The self-styled "burkini babe" Zahra Pedersen is one of a growing legion of young and powerful British Muslim entrepreneurs. She founded her Muslim personal training company, The Healthy Hijab, in 2014 and has not looked back since. Here she talks to The National about her company.
Why did you set up The Healthy Hijab?
I recognised that there was a huge gap in the fitness and health market. The industry doesn’t cater very well to modest women and their need for modesty. My company, The Healthy Hijab, allows women to train in women-only environments or in the privacy of their homes. The focus is not just on looking good but also feeling good. It’s hard to believe, I know, but not everyone is interested in thigh gaps or looking sexy on the beach.
What have been the most challenging aspects of starting up your business?
I think one of the most difficult things has been to simply create a Muslim-oriented fitness business in the first place. When I set up my company a couple of years ago there was embarrassingly little inspiration or help from anywhere because there just weren’t any businesses like mine. I had to create something that I wasn’t even sure my potential audience was looking for – or even wanted. I’m happy I didn’t wait around though for someone else to break the ice for me. It’s a huge accomplishment that despite a lack of support, my business is still standing and continues to grow.
It was also difficult to earn the trust of my audience. I don’t wear the hijab and I don’t consider my dress to be the most modest. Being able to distil a trust despite my outwardly appearance has been a challenge at times. I’d rather work a little harder to earn the trust of my audience through a place of authenticity and sincerity.
What types of customers do you have?
I’m constantly taking on new clients and saying goodbye to others when they’ve learnt what they can from me. I prefer things this way – I want women to feel empowered after they work with me; I want them to feel confident that they can continue bettering themselves without having me breathing down the back of their necks.
I predominantly work with clients who are 20 to 35 years old. They’re super -driven and very independent young women. They inspire me as much as I hope to inspire them.
But I also see clients as young as 16 and my oldest client to date was a spunky 72-year-old who after working with me decided to become a personal trainer herself. I’m super-excited for her and wish her all the luck in the world.
How do you plan to expand your business in 2017?
Because my brand is quite unique I always get people reaching out to me from all over the world. I really want to be able to give all those women something they can use despite the huge distance between us. I’m currently working hard on some online programmes and courses in the hopes of reaching some of those women. I’d also love to be able to do more fitness retreats.
What do you predict will be some trends for Muslim fitness in 2017?
Active modest wear seems to be doing extremely well right now. I think we’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg when it comes to that.
I also strongly believe that Muslimah bootcamps and fitness retreats will be the next big thing. All women, despite religiosity, want to look and feel good. And when you put a group of determined women in a room together, working hard for what they want, magic happens.
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