This investment banker has created a modest workwear brand that trains refugee women

Kentore is the UK’s first modest workwear label and social enterprise. They design with an obsessive attention to detail, and above all, with a drive to make a real impact on the lives of working women. They use their profits to provide training, jobs, and business mentorship to Syrian refugee women. Kentore has grown from one working woman making bespoke alterations for modest city professionals, to a designer label and social enterprise with operations in two continents.

 

As an investment banker in the City of London, Ayah Meki experienced first-hand the challenges that modest women face when dressing in the corporate world. Over a period of eleven months, she carried out meticulous market research and tried and tested numerous modest workwear designs, each time improving the form, structure and fit. Following extensive travels, she sourced an exclusive range of high-end handmade fabrics from Delhi, and hired expert tailors to further refine the construction.

 

What problem are you trying to solve?
Women’s economic empowerment / recognising, and supporting women in work.

 

What are your key activities towards solving this problem?

1. By designing an ethical workwear collection specifically tailored to the needs of modest professional women – a hugely underserved sector of the modest fashion market. No other brand caters exclusively to this sector, which has created numerous barriers for modest women when it comes to operating and progressing in the workplace.

 

2. By using the profits from each sale to support refugee women enter the world of work.

 


It’s essentially full-circle; with each purchase from our collection, our customers directly fund the training and employment of less fortunate (yet equally as entrepreneurial) women. These women are in turn trained and are hired by Kentore to design and produce bespoke components for future workwear items, which again will be purchased by our customers.

 

Essentially full-circle; our customers directly fund the training and employment of less fortunate (yet equally as entrepreneurial) women with each purchase from our collection, women who in turn, are trained and are hired by Kentore to design and produce bespoke components for future workwear items (which again will be purchased by our customers).

 

Would you recommend starting a company with a cofounder?
It depends! If you are lucky enough to find someone with the same passion, vision, and motivation then I would definitely recommend a partnership.

 

How did you onboard your first 5 customers?
We onboarded our first five customers by advertising the brand’s launch through professional networks (e-Newsletters) with a high percentage of professional female subscribers. In addition, a number of purchases were made by women who had been following our Instagram account in anticipation of the brand’s launch.

 

How did you find partners that believe in the same ethical standards as you?
By having a very clear vision from the outset of what type of brand I wanted this to be, what type of people I wanted to work with, and what ultimate goal I wanted to achieve. By consistently reminding myself of this, and in essence the high ethical standards I was committed to, I was able to narrow down and select partners who held themselves to very similar standards. Personal recommendations from people I trusted also played a role to some extent.

 

What is your proudest moment?
Probably launching Kentore after 18 months of hard work, with no investors or partners in the business.

 

Tell us a bit about your future plans and projects.
We’re working on a few exciting things at the moment. To name a couple:

1. Developing our #WarToWork initiative, specifically by working alongside the Syrian refugee women to design and produce bespoke components for our next workwear collection.
2. Developing our Klub Kentore concept – a customer loyalty club and design hub, where real working women can get involved in designing pieces for upcoming collections (vote on cuts, fabrics, colours etc.).

 

What’s the best advice you ever took?
It’s so hard to choose one! I’d say a piece of advice that I once received, and which I always remind myself of, is that this is a long game. Long term goals need to be prioritised over short-term gains, no matter how attractive the latter may seem.

 

What advice do you have for entrepreneurs when facing adversity?
Take a short break to collect your thoughts, but never give up. Seek perspective from advice from people you trust and who have your best interests at heart. Then pick up where you left off, even if that’s in a completely different direction.

 

Who inspires you?
In all honesty, the refugee women our brand is supporting. Despite all the hardships these women are going through, they continue to believe in themselves, their skills, their futures, and work so hard to turn even the smallest of their dreams to reality. This is what inspires me.

 

What’s a book you always recommend and why?
Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. It really highlights the huge role played by chance and opportunity when it comes to achieving success. There are so many capable, deserving individuals in this world, who are fighting to be acknowledged, to be given the opportunity to showcase and develop their talents, to really shine. Yet without someone noticing them in the first instance and giving them this opportunity, they struggle to get anywhere.

 

What are your top three tips for aspiring social entrepreneurs?
1. Really, really, understand your cause and dedicate time and effort to articulating this in the best way possible.
2. Test your idea before launching full-scale.
3. Don’t cut corners.

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