Name (s): Grace Elliston D.O.B: 2nd June 1992
Where’s home? Stockwell, London
Profession: Founder of Zwina Habibi
Company: Zwina Habibi
Did you go to university?
Yes I went to Leeds University, I graduated with a 2:1 in International Relations in 2014.
Was it necessary in hindsight to what you’re doing now?
The degree definitely laid groundwork for the more ideological side of the business. Without it I wouldn’t have seen the necessity of making concerted efforts, however small, for unity between the West and Middle East. I learnt about the devastating effects of polarisation and alienation, and how it is our responsibility, as able people, to prevent them from happening.
Was it a clear-cut path after you left in terms of what you wanted to do?
Not at all, I spent the year after Leeds working for a major fashion house in both India and London. It taught me a lot about how to run a fashion business effectively, but also steered me away from high end fashion. It wasn’t until nine months after leaving this company that I started Zwina Habibi, with jobs in film and interior design in between.
What pressures do you think many twenty-somethings are faced with?
The list is endless…millennials seem to be worrying way more than we would want to about all kinds of things. High expectations of ourselves and peers, financial considerations to account for extortionate London rents, the constant debate between doing what you love and doing what will bring you a comfortable life (only some are lucky enough to have both), the other debate between doing something which directly helps others or doing what you are really good at… we are all too hard on ourselves at the end of the day.
Exactly what is Zwina Habibi?
Zwina Habibi is an online shop that sells shoes and bags – and maybe more in the future – made by Moroccan artisans. Designs are drawn from either their original creations or from a marrying of European trends and the Moroccan craftsmanship. The original collection was made for the 2016 festival season – the look was bright, fun and care-free. For this Autumn/Winter we’ve gone for a more polished look – best to have a look at the look books online!
How did the idea for your company come about?
I spent the beginning of 2016 in Morocco volunteering at the Marrakech Biennale Arts Festival. During this time I saw that there is a rapidly increasing number of hard working people whose livelihoods are being destabilised by declining Western tourism in North African and Middle Eastern countries. I wanted to do something to stop this or at least slow it down. As my mother owns a riad hotel in Marrakech it was much easier for me to establish a business between the UK and Morocco than most people. I had easy access to the souks of Marrakech with minimal living costs, established relationships with professional Moroccan craftsmen and good experience in the British and American fashion sectors – so Zwina Habibi was born.
Why the name?
Zwina is a colloquial Moroccan Arabic word for a girl you might have a crush on “she’s a zwina!” and habibi means more or less the same but for a guy. I liked the positivity and Moroccan charm of the words, they perfectly symbolise the fun and loving nature of the venture.
What have been the biggest challenges you have faced in setting Zwina Habibi?
There have of course, been obstacles to cross and challenges you have to expect when totally new to the world of business. Brexit certainly threw a spanner in the works and I had to seriously reconsider the direction I wanted to take the business in afterwards. Timings and coordination with those in Morocco have proved rather amusing (and at times stressful), but it’s all a learning curve and remembering that has been key.
Working alone has presented its own challenges too – there is just so much to do! I’ve covered every aspect from design, orders, accounts, PR and marketing, web design…the list goes on. But, if I’m honest, I don’t really feel like I’ve done it alone. It has amazed me how much people really want to help. I’ve been given advice and counselling every step of the way for which I am eternally grateful.
Who did you seek advice from and who really helped you in the early stages?
Friends and family, old colleagues and acquaintances in similar fields – anyone really. Several friends come out to Morocco at the beginning to offer a second opinion on everything, and the team in Marrakech have been incredible – always coming up with new suggestions and being really committed to the business themselves.
What do you have to remain consistent about in running your company?
Ethical standards, quality checks, reasonable prices in line with the ethos of the brand, meeting production deadlines and maintaining the unique style we are becoming known for.
Do you ever question yourself?
Definitely, all the time. It’s a really important process for me to keep myself in check and it helps me to see things from different perspectives. I think its important to be considerate of these perspectives, but then again not to hesitate too much, mistakes need to be made if you are ever going to learn anything.
How do you market yourselves?
Facebook and word of mouth generally. The articles ZH received in the Telegraph Fashion Online and the mentions in the Times were also particularly helpful for spreading the word.
How big is your team?
Not counting the artisans in Marrakech then just me!
What do you wish you had known then that you know now?
That ambition doesn’t mean doing everything all in one go. It’s good to take it slowly and build up to where you want to be rather than aiming for the top instantly.
Any disasters along the way?
A lost shipment in the first season really rocked the boat but it turned up a couple of weeks later so all was fine in the end. Trying to keep your cool when you have orders in and no product is pretty tricky…
Any personality traits you never realised you had setting up Zwina Habibi?
I can be really demanding when people don’t meet my expectations, but I’ve known that for a while…I can probably say I am more patient than I thought I was, and I’ve definitely learnt to let mistakes go – other people’s and my own – rather than rubbing salt in the wound.
What advice would you give other twenty-somethings who are thinking of pursuing a career in this field?
Definitely do it, now’s the time to take the risk if ever there is one. I only say that from experience that although you need to be braced for failure more or less the whole time and pushing through the sticky situations can be a struggle, it’s all worth it when you can see that something you love so much can be a success too.
What do you think the next steps are for you?
ZH has been a success so far so I just need to keep it going really. Fashion businesses are always exciting because they are constantly changing and there is always new inspiration, I can’t wait to see what next season will bring.
What has been your best moment so far?
The launch was pretty spectacular. I never could have expected such a positive response, it was great to hear that people near and far love the products and the brand.
What’s the dream?
To work with many collectives and artisans across the Arab world and to sell internationally – both in shops and online as well.
If you want to find the Zwina Habibi Website click here
Instagram here @ZwinaHabibi
Telegraph article here
Photo Credit to : Jim Tobias whose website can be found here