The US-born founders of Hijabik.com, based in Jordan, saw a great opportunity amid Amman's burgeoning entrepreneur scene.
Christa Case Bryant / The Christian Science Monitor
It may be surprising that a sleek new website selling designer hijabs to Muslim women around the world is run by two US-born Christians.
But Fouad Jeryes and Amy Kyleen Lute were both drawn to Amman’s burgeoning entrepreneurial scene, and knew a good market opportunity when they saw one.
An increasing number of ventures have sought to capitalize on high internet penetration in the Arab world by creating online marketplaces such as souq.com or MarkaVIP. But they tend to sell mainly Western brands, which are either unappealing or unaffordable for many Muslims, says Mr. Jeryes, who is Jordanian.
“But if you look around, what women are wearing are not these clothes. They don’t identify, most of them at least, with Hugo Boss and Chanel,” he says, so he looked for another kind of product to sell. “I thought we needed something that was easy to store, ship, buy, manufacture … and cost-effective. And everything pointed toward one item – hijab.”
So in January the team launched Hijabik.com, where a fashionable Muslim lady anywhere in the world can order silk head scarves from Turkey or beautifully embroidered pieces from Jordan with a click of a carefully manicured finger.
The high-quality photos, including zoomed-in images, as well as attractive models instead of mannequins, set it apart from other online hijab stores and earned it significant attention. The company’s Facebook page, where customers can order products without ever visiting the main website – “In the Arab world, a lot of people think that Facebook is the Internet,” says Jeryes – has garnered more than 145,000 likes.
Monthly visits to their main website are in the thousands, with surprisingly high traffic from Japan, and growing interest from the US as well. American Muslim women appreciate the opportunity to shop for hijabs more discreetly, since there is still a stigma attached with hijab shopping in person, says Ms. Lute, Hijabik’s CEO, who speaks Arabic and engages with any and every Muslim woman she can find to ask about their hijab shopping habits, tastes, and challenges. She and her staff – two full-timers and two part-timers – are also looking to aggregate more Islamic fashion news, since there is no such thing as an Elle magazine for conservative Muslim women, she says.
For Jeryes and Lute, there are plenty of challenges forging into this relatively untapped market. A huge percentage of citizens in the world don’t have banking accounts or credit cards – in Egypt, for example, it’s as high as 90 percent. So when someone calls up from Tunisia and wants to buy a hijab but doesn’t have an account, they have to turn her down.
But there is plenty of support for solving such challenges in Amman. “We’ve had so much support along the way…. I could call the CEO of almost any tech company in Amman and get a [response] tomorrow,” says Lute. “That’s been a huge thing for us.”
They’re also good problem-solvers themselves. Jeryes is creating a new payment platform that would allow the 85 percent of customers who prefer to pay in cash to do so through an online platform that will be linked up with local convenience stores. Pay there in the morning, and the company is immediately notified and can deliver your product as soon as that afternoon.
That would advance the company well beyond its early days, when Jeryes himself would do the deliveries. One day he showed up in a suit after a business meeting and greeted a customer at her door, “Mabrouk (congratulations). Here’s your order from Hijabik. That will be 19 JD ($27),” he recalls saying. To his great surprise, the woman took her 1 JD (Jordanian dinar) change and with a flourish tucked it in his jacket pocket. “I never in my life thought I’d get tipped!”
“We always joke that this is the only JD that has not been reinvested in the company,” says Lute.