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When I Grow up I Want to Be…

by in Culture on 26th December, 2023

What did you want to be when you grew up?

As a child, I dreamed of becoming a writer or an actress. For others, they may have aspired to become an astronaut, stunt person, footballer or artist. However, as we transitioned from childhood to adulthood, many of us chose a different career path that seemed a little bit more realistic.

The onset of the coronavirus pandemic prompted some people to reconsider their career choices, inspiring them to pursue more fulfilling and creative ways of earning a living. From cake baking to makeup artistry, new and exciting job opportunities began to feel more attainable as the world stood still. 

While changing a career can be intimidating, the prospect of ‘what if?’ can be even more daunting. Amaliah spoke with three Muslim women who bravely embarked on new career journeys during these challenging times. They share insights into their transitions, the progress they’ve achieved, and offer advice for those contemplating a more fulfilling career change.

Zara Saleem is the co-founder of the natural, Indian-inspired skincare brand, Delhicious. She launched the brand with her husband in 2019 and found success and sales on TikTok. Fast forward to 2023, Delhicious has been featured in the likes of Harper’s Bazaar, BBC’s Dragon’s Den and Cosmopolitan

Furvah: Why did you start Delhicious? 

Zara: I always wanted to do something that would help people and make a meaningful impact. At around, 17 or 18, while watching Dragons Den, I remember telling my mum that I’d love to sell my grandma’s hair oil. Being South Asian, I grew up with natural skincare and haircare, but it wasn’t something widely represented in the market. When I realised this, I meticulously wrote down my grandma’s cherished hair oil recipe.

Then, when I was pregnant with my second daughter, I developed eczema. My doctor prescribed steroid creams, but my mum told me about tips passed on by my grandmother who worked in traditional, natural medicines. I used traditional, Indian tea. I noticed a difference in my skin overnight, which made me think, “Well, maybe I could sell something like this!” My husband was really supportive and with an initial investment of £200, we created one product, built one website, and had one very tired mum looking after two babies.

Furvah: What setbacks or struggles did you face at the beginning of launching Delhicious and how did you overcome those?

Zara: We faced many barriers, especially as a South Asian and Muslim-owned business. We were knocking on so many doors, but they were all shut as people didn’t believe in our brand and message. I also don’t think I realised how long it would be to have my brand taken seriously as it’s such a competitive space. 

We got our first customer around three months after launching. But, I always believed in the brand. When my babies were sleeping, I’d be posting our products on Instagram and I overcame [setbacks] by continuing to build and learn. It’s important to have realistic expectations and recognize that the journey to success often requires steadfast perseverance.

Furvah: When did you notice a change in the reach and success of your brand?

Zara: For us, it was TikTok. I wasn’t keen on using that platform, but being open to change and adapting is so important as an entrepreneur. Soon after, our videos went viral and we started to sell out in minutes. At one point, we had a waitlist of 50,000 people for our balms. Our Royal Mail man could barely get the bag out of the door! That was the moment where we felt like people were understanding our brand.

Furvah: What advice would you give to others wanting to start their own business?

Zara: Just do it, even if you think it’s not perfect. We’ve come so far from the beginning of our brand and you learn as you grow. For example, our initial website and packaging weren’t the best. 

It’s also quite easy to create a website, you don’t need a lot of money, experience, time or space to begin. I didn’t have it all at the start, but what I had was enough to get things going. Fortunately, we’re also in an age where you can learn everything online. So don’t let things hold you back as you never know how far you can go.

Sara Taleghani is an award-winning filmmaker from Dublin, Ireland. She works as a director and creative assistant and received the award for Best Film at the Dublin Smartphone Film Festival. She is currently working on her second film about a football team for Muslim women.

Furvah: Did you always want to be a filmmaker and what made you change careers?

Sara: I was working in consulting for a few years but moved to social media marketing to try and do something more creative. When I was in school, my friends and I would create videos and I always knew I wanted to work in that field. However, as I got a bit older,  I wanted something stable, and as an Iranian, I didn’t think filmmaking was an option for me.

Social media marketing was going well but a few months in, I was made redundant. I had bills and rent to pay and didn’t know what to do. While I was in that role, I met a hijabi, Muslim girl who worked in the film industry. I didn’t even know that was possible. She encouraged me to go for it by moving from social media to advertising to TV then film.

