Define the Problem
Arshiya first took up running in grad school, and it quickly became a passion for her. It allowed her to meet new people and take care of herself at the same time, and she loved it. But one element was difficult — she had a hard time finding activewear that provided enough coverage, while still being comfortable, fashion-forward and accessible. She started wearing bandanas and hats while working out, but she felt self-conscious and uncomfortable in them, both because they didn’t align with her personal style and because they often fell off and needed to be adjusted during her runs, which noticeably took away from her experience.
She signed up to run a half marathon, and was ready to run the race in her usual bandana. But on this particular day, it was raining, so she was also wearing a hooded running poncho. About halfway through the race, she reached under her hood to adjust her bandana, and realized it had fallen off. She panicked, knowing that if the temperature warmed up, she’d have no choice but to keep her hood on anyway. She spent the rest of the race preoccupied and stressed. It was then that she had enough.
“For me wearing hijab is about being able to honor my personal belief system. I think throughout the rest of that experience, I didn’t want to feel the stress that I was feeling. I didn’t want to feel the anxiety of my hijab having fallen off. So soon after that I was able to start working on Sukoon. I started working on Sukoon because of that experience, and because I didn’t want to experience that again, and because I didn’t want other women to have to experience that again.”
Once she realized that it was time to fill this gap, she started talking to people in her community. To deepen her insight, she sent out a survey to her network, and received 300 responses within a week. Women from every area of her life expressed their concern about the lack of activewear options on the market. The widely available options were all the same — tight, somewhat revealing, and sometimes even uncomfortable. As a result, these options were unappealing to a significant subset of women for a variety of reasons.
“If you look at activewear apparel brands or if you look at a fitness magazine today, you largely see just one type of women represented. To me as a Muslim women, as a minority women, I don’t see myself in these women. I don’t see myself in these brands. I don’t think that these brands are, one: thinking about me; and two: I don’t think they understand me. If they’re not doing those things, then how can they possibly understand what I need?”
In gathering this information, conducting additional surveys, and interacting with customers, Arshiya and her team learned that close to 60% of women have skipped a workout because of apparel-related issues. They wanted to build a line of products that would directly respond to that, offering women access to activewear that would make working out easier for them, and take away the anxiety that many experience leading up to and during workouts as a result of their apparel.
“Sukoon means relief or calm. The brand very much comes from the anxiety that I used to feel when I was trying to figure out what to wear when I was working out. As a company, we now have this ability to take that stress, take that anxiety away from women in order to allow them to live the active lifestyle that they’re looking for.”
Arshiya started to ask herself what bringing these activewear options to life would look like. She went to the garment district in New York City and bought fabric that she thought might feel good on her head, and glued together a prototype. When she realized that it was going somewhere, she went to her hometown of Cleveland and spent a weekend sewing the hijab she was envisioning. She went for a run to test it out, and the experience was transformative. The hijab prototype stayed in place, and was comfortable throughout her run.
“I felt like, “Hey, this works! This is so much better than anything I’ve worn in the past decade on any run that I’ve gone for.” From that moment, I just felt like, “Hey, maybe I can build on this. Maybe I can make this better.”
Next, she began to develop a Kickstarter campaign for a number of reasons. First, in hopes of securing the capital she’d need to actually put together a prototype of her line. Second, to get information about how many women actually face this problem, where they’re located, how they would react to the aesthetic she envisioned, and if this actually fills a greater need outside of her own network. Arshiya and her team launched activewear: redefined | by sukoon in June of 2016, and it garnered much more attention than they’d anticipated. The campaign attracted close to 400 customers in 30 days. They grew their social media following and started to interact with their customers in a very one-on-one way.
“We launched our Kickstarter campaign with Muslim women in mind, but we were surprised that there were so many other women from diverse backgrounds who found a need for our products as well.”
They went out with five products that they built as a team, and received a very positive response from their customer base. And from the start, they made sure that their products were produced sustainably — one of Sukoon’s core values.
“We think so much about where we source our fibers from, and then how those fibers turn into fabric, what dye, what chemical treatments go into those fabrics. I think we live in this society where so much of what we wear, and we don’t even know this, but so much of what we wear is made out of plastic. It’s bad for our health, it’s bad for the world that we live in. To me, one of the most interesting parts of this process is learning about how we can use high-performance, natural materials.”
They also wanted to make a larger impact by partnering with an organization that empowers girls from a young age to take care of themselves and to start living a healthy lifestyle. Right off the bat, they partnered with the Zaatari TaeKwonDo Academy, which is based in a refugee camp in Jordan. Their team matched 10% of all funds raised via Kickstarter in order to support this organization because of the work that they do to empower young women.
Going forward, Sukoon’s mission is to become the go-to activewear brand for all women who can’t find what they need in the market.
“I want to provide women with the access to experiences that they have previously stayed away from because they didn’t know what to wear. I think for me, for so many years I have been so scared and so nervous to sign up to run a marathon. Now through Sukoon, every single time that I wear one of our products, or wear one of the iterations of our prototypes, I feel so confident in being able to go out there and do whatever I want to do.”
This means that they’ll continue to expand their product lines to fill gaps in activewear availability for women all over the world. They believe that the most impactful way they can make a difference is in the life of a customer, so they will continue working to understand what women’s needs look like, and test prototypes to make sure that their products actually work in practice.
“When women have the freedom to choose what they wear, and how they wear it, and where they wear it, they have this ability to participate in communities and build experiences within these communities that empower them. I think that is my broader vision for Sukoon. I am so excited to help women build these experiences for themselves.”