from $10.75 for a viscose hijab, to $13.95 for a jersey hijab, or between $30 and $55 for their hijab bundles.
In our chat, Sana shares her journey with Veiled Beaut, as well as the various humanitarian campaigns, programs, and services she has offered, including her brand’s Purchase with a Purpose policy, and the Muslim Women Scholarship they recently offered for the first time ever. She also discusses her values and advice as a Muslim entrepreneur, as well as her future goals for Veiled Beaut.
Read on to learn more about this empowering, powerhouse of a Muslim woman, entrepreneur, and leader, and to find out what more she has in store for Veiled Beaut!
Why did you create Veiled Beaut?
It was my junior year of college, and I had just started wearing hijab about a year prior. Trying to find a brand that resonated with my own values and beliefs was very difficult for me. Granted at that time, there were only a handful of companies. Now, Alhamdulillah, there are so many, and I wish them all great success, but I do think there’s a gray line between conducting business in a Western country versus the actual fiqh of how to conduct business.
You have all these Muslim businesses that are selling hijabs or modest clothing to Muslim women, and it’s just all about the product. It’s all about selling. We’ve created this foundation of selling on the basis of faith, basically selling faith-based products, but have extracted faith from the equation. So, with the values that I grew up with, I really wanted to see a brand that went a little above and beyond, and had future generations in mind.
Obviously buying, selling, and making a profit is a big part of it, but it’s not my driving factor. My driving factor is providing exceptional products and being a channel for people to enjoin in good. I truly believe that there is immense barakah when you do something for the sake of Allah (swt) than for the sake of other people.
I always knew that I wanted to do some type of entrepreneurship. My parents both, and my brothers as well– big entrepreneurs. I say it’s kind of in my blood. I also have seen the immense benefit that comes with entrepreneurship. It’s the perfect balance of being able to stay home and take care of my child, but also having something just for me that I can grow and make my own income from. I can dictate how much I want to grow or who I want to work with.
I think that starting your business, as difficult as it can be, there’s a lot of barakah that comes with it. There’s a lot of wisdom. You kind of go at your own pace. If your kids are super small, and you’re not able to dedicate as much time, that’s fine, your business will still be growing. That’s not something I felt in the corporate world. I felt like I was just working for the system and not for a greater purpose. So after getting closer to my deen, wearing the hijab, and seeing a need for this type of business and these kinds of products, I started VB from there.
How would you define Veiled Beaut’s purpose and mission?
We’re a brand that’s invested in the success of every individual, whether that means providing them with products that are affordable, high-quality, and fulfill their needs and religious obligations, or creating content that makes our customers more aware and mindful of their actions.
Aside from that, we really strive to be a channel of good, and we encourage societal upliftment. We’re really big on mental health, and making sure that people are taking time to reflect and take care of themselves. They say self-care is the best kind of love that you can implement for yourself because you can’t pour from an empty cup. We’re there as a small reminder and encourager of that. So, I really see service as being the core and the foundation of our brand.
“In that journey and in that process of seeing them work so hard for not only their kids, but other people, I gained this immense responsibility of doing something with the privilege that I was given.”
I love that it’s a brand really catered to the needs of Muslim women, and that is very apparent from the scholarship that you recently offered, which is such an amazing initiative! What led you to creating the scholarship program, and how did it go?
We have over 500 applications. This is the first year we’re doing it, so I didn’t think more than 100 or 200 people would apply, but that just goes to show you the immense need in our community, and how there really is no system in place for our Muslim youth. For the people whose parents really can’t help them out, and they have to work to make ends meet, it’s incredibly tough.
I came from immigrant parents, and they worked extremely hard for the life that my brothers and I have. I really saw their struggle and their dedication to just keep going, and Alhamdulillah, I didn’t have to worry about paying for tuition. In that journey and in that process of seeing them work so hard for not only their kids, but other people, I gained this immense responsibility of doing something with the privilege that I was given.
That’s how this scholarship came to be. It’s something that I had always wanted to do, but with the recent impacts and effects of COVID, I was like, “It’s now or never.” This is the time where we roll up our sleeves, we get together, and we help each other out. Another hope of mine was to inspire others who are in a much better position than we were to implement similar efforts, and hopefully, this will create a domino effect of positive change.
