Jamila El Maroudi : Launching an Ancient Concept in a New Market

https://www.womeninfocus.com.au/___sbsstatic___/images/Jamila%20ElMaroudi_Portait.jpgAfter arriving in Australia in 2006, Jamila El Maroudi soon recognised a niche opportunity in the market. She began to focus her knowledge and experience into developing Mira’s Hand Moroccan Hammam Spa product range, which launched in November 2011. In doing so, she provided her expertise to the market and shared her cultural heritage through training and consulting.

The feedback since has been nothing but positive and in many instances those who take time to experience the full treatment (at home or at a spa) consider it the best body treatment they have ever had. Jamila shares her experience navigating the startup phase of Mira’s Hand and her vision for having 100 000 Australian women experiencing an authentic Moroccan Hammam treatment.

How did you come to create Mira’s Hand?

It didn’t take long for me to begin yearning for a Moroccan Hammam Spa (meaning ‘Giver of warmth’) after moving to Australia in 2006. At the time, no Hammams existed in Victoria or interstate as far as I was aware, nor were there any spa facilities or a suitable range of products available with the ability to provide something akin to an authentic experience. I would have home grown products posted out to me or stock up on my return visits to transform my own bathroom to my weekly ‘Hammam at Home’ ritual. I would often receive compliments on my skin and began sharing the practices taught to me by my late grandmother Mira with eager friends and family.  

The Hammam ritual seems like an essential part of your life, how early did you learn the rituals and how important are they in the Moroccan culture?

Hammams or bathhouses are incredibly important in Moroccan culture. Rooted in ancient Roman spa traditions but incorporating uniquely Moroccan techniques and treatments, they still share some common traits to other cultural spa experiences. They are accessible to all ages and sexes, affordable and a fundamentally communal experience excluding no-one.  As places where the community comes together, Hammams are a place of celebration and healing, essential and intrinsic to important life events. Brides are taken to the Hammam for a hen’s do, new mums are pampered and cared for 40 days after giving birth and widows take off their mourning garment 40 days after the death of their husbands.

From a very young age, in fact, as long as I can remember, I was taken to the Hammam by my mother, cousins, grandmother and other women close to the family. My grandmother, Mira, and my mother taught me these beauty rituals from a very young age and whenever I visit Morocco, my local Hammam is the first place I go after unpacking my bags.

What was your experience in funding the start of Mira’s Hand?

I have an incredibly supportive partner who is an experienced new business development manager. This support, together with my marketing and publicity background experience, combined well to provide a great set of skills for launching a business with limited capital and funds. Being naturally risk averse, we developed the products and our web site with our target audience with some measured investments and the skills of personal contacts (family and friends). We used our own savings and self funded the business, leveraging the cost-effectiveness and reach of social media platforms to develop a market presence. I was also still working full time while launching the business and used my income to help fund the business.  

What funding advice would you give others starting out on their own?

Test the waters first, but believe in what you are doing. Keep your day job for as long as is logically possible, plan and manage outlays and minimize debt so you can continue paying your bills. However, when the time comes you will need to ensure you are financially and emotionally ready to make a full commitment to the business.

Currently my partner helps pay the household bills, while I am re-investing everything I make into growing the business, it’s a classic bootstrapping model. That said, talk to your accountant and make sure you have a supportive bank who can advise on what options are best suited to your circumstances. It really depends on the type of business, its capital and cash flow requirements, as to what kind of funding and finance strategies you should consider.

Did you experience any difficulties when you first entered the market?

Yes, difficulties and challenges of varying degrees. Much of what we have learnt has been trial and error and also seeking out the support of some key industry experts. Start-up business knowledge is also varied and at times even basic business support is hard to come by, such as simply sourcing the most appropriate insurance and freight partners. It often feels like you are the first person to ever ask certain questions and can be quite hard to source experienced people who know how to get things done cost effectively and reliably. Additionally, our products are all based on authentic beauty rituals. Our ‘hero’ product is our 100% pure Moroccan argan oil and, unfortunately, it has been frequently misrepresented in Australia. It is known here predominantly as a hair-care product but traditionally pure argan oil is first a culinary oil and secondly a cosmetic product. We visit quite a few expos and shows, which is a fantastic opportunity for us to educate our markets.  

How receptive are Australians to Hammam and have you had to adapt anything for the Australian market?

Australia is a very multicultural country, and my clients have different backgrounds, Indian, Arabic, Middle Eastern, Asian, Italian, Greek and Anglo. Many of my clients have travelled extensively and have been to Hammams in Morocco, Turkey or the Middle East. They understand how the natural and organic products work and how to apply them. A big part of our business is education, so when our products are purchased, we always provide clear instructions on how to use the products.

Last year we partnered with The Spa at The Darling in Sydney, rated one of the best hotel spas in Australia. The Spa at The Darling not only has 16 treatment rooms, but also two beautiful private Hammam chambers. We trained the spa therapists in performing the rituals and invited beauty editors of all the major magazines to experience the authentic Moroccan Hammam ritual. The feedback and reviews we received from the editors was fabulous!

What was your approach to selling your products? Did you have any experience in sales?

We decided from the start that we didn’t feel investing in bricks and mortar was feasible or wise, particularly from a capital and cash flow perspective. Regardless, our products require some education on their use to provide the most effective outcomes and experiencing the results is an epiphany for most, with word of mouth our most powerful selling agent. 

