Two sets of sisters are taking young entrepreneurship to new levels in the city

The 80 sq ft space under a stairway on Red Cross Road belies its popularity on networking sites. Head over Heels (HoH), the two-year-old sandal store, has grown to be a mark of young entrepreneurship and astute marketing, milking the latent potential of Facebook. Among young girls and their mothers, 22-year-old Tenaz Rafiq and 21-year-old Fidaan Rafiq, sisters and businesswomen, are talked about as what young women could be — smart entrepreneurs. Shemayel Saleem (20) and Shurouck Saleem (17), who go by the name Sugar Sisters — baking cakes, puddings and tarts on order — admit the HoH story was an inspiration. “Fidaan was my senior in college. We were inspired by the way they used FB to promote business,” says Shemayel. The Sugar Sisters too promptly update their page with their latest baking adventures. So orders trickle in from Dubai and New York. “We generally have three to four orders a day. Customers in Dubai and New York order for their relatives here,” says Shemayel.

What were at best skills — baking and smart dressing — that merely ensured compliments earlier are now being turned to good business possibilities by young women. The HoH girls were confident beginners. “The clothes and shoes we wore were always appreciated. We were known for our good dress sense. So we were confident of starting out with shoes,” says Tenaz. What has worked for the sisters is that their business is their passion. “Each pair of sandals in this shop is handpicked by us from Mumbai, Bangalore and a few are imported from Bangkok. The first time we went shopping our parents accompanied us. Now we go alone,” says Fidaan.

Giving a choice

The trademark of HoH is affordability, an aspect the girls were particular about since they were students themselves. “As students we needed a lot of shoes. But we could not afford to have 10 pairs that come at a price of Rs.2,000 each,” says Tenaz. At HoH, nothing is priced over Rs. 499. Sticking to the price limit means the profit on some pairs would be miniscule. The sisters are not bothered, for the brand has grown beyond their dreams. “We began with 1,000 pairs of shoes. We chose this place as the rent was minimal. Our dad financed us in the beginning. It would have cost him a little less than Rs. 5 lakhs. But we paid him back in two months. We started by carrying out a market study here. We walked through S.M. Street to know what was and wasn’t available here,” says Tenaz, not hiding her pride. The only condition the parents put forward is that the girls should finish their studies. After her B.B.A, Fidaan is contemplating joining for an M.B.A., while Tenaz is studying to be a company secretary. Tenaz vouches she does not want to work as a company secretary. “I would rather have a company of my own,” she asserts. The sisters also recount how they dabbled in interior decoration and logo-making to trim expenses. “Now people ask us who designed the store. We wanted someone to design the logo and they set a fee of Rs.30, 000. So we did it ourselves,” says Tenaz.

The sisters are predictably buoyed by the hype around HoH. “We started the FB page when the idea struck us. The shop came much later. The page got popular much before the shop began,” says Fidaan. With close to 20,000 likes on FB, the sisters are now thinking bigger. They have already opened their second store in Kannur. “It is a slightly bigger place,” quips Tenaz. There is growing demand to open a shop in Kochi, she adds. “We often have instances when people head straight from the airport to the shop. We get calls and texts from strangers with requests to franchise or share our ideas. So far, we have not accepted any. We also get calls from people from places like Thiruvananthapuram and Palakkad seeking our guidance to start a similar enterprise,” says Tenaz.

Dreaming ahead

With academics still a priority, the sisters have so far not introduced online shopping, despite growing demand. “We have still kept it small with one staff,” they say. However, an enterprise which they thought would wind up after couple of years has acquired wings of its own. “Now, we want to start the HoH sandal brand,” says Tenaz.

For Shemayel and Shurouck, the challenge is now in balancing studies and baking. But they juggle well, they say. “At times when I have exams, Shemayel takes care of the baking and when she is busy with projects, my exams would be over,” explains Shurock who is a class XII student. But, nevertheless, the sisters work till wee hours to finish orders. “At times we work till 3 a.m.,” quips Shemayel, a final year B.B.A student. The sisters started baking young, a talent their mother passed on. But their innovative designs opened new avenues for them. “Initially, we baked for friends and relatives. We learnt by trial and error. Our dad is in the Gulf and he gets us the cake decorations. Mom drives and takes us to the shops we need to buy stuff from,” says Shemayel. Customers now come in from Wayanad and Kannur, they say. New designs are sure a test of skills. But it is the growing clamour of cartoon characters that have so far tested their creative patience. But Sugar Sisters admit, a bakery is definitely on their plan.