What does the scholarship offer and to whom?
We have 10 grants in which 10 Muslim women will receive $1,000 grants. Half of those will be for small business owners, and the other half will be for education. Alongside that, in recent months, so much has come to light in regards to the Black Lives Matter Movement. We came to learn that these racial injustices aren’t just happening on a face-to-face basis, but really in all aspects of life, and how, in a very heavily non-Black dominated modest fashion industry, there’s been a lot of disrespect, like not paying Black women as much as other women, for example.
I’ve always been a strong advocate for social justice. From a young age, I worked closely with different nonprofits. This really tugs at my heart because even though we all knew about the daily racial injustices that occur towards our Black brothers and sisters, I think we were all blind to the extent at which it occurs in all aspects, not just when it comes to police brutality.
“There really aren’t enough words to describe how I felt, and how it impacted my life.”
Just doing research, Black women are a lot less likely to receive a scholarship than a White applicant who has the same credentials simply based on their name. This was very unsettling for me, so we wanted to provide and pledge that half of our grants will be going towards Black Muslim women in an effort to further provide opportunity to this heavily-marginalized group.
After seeing the immense need in our community, we decided that, Inshallah, we will make this a yearly program, where we are offering a scholarship on a yearly basis. Hopefully, as we grow, we can increase the number of grants that we give. This scholarship is very near and dear to Veiled Beaut, and is everything that it stands for– really pushing the empowerment of Muslim women and notion of service.
Mashallah, that’s amazing and so commendable of you to do. In addition to the scholarship, what are some other ways that your brand gives back to the community and makes a positive social difference?
When I first started Veiled Beaut, I had just went on a trip with Helping Hand USA to Jordan. I volunteered with Syrian and Palestinian refugees. We went to different camps and played with so many children. There really aren’t enough words to describe how I felt, and how it impacted my life.
When I came back, we implemented a donation policy. 10% of our profits would go towards sponsoring refugee orphans. This was solely because I see the immense value of education and opportunity, and I also saw, firsthand, how disconnected we are. It’s one thing to actually see various injustices, and it’s very different to see it on social media and the news. I think it’s something that we’ve become a little desensitized to because it’s constantly on our feeds, it’s constantly on the news, but it’s different when you actually see it in person, and when you interact with these people.
When I think of the refugee crisis, I have specific children that come to mind– their names, their faces, their personalities. So, it was very important for me to not only raise awareness, but also to do my part. We did various social campaigns raising awareness of the refugee crisis.
We also partnered with other various organizations to raise awareness about other issues. For example, there was Project Warm Hearts, where we donated winter scarves. At that time, it was the ongoing fight at the pipeline in North Dakota. So we were working with an activist who went there and did a whole documentary series, and we used our platform to raise awareness of that issue.
We worked with a local organization, MOZAIC, who helps Syrian refugees settle in the DMV area. We raised money to buy them brand new Eid outfits and hijabs. So we do various things to stay connected to our community to hone in on our value of encouraging societal upliftment.
We not only do this for ourselves, but we do this on our platforms to encourage the notion that it’s our responsibility living in this country. I think everyone has a sense of privilege. Just having food, shelter, and clothing, you’re amongst the richest people in the world. So we really push these efforts to show our online community that any little effort that you make, whether it’s a $5 donation, or texting, resharing, or reposting–just raising awareness– all of it matters. All of it impacts the greater good.
“Your rizq, meaning whatever has been written for you, will not pass you. If you’re meant to be the first this or the first that, or a millionaire, that will reach you.”
It’s amazing that your brand is working to help make actual change for the communities that really need it. In your opinion, what work still needs to be done in the industry, and what can Muslim brands, small businesses, and influencers do to continue making more positive change for the greater Muslim community?
First, I think there’s a lot of competition. Everyone’s racing to be the first Muslim to do this, the first Muslim brand to do that, and in this process of being the first, we’re forgetting the fundamental values of Islamic business.
