Arshiya Kherani is the Founder and CEO of Sukoon Active, a sports hijab fashion line designed for Muslim women who want to be stylish and active without compromising their religious values. Arshiya is also dedicated to expanding her current line to include the many other types of women whose activewear needs are not being met in today’s mainstream market. Through Sukoon Active, Arshiya is making history by producing inclusive and sustainable fashion that celebrates diversity while being kind to the environment.
Name: Arshiya Kherani
Job Title: Founder & CEO
Company: Sukoon Active
Based in: New York City
Originally from: Cleveland, OH
I would say that my superpower is diffusing a tough situation with a joke. It’s not always appreciated by everyone around me, but it helps me take the tougher moments in stride. It also helps weed out the people around me who don’t have thick skin!
Name a woman in history that you admire & why:
I really admire Sara Blakely, the founder of Spanx, because so many parts of her story and journey resonate with me. She is a solo founder, and I admire the she built Spanx out of her own life experience and hustled to make it a success.
I can’t tell you how often people tell me that I won’t be able to build my company without a cofounder. Then I listen to stories like Sara’s – who is one of the youngest female billionaires in our country, by the way – and I know that these people are wrong. She built a viable product while empowering women to feel their best and live their best life. I appreciate that women like Sara have paved the way for solo female founders like me to bring a product to market and scale it. We just need to hustle hard enough.
Quote/piece of advice that you live by:
“We didn’t come this far just to come this far.”
What inspired you to start your current venture?
I started Sukoon, my sports hijab line, in April 2015 after running my first half marathon. As an active woman who wears a hijab, I found myself struggling to find workout gear with the right amount of coverage – more specifically, a hijab that would stay dry and in place.
Training for the half-marathon was particularly difficult because the bandanas and beanies I was accustomed to wearing during shorter runs wouldn’t stay on as my runs got longer. A friend of mine suggested that I try making my own, and that suggestion was what prompted me to create my first sports hijab prototype. After conducting further research, I realized that many other women were facing a similar problem – and that’s how Sukoon was born!
What is your company doing to make history today?
My team and I are redefining the conversation around inclusive fitness and clothing in a way that (we hope!) is making history. We design our products based on authentic user experience. Most of our users are people with unique activewear needs who have never felt acknowledged by the mainstream market. Now, they are being included in our focus groups and we design our products based on their feedback.
What is one thing your company has accomplished that you are most proud of?
The 15 months between the launch of our campaign and the end of our first fulfillment round were the hardest months of my life. There are countless crowdfunding campaigns that never deliver their product, and I’m really proud that Sukoon made it past that milestone.
It was terrifying to spend more money every month than what we’d made on our campaign in order to attempt to get through a perfect production run for our first sports hijab design, but knowing that I made it through that process gives me hope and confidence that I have the grit to make it through whatever lies ahead.
What is one project you are currently working on that you are most excited about?
We are redesigning the Sukoon sports hijab right now, which I am so excited about. It has been fun iterating based on customer feedback and I can’t wait for the new samples to be complete and go into our second production run this spring.
What, in your opinion, is one of the biggest challenges facing your industry today?
I believe that one of the biggest challenges facing the fashion industry today is the impact of production and consumption on climate change. It is estimated that by 2025, we will annually produce nearly 100 million tons of polyester, a fabric that is synthetic and non-biodegradable. The average American throws away 70 pounds of clothing every year, which is roughly the equivalent of 191 T-shirts per person. At Sukoon, we design our sports hijab and other clothing for sustainability by using natural fibers, and we hope to implement an upcycling program by the end of the year.
What is a trend in your industry that you foresee becoming popular in the future?
We are seeing more companies than ever who are advertising their products as “vegan, sustainable and paraben-free.” I believe that this will become the new standard of doing business in the future.
What is one of the greatest challenges you have personally faced at this job?
The ongoing challenge that I have is trusting my gut in making hiring decisions. With limited time and resources, I have struggled to find the right person to bring onto my team.
Several times, I have been in a position where the salary and skillset seem right, but something else feels like it doesn’t fit. In the past, I would go ahead and onboard someone even if they weren’t asking enough questions or hadn’t done their homework for the interview, because who has time to interview more people? Huge mistake!
From running my own startup, I’ve learned the hard way that this is a toxic decision. Each hire is a crucial part of whether or not the company will succeed over the following few months. I’ve learned that it feels like there’s something off about my new hire on day one, that I should listen to my gut.
The best way to recover from a bad hire is to fire quickly. I know that sounds rough and harsh, but my company is too important to me to make concessions for underperforming team members. If you’re not going to work hard, have a positive attitude and work through the challenges, then you’re not the right teammate for me.
What were you doing before your current role?
I used to work as an acquisitions associate for an affordable housing investor. I absolutely loved my job because it was the perfect blend of community development and financial modeling. As hard it was to leave that job in order to focus on Sukoon full-time, I am grateful that it laid a perfect foundation for using analytics to build and measure social impact.
What is one piece of advice you’d like to give to other female founders & change-makers?
In ten years, do you want your business to have failed because something didn’t work, or because you didn’t put your all into it?
Are there any great resources you have discovered that you would like to share?
One of the primary digital tools we use as a team is Trello, which is a Pinterest-like project management tool. Our team is located all over the country, and Trello helps us all stay on the same page, share progress and stay up to date on goals and priorities.
When I’m feeling a little down, out and doubtful of startup life, I listen to the Kerning Cultures podcast. It highlights stories across startups in the Middle East where individuals and communities have far less resources than I have access to here in NYC, and are still resilient in building scalable businesses. Not only are the stories beautiful and inspirational but they force me to put my head down and work even harder because if they can do it, then so can I.
My go-to newsletters for the start-up world are the weekly digests published by Y Combinator, First Round Capital and Project Entrepreneur. They each offer knowledge on different topics ranging from investment trends to start-up dos and don’ts. If you are networking with the “right” people, over time the names and organizations in these newsletters will start to be extensions of your own network. I also enjoy the Shopify Stories blog series for quick tips on e-commerce selling.
Fun fact about yourself:
I go to trampoline class once a week!