"The Apprentice is the perfect way for me to showcase my talents."
British Asian businesswoman Bushra Shaikh is one of the entrepreneurs on The Apprentice 2017. Competing against 17 other hopefuls, Bushra aims to win the favour of Lord Sugar. Impressing him and winning his £250,000 investment.
The 34-year-old owns a fashion label named iiLA, where she designs a range of luxury clothing pieces. Hailing from Surrey, she says she wanted to pursue business from a “very young age”.
Now, in an exclusive interview with DESIblitz, Bushra Shaikh reveals why she decided to apply for The Apprentice.
The entrepreneur also explains how she balances business with motherhood and the challenges she faces as a British Asian businesswoman.
How did you get into business?
It was when I had my first son, who is now 11 years old, that I began designing and making modest clothing from home.
My designs and services became very popular with friends and family and I realised at that point there was money to be made. My husband was running his own business at the time, so I knew that he would support any business ideas.
I started [a] designer hijab company, working from a small office with a few machines and that is how it all began.
Were your family supportive of your decision to go into business?
My father ran his own successful businesses and my mum always instilled it in me and my 4 sisters (no brothers) to be strong, independent, young women. [They] have always supported me throughout all my business ventures and actually worked for me too!
My husband is my rock, he is there to help with the children, housework if need be and has encouraged me 100% to fulfil all of my ambitions.
What inspired you to create your fashion company, iiLA?
After running 2 separate fashion businesses and one bespoke design shop in Tooting, I finally reached the point of having all the experience and contacts I needed to begin my own brand. I now design and help manufacture all my products at iiLA.
The brand itself has been developed using my own life story of fashion and how I had to adapt my clothing throughout the years as a young Muslim woman.
I used to buy clothes and alter them at home in order to fulfil my Islamic needs … it took forever! These items are now available, ready-to-wear and are popular with all women no matter what their background.
What makes iiLA stand out from other fashion labels?
iiLA is a modest fashion brand that brings current trends into this market. The brand is young, fresh and very diverse with the items it provides. We are also the first modest brand on ASOS marketplace, with some of our models in a hijab (head covering).
iiLA supplies traditional clothing, along with current fashion, at affordable prices. We don’t just cater to Muslim women but every woman who simply likes our clothing.
Why did you decide to apply for The Apprentice?
I decided to apply for The Apprentice because I wanted to show positivity about young, British, working Muslim women and of course to have Lord Sugar as an investor would be fantastic! These days, there is so much negativity in the media about Muslims that women like myself are forgotten about.
The Apprentice is the perfect way for me to showcase my talents and to show that we are amongst those successful businesswomen all around the globe.
How do you balance business with motherhood?
To be honest, I just get on with it. If anyone says it is easy, they are lying! I am very organised- I think that is key. I have a diary and planner for all my 3 children and not to forget my husband, who is there to help!
It takes practice and things do start falling into place. I just make sure that we always have time for family holidays. It is easy to get caught up with it all but family time is [a] priority.
Did you face any challenges as a British Asian businesswoman?
Yes, at the start but as I have been in business for more than 10 years, I have learnt the way! I managed 10 men who worked for me at my design shop in Tooting … that taught me so much!
A lot of people, when they see me after a telephone conversation, are quite surprised, men and women both. They don’t expect me to be a covered woman and Asian too. You’d think my name would give it away!
Sometimes people don’t take you seriously and think, because of the way you look, you won’t or can’t be successful. I just have grown more and more confident over the years and learnt that no matter [what], there will always be one person out there who tries to put you down … don’t let them.
What makes you stand out as an entrepreneur?
I am a very confident woman and believe that if you don’t take risks, then business isn’t for you. I have made money and lost money, but that is the way it goes! The world has a plan for you and everything I have done leads up to this point.
I am determined yet humble, strong yet caring and will never lower myself to achieve greater things. You get back what you put in and always be yourself.
Who are your fashion and business inspirations?
Coco Chanel has to be on the top of my list. Her story inspired me so much and even if I can do a 10th of what she did, I will be happy. Her legacy remains today [and] her struggles brought to life in design.
Nadiya Hussain who won The Great British Bake Off is another lady who has inspired me. She had a talent and wasn’t afraid to put herself out there to tell her story. We need more of us on the TV [and] radio as we represent such a large group of women who need inspiration.
How did your friends/family react to your appearance on The Apprentice?
They are so happy and excited for me! Everyone will be watching and are rooting for me!
Do you think we need more British Asians or more diversity in general on television?
Yes! We have a generation of young, aspiring British Asian women who do not have many inspirations on the TV. I would love to do some TV work and I would be thrilled [to] represent them.
I have a 6-year-old daughter and she needs to know that no matter what you look like you, there is room for us anywhere.
What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs?
My advice would be … never give up! Everything you do in business good and bad is [an] experience. Sometimes the fall is what you need before rising to the top. Be yourself and this beautiful Earth will give you what you need.
Always stay focused on your end goal and when one door closes … push that other one open with your two hands!
DESIblitz wishes Bushra Shaikh good luck on her The Apprentice journey. Find out more on the British Asian candidates in this year’s series here.
Make sure you tune into The Apprentice on Wednesdays at 9pm on BBC One.