GIRLbOSS Spotlight: Ghalia Elsolh
We're all souls living a human experience -- Ghalia Elsolh
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I'm actually originally from Montreal, Canada. I moved to Chicago when I got married and then we went to Michigan. I actually went to University of Ottawa for PR and communications, so nothing to do with what I’m doing (laugh).
Is being an entrepreneur of your clothing brand something you've always wanted to do? If not, what steered you towards this direction?
So, to be really honest with you, people that know me know that I love creative stuff. Like, I went to Islamic school and I was always skipped when teachers would ask who wanted to be a doctor, they would know that I wouldn't be a doctor. They'd be like; you're something in the creative arts. At the time I did take it personally but then after I was like you know what? That's true, I am creative. I always loved the creative aspect of things, and it could be anything. I love creating something from nothing, and seeing it take place. I really enjoy the idea of business, just seeing things unfold you know, an idea picking itself up from the ground and becoming something, exactly like I imagined it would is just so cool, and I really enjoy the process. Fashion was one of the things I really liked, I loved the idea of choosing fabric, getting to choose the thread, the colours, and the construction of the garment. I learned so much in the process. I love attention to quality, a lot of that stuff made me steer towards this field. I always felt like these types of fields don't really require formal education, you need to educate yourself, but you don't necessarily need to go to university for it. I felt confident that could do it, and I just went for it honestly.
One more thing I'd like to add is that in this day and age, there's nothing you can't do anymore. You can learn anything online; the world has opened up in a way where you can find resources online so easily. You can find what you want anytime, anywhere at the comfort of your home, I felt like anybody could do it.
So when you figured out this was what you wanted to do, was there like an 'aha' moment?
Okay, so I'll tell you how it started. When I was in Montreal, (It's something that I’m not necessarily proud of) I used to be a hijabi. That's something that was a very big struggle of mine, especially in Montreal with all the hate. It really drew me to be patient. I did everything, going through a checklist of what I could do to keep it on. So, one of the things that I tried to do was, I sewed my own clothes, with a seamstress. I would go get my fabric, I would design the garment and sit down with her and she would teach me how to make them. Then, I would go to weddings with these gowns and clothes, and all these girls, hijabi and non-hijabi modest girls would ask, "Where did you get this from?" They wanted things like that, you know?
I noticed that, even non-hijabi's and modest girls in general, desire and need modest clothes that are different. We always offer one type, when there are so many different types. We cannot constrain the idea of modestly into one bucket. At the time I felt that it was a good idea, and I had people pushing me and telling me to go for it. I was actually really excited about it because it was something that I loved to do, and I never knew that I could do it without the proper education. It started out as a struggle and then it became a passion. Inshallah, I pray for direction.
Why Nordest? What's the meaning behind the name?
It's called Nordest because it's a journey, not a destination. Basically, I wanted to use a French brand name, because it describes my roots of being a Quebecer in Montreal. At the same time it describes my roots of being a Muslim. Nordest, northeast, in North America is the direction of the kiblah. The direction of where we pray every single day, we all try to wake up in the morning towards the direction and start out with good intentions. It's kind of like our energy source; it just gives you the energy to do more and to be positive, and to constantly be in the remembrance of God. For me, that's the biggest thing as a Muslim (and as any person on this planet) is to always be in remembrance of their creator and to direct yourself towards him and what he wants as much as you can. You can tilt to the right and left sometimes, and that's okay, but you always know what your direction is so you'll never go astray too much. That's why the Nordest gal, she knows what she wants, she'll make mistakes, she'll take off her hijab, she'll do things she's not proud, and that's okay because she knows where she wants to get to. She's a smart girl, an intellectual girl, and most importantly, she's spiritual. Direction is, for me, a process, a journey, not necessarily a destination.
As founder and designer of Nordest, what do you wish to achieve with the brand and its customers?
I happen to be very conscious of God, and I know one day I'll be asked for every single thing I did and did not do, and that's something that's very important to me. If the person buying is not satisfied then it's not worth it. My whole brand, Nordest, is about spiritually empowering women, the spiritual empowerment to believe everything you can be. A lot of times we have this stigma of "oh she's religious," or "she's not religious," but no, we are all spiritual beings. We're all living the human experience, we're all souls -- this is my main line and everyone knows that about me: we're all souls living a human experience. The reason of being extra conscious and having the materials eco-friendly, taking care of God's planet, this is God's possession, he owns everything. So, you have to take care of your body, you have to make sure you don't change too much of what he created. Part of adab of ASW is to keep things as they are. The more I can contribute to that, the more I can prove to him one day that I tried; that's my goal as a person. As a brand, I know there's a woman out there who are like this and want to be like this. I want Nordest to be that brand that pushes girls and is there "aha" moment, where they realize they say, "I can be like this. I am a Nordest gal, this is me."
What sets Nordest apart from other brands?
To be really honest, I'm not a corporate type of girl, I love simplicity, I love to see things grow the way they're supposed to. Whether I want to become haute couture, and make only eight garments and sell those, then I'm okay with that, if that's what I feel like is best for Nordest. Whether it's to sell in bulk, and direct my brand in a different direction and making it more affordable, then that's fine. The reason why my garments are a little more expensive than others is because they are completely ethically made. They're made in the United States and I've given everything to it, from the packaging, to the zipper on the packaging, to the printing of it, and to the quality of the necklace (that actually goes on sale today for the first time). I've had so many people ask me about the necklace because they want to buy it. It's a very symbolic necklace, when you wear it you know you're wearing a direction, it's a nice feeling to have.