Inspired and motivated, I wrote down a five-year plan to try and make it in the film industry. I was made redundant a month or two later, so I feel like that was God’s way of saying ‘five years is too long, let’s speed this up.’ Even though I was devastated, it felt like a blessing in disguise.

Furvah: How did you get your foot in the door of filmmaking?

Sara: I searched up Instagram pages and Facebook groups like UK film work, TV and film jobs and POC’s in production for runner roles and worked my way up from an unpaid runner to an assistant director while freelancing my old consulting role to make ends meet. Then, I applied to a free, intensive filmmaking course with Good Growth Hub and was accepted. That course taught me everything I needed to know and was where I created my first, short documentary on my phone.

Our films were sent to industry professionals and this really cool studio, where I now work, reached out to me. They said they wanted to represent me as a director and offered me full-time work as a creative assistant. I was in absolute shock, I did not think that was possible when I began pursuing this.

Furvah: What advice would you give to other aspiring filmmakers?

Sara: Research resources around you, reach out to any creatives you may know or follow and have confidence. There’s a million and one Instagram pages, events and networking opportunities for up-and-coming creatives. You just have to step out of your comfort zone by messaging people, going to events and creating. If you have an idea for a film, don’t overthink about money or equipment, use your phone and create.

My first film was made on my phone with zero budget or tools, and that landed me the job I have now. People won’t take you seriously until they see some of your work, so get your friends together, take those photos, film those clips and create something.

Haseebah Ali is a Birmingham-based freelance artist, specialising in prints and illustration. She has had her work featured in the prestigious Saatchi Gallery and has been a judge on CBBC show, Britain’s Best Young Artist.

Furvah: Did you always know you wanted to be an artist?

Haseebah: I always knew it deep down but I never knew that it was a possibility. I didn’t see anyone who looked like me in the industry. The arts aren’t very accessible and I also felt the pressure as the eldest child to pursue something reliable.

In school, I studied art at GCSE but by college, I had a plan to go into medicine which led me to study science. However, I struggled with it. I also explored English, but started doing graphic design on the side. One day as I was talking to my parents, my dad asked me why I don’t just pursue art which gave me the encouragement I needed to try it. So, I studied illustration at university but during lockdown, I began a career in mental health work.

Furvah: When did you decide to go full-time with your art and illustration work?

Haseebah: Working in mental health is really rewarding, but it can drain you. In my role, I was an activities worker so I would create art with the patients which made me realise I can make a change for others through painting, print-making and illustrations

Soon, I gave in my notice without anything lined up which was quite scary, and I was really nervous to tell my patients, but they were so happy for me. I started working part-time in a local gallery as an assistant, which opened up opportunities and networks for me and when lockdown began lifting, I knew I had made the right choice. 

Furvah: What were some of the struggles you have faced in pursuing your creative career and how have you overcome them?

Haseebah: As a creative, you’re constantly juggling so many things. You have to be really flexible with your time and constantly graft, so the opportunities can come in. When I was working, my free time was spent creating and I was exhausted. Also, sometimes, pursuing a creative career means you might not get paid for a job but it will give you helpful connections in the future. 

Furvah: What advice would you give to other aspiring artists?

Haseebah: Never feel like it’s too late. If you feel like it’s too late now, how are you going to feel in 10 or 20 years? Pursue your passion, it’s OK to do it part-time and take small steps. Also, don’t compare yourself to others as there are a lot of struggles in being a creative that people don’t speak about, so don’t always take things at face value. 

Also, a lot of people think that you can’t pursue something creative if you don’t live in London. To that, I’d say invest and research into what’s going on around you because you would be surprised. I didn’t think I could be a full-time artist in Birmingham, but I am and I regularly work in London, so water those seeds and they’ll grow. Reach out to others you feel inspired by, too. Vouch for yourself and your work as no one is going to do it for you.

While there may be many societal, financial and personal barriers to embarking on a new career path, Zara, Sara and Haseebah prove that it is more than possible despite the challenges they faced along the way. Whether it’s filmmaking, entrepreneurship or art, a career change doesn’t have to be as daunting as you think!

Furvah Shah

Furvah Shah

Furvah Shah, 23, is a culture and lifestyle journalist currently working at Cosmopolitan Magazine. Being from a Pakistani, Muslim background, Furvah is passionate about diversifying representations of women, Muslims and ethnic minorities within the media and passing the microphone to underrepresented communities.