Your rizq, meaning whatever has been written for you, will not pass you. If you’re meant to be the first this or the first that, or a millionaire, that will reach you. You helping out other people will not decrease your own rizq. In fact, it might even increase it because of the barakah and the good intentions that you have.
Finding a mentor has been very difficult, and it really does stem back to this idea of, “If I share my secrets, then that person will do better than me.” So, the first thing is letting go of this scarcity mindset, and just coming together and helping each other.
The second thing would be: raise your voice. Use your platform for things that matter. There’s no excuse for not speaking about the injustices that are occurring because it’s not “on brand.” A lot of not only brands, but influencers struggle with this. Having a following of whether it be 5,000 or 5 million people, that is an amanah. Everything that you push out, your content or your wording, you are influencing the minds of all those people.
I genuinely think that if we start to see not only our businesses, but our influencers speak about things that their own community is dealing with on a daily basis, we’ll be able to see a positive shift. As great as an aesthetically pleasing layout is, it’s not reality because life is not picture perfect.
I completely agree, and Inshallah your work and words will motivate others to work towards making those changes happen. In addition to these positive efforts, how does your brand practice genuine inclusivity and diversity?
To be honest, this has been a journey. Sometimes, when you’re not directly impacted by something, it’s a little bit harder to see at times. I think it goes hand-in-hand with my own personal development.
When I started this brand, I was 21. I was a kid in college. I had no idea what I was doing. So, diversity and inclusion weren’t the first things on my mind. As I started to grow as an adult and as a person, I was like, “Hold up Sana, there are so many things that are not right here.” And that’s perfectly okay. There needs to be some room for growth, and an understanding that you don’t know everything. You will not know everything, but you need to be open-minded, and open to the idea of change.
Alhamdulillah, fast forward four years later, and we’ve learned a lot. One thing that we do continuously is we speak to our followers, our customers, and have open, candid conversations. We often do weekly check-ins on our Insta stories, or we’ll ask people about their day, like, “What’s bothering you today?”
“We are pushing this notion of loving yourself and loving your process, and dismantling this Western idea of what it means to be beautiful.”
That has led to a lot of understanding about different perspectives and also our demographic. Who’s following us? What issues are people dealing with? What would they like to see more of? What are we not doing so great at that we should take a look at? I think that’s really the only way to grow, learn, and create a business that is truly meant for the masses.
When it comes to models, and this goes back to why I started VB in the first place, is when I’m shopping online, and I see this tall, skinny, beautiful, professional model wearing something, and I order it thinking I’m going to look just like that, and I don’t, that leads to a lot of, not only disappointment, but issues with this ideal standard of beauty that’s also being perpetuated within the Muslim community as well. So, we don’t use professional models. We use everyday women because that’s really what makes up the majority of Muslim women–the student or the mother, just everyday individuals.
We are pushing this notion of loving yourself and loving your process, and dismantling this Western idea of what it means to be beautiful. It’s a work in progress. This is something that is continuing to evolve as we grow as a business, as we grow as individuals. But I’m proud to say that we’ve grown a lot.
You are doing an amazing job, and I can really relate to that need you felt. As a veiled Muslim entrepreneur, what are some obstacles you have faced?
I don’t think there have been many obstacles relating to me wearing hijab, Alhamdulillah. Granted, we are working in a Muslim market, so being a veiled woman is a lot easier. But even when I worked in corporate, I was the only hijabi. I was normally the only hijabi in my classes as well, but I truly never felt like it held me back. If anything, I felt like my hijab fueled my motivation and my passion.
An obstacle would have to be coming to terms with the reality of the Muslim community not being as collaborative as I thought it would be. I grew up in a very tight-knit community. So, when I think of the Muslim community, I think of people who are always there to support you, and people who want to see you succeed, that’ll jump to help you if you need it.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case, and that’s a really harsh reality to experience when you’re so young. That is also one of the motivating factors as to why I do what I do. So, my obstacle has to be navigating working within this Muslim industry because there is so much competition. Alhamdulillah, I am starting to see a positive mindset shift of inclusivity, working together, and helping each other out, so I’m hopeful.
