February 21, 2023

Libyan fashion designer’s thirst for knowledge pays off

Since she was a child, Zahra has been sewing clothing. over the years, the 35-year-old mother of two children expanded her knowledge and design skills by attending a variety of sewing training courses. She later purchased a small sewing machine to put what she learned into practice.

Born in Sebha, around 600 km from the capital Tripoli,  Zahra graduated with a degree from the Institute of Engineering in 2014. As her focus on family life and her studies increased, Zahra’s passion for fashion design had to be pushed to the back burner. Yet, in 2016, after much deliberation, Zahra decided to return to her beloved hobby.

“I began by designing and selling clothes to family and friends,” says Zahra. “Gradually, the number of buyers grew outside of my close circle. I decided to grow it into a small business because the number of buyers was rapidly increasing.”

Learning from the setbacks
The decision to expand her project into an official startup brought new challenges, mostly financial. The income was not generating sufficient funds to invest in business development as well as support her family. 

As Zahra was dealing with the new challenges, she decided to enter a competition by SPARK and BINA Business Incubator, part of the Tadamon programme financed by the Islamic Development Bank and Islamic Solidarity Fund for Development. The competition featured training, coaching and mentorship to support small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to recover from the impact of COVID-19. “My ultimate goal was to gain knowledge,” says Zahra, ”because I believe knowledge is more valuable than money. Even if I had money, without the knowledge I’d lose it all.”

Despite making it to the final of the competition, Zahra’s business was not chosen for financial support. However, with great spirit, Zahra did not let this deter her. Instead, she started considering what her business lacked and launched herself into every available training she could find.   

“I chose what I needed from the knowledge and took notes, and as a result, I accomplished something that I had not done in ten years! I realised that I needed to invest some of my profits in developing the project rather than spending them all on family and home needs.”

Financial planning
One of the most important skills new entrepreneurs need to learn is effective financial literacy and planning. These skills are not often taught in university but are essential for keeping a new business’ cash flow afloat.

Inspired by the training, Zahra began saving a portion of her earnings to slowly save up for investing in her business. Day after day, she felt the shift. After 10 hours of training over the period of 3 months, Zahra was able to use her new financial knowledge and saving skills to purchase more sewing machines. She entered the competition with one of these machines and by the end of the training, and knowing the basics of New venture funding, she had purchased eight new sewing machines. BINA Business Incubator also offered her a workspace to set up her manufacturing line in Tripoli. 

Zahra designs in her workshop in Tripoli © 2023, SPARK

Market trends
By focusing on market trends, Zahra was able to also expand her business throughout the country. She established what her customers were asking for and the types of clothing that were most popular. She was able to figure out that every region in Libya has its own style, whether in traditional clothing or modern clothing.  She has now recruited representatives for her startup in different regions across Libya.  

Now, Zahra is employing a team of fifteen women and is planning to launch her own brand, called Libyan Lotus!