Although they look great, we felt they could also be lost in a crowded retail environment without the sales skills to represent them adequately, at least initially until we had the chance to train retailers. We didn’t want to be another beauty product that sits on the shelf gathering dust and end up heavily discounted, or have a limited intended product life, which is why the industry has such a high new product development and release rate. We offer authenticity, value and credibility and did not want to get caught in a race to the bottom competing with mass produced products.

Instead, we initially focused on spas that have a ‘wet facility’ in which the Hammam ritual can be adopted and implemented effectively with our traditional products. Secondary, selling online allows us to build our direct sales model to the public, many of whom experience our products at expos and shows. I have a marketing background, and my partner works in business development and these skills obviously compliment each other well. We have both developed into senior roles in our respective careers and have a strong understanding of sales and marketing, both traditional retail and online.

What was the inspiration for incorporating travel tours into your business?

It takes an immense amount of work to produce one liter of argan oil. Every argan nut that is pressed is cracked by hand using two stones by women who are formed in cooperatives. It takes between 30 and 40 hours of cracking argan nuts to produce one liter of this precious and rare oil. Of course, buying the oil directly from the cooperative that we work with and sharing a portion of our profits helps the women financially, however we wanted to contribute more than this for their hard work. 

I also wanted to share my real Morocco with other women via an authentic, luxurious experience, and share the unique wellness benefits Moroccan culture can provide. This includes eating well, laughing a lot, visiting the best Hammams, relaxing, cooking and dancing with the women too!

I have now designed a tour that will not only will make you feel good, but also does good, as the aim of the tour is to not only have an incredible experience, but also to give back to our cooperative.

When do you run your women only Moroccan tours and what can women expect when joining one?

Mira’s Wellness Tours will run in September 2013. Wellness means wellness ‘Moroccan style’, where all participants can experience the breadth of experience, from being well fed to well exercised and well rested, but none of the usual rushing around having to tick all the boxes. Women can expect an authentic and unique experience. There will be a strong focus on luxury, the best and most traditional Hammam rituals as well as cooking classes, yoga and dancing. 

We end the tour by visiting the cooperatives, where we will spend a day with the women cooking and partying. By the end of the tour I will present them with a contribution that will be enough to supply health care insurance for up to 50 women and their families for one year.

The tour is sized to accommodate 12 guests only, allowing for a more personal experience. The hotels I have chosen are a mixture of boutique riads, eco retreats and five star luxury hotels. It is already being well received and we are experiencing some strong demand but most of all its going to be a lot of fun! We have teamed up with Jetset Travel in Melbourne and interested readers can email rosie.centralmelbourne@jetset.com.au for more information.

What does the future hold for Mira’s Hand?

I would like to have 100,000 Australian women experience an authentic Hammam treatment by December 2014, either by visiting one of our spa partners or by experiencing the ritual in the privacy of their own bathroom. I think the biggest difference with young girls in Australia and young girls in Morocco is that Australian girls grow up with images of female bodies largely influenced by those shown on television and magazines, whilst Moroccan girls tend to have more realistic body images through attending Hammams from a young age. They know what a woman looks like who has just given birth, a bride or a grandmother, young or old bodies are not a secret. With our Hammam products, I want to offer women the opportunity to take time for themselves and take pride in their bodies, to stop being ashamed, alone or in front of each other.

My friend Dr. Zara Celik just opened her beautiful Hammam in Melbourne. At her Amara Wellness Centre, she runs a chiropractor practice, but also offers authentic Hammam treatments. Just before Christmas we decided to have a Hammam together in one of her three private chambers. It was so nice to have that moment, after all the hard work of the year gone, where we could connect, exfoliate each others back, share our childhood Hammam stories and laugh out loud in confidence. At a certain point one, of the therapists came into the Hammam and I could tell she was uncomfortable seeing us naked and covered in Moroccan Rhassoul Mud. I want to remove that shyness and allow women to claim back their self-confidence, which starts with knowing our bodies and loving ourselves.

Who inspires you most in business and why?

I am inspired by women mostly, of course the Bransons and Jobs of this mostly male dominated business world have done a terrific job building their empires and influencing consumers, but for me it is the proud and independent woman I look up to. Women who can multitask and who are incredibly smart, not necessarily those who are book smart, but more the kind of women that are street smart and witty, understand who they are and can read other people.

Bethenny Frankel is a straight-talking, New York business woman with the best one liners. She had many failed business experiences, but tried and tried again. She has built her Skinny Girl brand into an empire. She is honest and shows incredible determination.

On home ground, Emma Isaacs from Business Chicks is witty, has a super fast brain, is charming, engaging and hard working, I really like her strong energy.

I also do my weekly shop at Little Saigon Market in Footscray. I like the vibe and of course the prices there. ‘Markets are where the honest people are’, my dad used to say. I am inspired by the Vietnamese grandmother who will haggles with you and sells her spices and sauces on the corner of the street, talking to me in Vietnamese, to the young girls working the till at the market. They have no Linkedin, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or Pinterest, just good old fashioned lungs to scream and sell their wares, just like many business women back home.

You can find out more about Mira’s Hand on www.mirashand.com.au

Or you can connect with Jamila on the Women in Focus community