The thread of the garment is made from nylon. Nylon is actually a very expensive thread; it's stretchier and very soft, like cashmere. That's what's really nice about it, when you wear your garment; you know I'm not only thinking about the fabric, I'm also thinking about the thread. When you're buying these garments, they look simple because I like the minimalistic look and I think a lot of Islamic teachings is very minimal, the prophet for example, had basically almost nothing in his home. I'm like that in my own home; every time I see something extra in my home I just give it away, just because I don't like the cluster. It doesn't mean that I wouldn't adapt to my clientele, I would, but I would definitely still have that minimalistic aspect. Also, the fabric is sustainable, it lasts very long, and it's eco-friendly. The fibres are bamboo, natural fibre, which is very beautiful and expensive. The true Nordest gal, the girl who shops at Nordest, or believes in the brand will understand the worth of these garments and the brand itself, because there is a lot of thought and value put into each piece.
When people buy your clothes, what is the feeling that you want them to feel? Like what do you want it to resonate with them?
I want them to resonate spirituality, number one. At Nordest, we're trying to create different types of modesty, not only the jilbab look, even though it's beautiful. We're trying to diversify and bring in more quality to that. The way I feel about my brand, and the way a lot of girls that bought from Nordest felt a spiritual vibe. I want them to feel a sense of spirituality, and direction. I can make mistakes but I know where I’m heading, I know my direction. It's like a long road, and there are distractions on the right and left. The Nordest gal is a conscious, simple, spiritual, and intellectual girl; she’s simple on the inside, not the outside. She could be chaotic, she could be crazy, but essentially she's aiming for simplicity.
I read on your site that Nordest allows women to encompass their inner guidance, could that also mean outer guidance, In everyday life, more so than spiritually?
Absolutely, that’s a main factor. Basically, your inner compass is your spirituality with God, and that will manifest itself in action and the way you are around people, the way you manifest yourself as a human being. Essentially you have a soul and you are a being and you're trying to nourish that. It will manifest itself through your body, and through your actions and through the way you speak, your presence in the community, and your presence at work. It will be always remain present as you try to be the best version of yourself that you can be. Your motivation and your life come from your spirituality, and that is always a great motivation for anybody, it's like a secret potion.
Where would you like to see Nordest in five years? What do you think it's going to take to get it there?
It's going to take a lot of work for me because right now we -- I say we but really we're like a team of three, so we're obviously a very small team -- are currently working on a 5-6 piece collection, so I'm in the process of that. My goal for Nordest is for it to be consistent, first and foremost, with quality, and consistent with the values that I have integrated with it. I also want to form a Nordest community, I want girls to understand who/what a Nordest gal is. For example: I've been speaking to you and you now understand who a Nordest gal is. I want girls to understand that and be able to say, "I'm like that." Even if they're not customers, everyone's welcome in the Nordest community. The idea of the community is more important to me than the sales. Once that supportive community sets in, the brand has potential to expand in different ways. That's my goal for the next five years, inshallah, is to create consistent collections, consistent quality and values.
Do you feel like there’s anything you need to work on?
I’m in the process of self-development; I read a lot of books about self-help. In general, I do lack confidence. I'm not a very confident human being when it comes to what I do. I try to find my confidence spiritually, because spirituality and God is perfect, so I put all my confidence on him. At the same time, I do want to work on my confidence, and I would like younger girls to understand that when I was launching my two-piece collection, I was very insecure. I was like people are going to say "wow she only came up with two things." I was constantly worried about how the quality of the clothing didn't show up well on camera. Like when you touch it and when you see the fibres, it's so beautiful. On pictures it was so hard to show the quality, and everything was so tough to demonstrate to prove myself to others.
I just feel like it's a process and it's okay to not feel 100% confident all the time, you're going to get it. I feel like I'm on that journey too, I'm not perfect and I'm learning from my journey as much as I can. I want other girls to know that all these bloggers, and people who have launched their business felt the same way too. Just because they have more followers doesn't mean they're more confident, they are insecure sometimes too. What makes them move forward is that they keep going and keep looking straight ahead.
For any women, young girl who are trying to start up their own business, whatever they aspire it to be, what advice would you give them?
I think the first thing you need to go back to is your intention, because when your intention is in the right direction, then the fear that comes with it (starting a business) will collapse. I feel like if you're doing things for the sake of God, or you're doing it for the right reasons, like to help people etc. A lot of times what stops girls from doing things is fear, and if you put fear aside, you'll see people doing crazy things. The potential is ginormous. In order to eliminate that fear, the intention has to be right. After that, research. Maybe you don't like what you thought you wanted to do, maybe while you're researching you'll find that you like something else. Next is to start small, for example, if you're trying to open a clothing line then go to your local fabric store, get some fabric, find a local seamstress, just experiment and have fun. Play with garments in your closet; ask yourself how you can change it. Start slow and experiment, especially if you're young.
If you could name one word to describe Nordest, what would it be?
That's a good question. To be really honest, I would go with spirituality again. Whether you believe in God or not, you can believe in spirituality. I feel like it's the energy boost, and the reason why we're here. To be in the constant remembrance of God is why we're here, to contemplate. Why I describe the Nordest gal is because she (Nordest gal) is not gossiping, she's talking about God's creation, she's contemplating, she's enjoying a moment, and a person able to do that is a person who's connected. Spirituality is the word.
Check out Ghalia's recently launched clothing brand, Nordest. Instagram: @nordestofficial
Let us know in the comments below what you think makes up a #Girlboss.
Writer, student, and a lover of art.