“Life is too short to work your life away. I genuinely believe that we’re not living for this dunya, and every minute, every second counts.”
What keeps you motivated and going?
One, my desire for leading positive change. Running a business can be very difficult. Even though I went to business school, and I might have learned the proper vocabulary, no one can really teach you how to run a business. It’s very difficult because there are so many factors that are out of your control. But Alhamdulillah, I think this is where faith comes in. This is where courage comes in.
If my number one motivating factor was to make money, I don’t think I would continue doing this because it’s just so up and down. Especially everything that happened with COVID, so many businesses were impacted by this. It’s been a very tough time. So if my motivation wasn’t beyond material means, I think I probably would have given in by now.
Having this business for four years, I’ve seen the possibility and the positive effects that come with pushing this notion of good, encouragement, and collaboration over competition. Everything that I do, I have the future generations in mind, especially now that I have my own son. I want to be a positive force so that when he grows up, and wants to start a business, or whatever he wants to do, I want him to do it with others in mind.
The second thing would have to be, I don’t want to let go of the freedom that I have running my own business. I can set my own hours. I’m able to be present for my family and friends. In corporate, I’ve seen and experienced how it can really suck the life out of you.
But now, I have the freedom to do whatever I want to do, work on whatever projects I want to work on, and that in itself is a privilege and a luxury, Alhamdulillah. Although it takes quite a bit of time to make enough money to do that, I think it’s definitely worth it. Life is too short to work your life away. I genuinely believe that we’re not living for this dunya, and every minute, every second counts.
“So, just start, have patience, and make sure that whatever you do, your intentions and your purpose go beyond yourself.”
Exactly, I feel the same way, and I love that you measure your business’s success not in terms of money, but in terms of the impact it’s making. What advice do you have for women looking to become entrepreneurs or to start a brand similar to yours?
Just start. That’s the number one advice I have for anyone and everyone because, especially as women, we want everything to be perfect, but no matter how much you wait for things to be perfect, you will remain waiting forever because things will never be perfect. There will always be a better way to take pictures or a better way to utilize your website, etc.
That’s the beauty of entrepreneurship– it’s evolving, it’s ever-changing. As you grow, your business will grow. So, just start, have patience, and make sure that whatever you do, your intentions and your purpose go beyond yourself.
Making money is a big part of business. But it shouldn’t be your number one motivator because you will give up, especially that first year, you’re making so many mistakes and you’re learning so much. It can be very difficult. But if you stick with it, Inshallah it will be a source of good for you and your family.
Inshallah! Thank you for that advice. It’s really helpful, and is something I wish I told myself years ago, when I first had the idea to create the magazine! As far as growth and potential go, what can customers expect to see from Veiled Beaut in the future? How are you looking to expand and grow your brand?
We are releasing a new and improved modal fabric, and also new premium cottons. In the springtime, we’ll be releasing three to four new fabrics as well. Our goal really is to be the brand where you can find everything at an affordable price, and the quality will be amazing. So definitely expect more fabrics, colors, and more options.
For the second question, I’m a firm believer in organic growth, especially as a faith-based company. Personally, I think once you start bringing on investors and people who don’t really understand your brand, but see that you’re making money, their only intention is to make more money. That goes against our personal values and beliefs because our belief is that if you do things with the right intentions, and in the right way, Allah (swt) will put barakah in whatever you do.
Also, with the added stress of having investors and stockholder meetings, things get a little more complicated. So even though organic growth might take 10 years to get to the point where you want it to be, I do think, for the long run, it’s the option that allows you to not only stay true to yourself, but also, you’re able to work in your own capacity.
Right now. I’m juggling a lot. My Monday through Thursday is completely full with classes, work, and my family. So, I like the pace we’re going at, Alhamdulillah. Our goal right now is to push out the best products that we possibly can, add more variety, and continue doing what we do, and Inshallah grow in a way that our customers can be proud of.
Shop Veiled Beaut’s collection of beautiful, high-quality, and affordable hijabs on their website. Be sure to subscribe to their newsletter and follow them on all socials including Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter to stay updated on new product releases, campaigns, and special offers.