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Insights From A Muslim Entrepreneur On How She Built Her $1.7M Beauty Business

Posted on Dec 19, 2017
Noor Suleiman


Tammie Umbel's feature with the Washington Post created quite the buzz online. Here was this 1.7 Million Dollar company, Shea Terra, that was built by a Muslim woman who homeschools her 14 children! The word 'amazing' would be an understatement. I caught up with Tammie to talk entrepreneurship, failure, and ultimately, her success. Check it out below! 

ENTREPRENEURSHIP WAS NOT TALKED ABOUT IN MY HOME; I didn't even have a stable home, to begin with, so I can't say there was one true inspiration to start my business. However, as a young girl, I couldn't understand why organizations would ask for money for poor children, but not create some fair trade for them. When I was 18, I began dabbling in business. I produced Islamic clothing for a few years, but stopped when I had three kids and was pregnant with my fourth - and said I'd never start another company. After that, I was writing Islamic materials that teachers could use to teach Islamic studies, and created curriculums they could use with other Islamic books that were out there. I wrote three books which I didn't end up publishing... Eventually, I started Shae Terra - and that worked quite well! I can't explain it more than it was just a call from Allah (S).

WHEN I STARTED SHAE TERRA, I started sourcing natural ingredients in third world countries. I brought those beauty secrets to Americans in the hopes of opening up their eyes and broadening their views of the world and giving them an appreciation for other cultures. 

MY DAY TO DAY is not a typical day by anybody's means. Generally, in the morning, I'm just doing business. I'm interacting with my company from home. I see everything that comes in and out, and I do that until I have to pick up some of my children from a program they're in. I bring them home and will typically go out for lunch so I can have a little private time where I can think. I'm not sure that works well…but I try. I'm on the road for about an hour and a half to two hours a day. In the morning I'm with my younger girls - they go out and they do their farm work. Then usually around five either I cook, or someone else cooks. I don't cook very often because everyone shares responsibilities. Around 5-8 pm I'll start their school work.

I LIKE TO GIVE MY CHILDREN THE MORNING to pursue things; I don't like to have them sitting in the house doing school work when it's nice outside. That's why I teach them at night - so we have a value of daytime. After that, they have their dinner, then they usually get to watch Islamic programs before they go to bed. That's a typical day. I train my kids to be very independent, and I give them a lot of opportunities for things to do so that they're not so needy. My goal is to provide them with something of interest to them that they can pursue and fulfill their time with.

SOME ADVICE FOR ANYONE STARTING OUT; First, you have to know that you have something worth pursuing; something that there is a demand for - or that you can create a demand for. Otherwise, you're wasting your time. Second, is that you have to love what you do. It's cliché', but it's true. Third, you're going to be disappointed. A lot. People will knock you off, all the time, and it's going to upset you. You have to really believe in yourself and your abilities.

WHEN LAUNCHING A BUSINESS, make sure you have everything covered before you even launch. Don't be impatient about launching an idea. Research as much as possible, and once you're finished, go out to someone who you trust and get as much input as you can. Don't just come up with a few logos and a few business names; make sure you've got a marketable product, and you've done your business plan, marketing plan, etc. Have everything ready to go before you present it. Whatever the idea is, you always want to do a nondisclosure agreement with whoever you're sharing it with.

IT'S IMPORTANT TO HAVE A STRONG PARTNER - someone to hold your hand. If it wasn't for my husband's support, sometimes financially, and definitely physically, I simply could not have done this. Although everything is mine, it was his support that helped me through this. I recognize that all success is by the will of Allah (S), but you also have to make sure you have done your part, and that you have an excellent product.

I HAVE OFTEN FACED FAILURE after thinking everything was smooth sailing, and that I had done my best. I realized, though, that I could, should, and can do this better. What made this company the best was simply failure after failure after failure. Because then, I knew I had to do it better, and I did.

ALWAYS BE TRUE TO YOURSELF, and hopefully, that means that you've already submitted your will to Allah (S). Oftentimes I see people - especially Muslims - try to change certain parts of themselves or their practice of faith to fit in, in order to become successful. It really doesn't work that way. Like Allah (S) says, if you love Him, He will make people love you. He's the one who elevates people, times, days, etc. and when you love Him, you submit your will to His. It's not going to be easy or instantaneous. If it was easy, where's the test? Many prophets went through long periods of time where people hated them. But because of sacrifices they made, Allah (S) made people love them. People have given me many suggestions that went against what I thought was right. I don't change and alter what I do to please others but to please Allah (S). If you are strong like that, you will see a reward - although it might not be immediate.

IF YOU GIVE UP, YOU'VE ALREADY LOST. There will be hardships and things that discourage you. For example, it's normal in this industry for competitors to knock off ideas of smaller companies. It's happened to me many times; I've even had a former employee give all of my information to a major competitor. I had to keep things in proper perspective in order to stay true to who I am and what I'm doing. I can't travel around as often as some of these men do. If it weren't for my kids, I'd probably be traveling a whole lot. But when I travel, I usually take some of my kids with me, so I'm not as quick as these men. I didn't get partners or loans like they did. It's been a hard climb up the mountain. It can be discouraging, but I simply refuse to give up. If I give up, I've already lost. So I have to do things a lot slower - but doing things a lot slower helped me get better and better behind the shadow. As I've improved things over the years, some of these large buyers are seeing that for the first time, it's their first impression of our company, and they're pretty amazed.

I DON'T PROMOTE THE WORDS "FAIR TRADE". I don't know what it's supposed to mean except marketing for people. I promote FREE trade - where people have ingredients to sell, they set their price, and I buy it. For example, our Shae Butter from Uganda is cold pressed. The mill buys the nuts from women who go out to the wild and collect the nuts. Alternatively, is the West African Shae butter, which is made by women in "co-ops" where they make the butter from the nuts themselves. I don't consider that 'fair', because they have to go out and find firewood and water (which is scarce), then collect the nuts, break them, separate them, dry them, then roast and pound them into a paste. After that, they boil it in the water, and when it's cool enough they have to blend it with their arms to separate it from the dough. Once it separates they have to filter it, fry it to get the water out of it. That's how they produce Shae butter in West Africa. That butter is bought from them and shipped to Europe for refining. In this case, it's estimated 20 hours of labor for 1 kilo which sells for a dollar something. So one would wonder how much money they're getting per kilo. The women who simply sell their nuts to the mill actually make a lot more money for a whole lot less labor.

I work with a lot of organizations and enough qualified people on the ground that have access to knowledge like this. I always try to push the envelope and find something else. Since I'm working with experts, they know what's out there. That's what makes this all fascinating, to me at least. I love learning about all the different raw materials that make different things and discovering the next big thing in natural beauty. 

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