Our November Inspirational figure is Sister Afsana from Simply Mallows! Join us on this lovely chit-chat to find out the story behind her yummy marshmallows and for great insights into her personal life. She also shares wonderful tips for all the business women who need that extra dose of motivation and inspiration!
1) Tell us about the story behind your business.
I used to make specialty cakes as Sugar Gem Cakes. When I learned that a lot of our Muslim brothers and sisters had a habit for bargaining something down to the absolute lowest possible price, I decided to stop pursuing that. I wanted to come up with something that wasn’t so personalized and could have set prices. I still wanted to be part of something related to sweets as my husband and I had major sweet tooths. We try to eat healthy and organic as much as possible too. One day my husband wanted s’mores, but we couldn’t find any halal marshmallows that didn’t have a long list of chemicals we didn’t know much of. He said, “Can’t you make your own marshmallows?”, and my quest began! Alhamdulillah, with only a few known ingredients I was able to make a delicious marshmallow, and Simply Mallows was born.
2) Without disclosing any secret recipes, tell us more about the process of making the marshmallows and the amount of time it takes to make them and to come up with different recipes!
It takes about 12 hours start to finish to make a batch, with about 2 of those hours being active time. The marshmallows need to “cure” or set for several hours. The hardest part is carefully watching the sugar boil, because it always overflows the second I take my eyes off! I have a small group of friends here with me, in Houston, who are my official taste testers. I’ve always been a cook at heart, so when it comes to new recipes, Alhamdulillah it has been fairly easy to find the right balance of flavors. Of course there have been a few that didn’t make the cut!
3) Have you found it challenging to obtain organic, GMO free ingredients for your marshmallows?
As time progresses, organic ingredients are becoming more and more available. I am so happy that people are beginning to see the importance of organic and GMO free ingredients. They may be a little more expensive, but definitely worth it. What is more important than our well being? The saying goes something like…”You are what you eat”.
4) What are some of your other responsibilities besides your personal business? And how do you make time for everything that is on your plate?
First of all, let me mention there are never enough hours in the day for me to tend to every responsibility I have! Most importantly, I am a wife, a daughter, and daughter-in-law. It’s a top priority for me to find time to actively fulfill those roles throughout the day. Other than that, I work as a project manager and a tutor at Suprex Learning, a tutoring company in Sugar Land, TX. I am still learning time management and it’s safe to say I have a long, long way to go…
5) How do you stay motivated when overcome with challenges and what is your greatest source of inspiration?
My greatest support is my faith in Allah (swt). I know in my heart that Allah (swt) will help me throughout my challenges, and if I am challenged with something, it is His test. I find that it makes it easier to stay calm mentally when one is aware that Allah (swt) is always there, and He is so merciful, we forget to count our blessings when we are faced with challenges. My husband is one of my greatest blessings and I thank Allah swt for him every day. He keeps me motivated and on task when I start to lose focus. My greatest source of inspiration is Khadijah RA, I strive to be the wife and business woman she was.
6) What are some of the responses and reviews you received from your customers?
Alhamdulillah I love each and every one of my customers for they have given such great reviews on our products. I cannot thank them enough for having so many good things to say! Even when I feel that a batch is not “the best” I get reviews on it stating that the marshmallows were the best they ever had. A repeat customer is the best review ever. That’s how you know they really liked it!
7) In spite of using organic ingredients, did you find it imperative to take certain precautions for your health?
My husband is very keen on what he eats. After marriage I started to read articles that he would show me and it opened my eyes to all the dangerous effects some everyday products can have on our health. We stay as far away as possible to soy and products in BPA ridden plastics. Coming from Bangladesh and Pakistan, we find that endocrine disorders are very common. Soy and BPA are proven endocrine disrupters and we’d like to stay healthy for as long as we can Insha’Allah.
8) How challenging has it been to start your own business? And who is your main supporter?
Alhamdulillah, it hasn’t been too hard to get everything started. With the rock star supporters like my husband and my mother-in-law, I have had such a wonderful experience getting Simply Mallows on the road. I would have to say my mother-in-law is my greatest supporter. She is always promoting me wherever she can and always has ideas on how to increase business. I don’t think I would’ve come this far or even taken the first step if it wasn’t for her support. Alhamdulillah, my friends, especially those in Houston, and family have been awesome supporters. Sometimes we take these people for granted, but I promise, I would not have been able to be where I am without their help and support. Thank you!!
9) What advice do you have for Muslim women in particular, who are keen on pursuing their passions and embarking upon their own businesses, yet are hesitant about taking the first step?
My advice to all my Muslim sisters out there is to just do it! Make an intention with a clean heart and put your faith in Allah swt. I always ask Allah swt, if it is good for me, bring me closer to it, if it wrong for me, take me away from it. Insha’Allah if Allah swt sees good in it for you, He will see you through it. Make a list of what is challenging you, then create a plan to tackle each one. However, the one thing that should not be a challenge is someone who tells you that you can’t do it. You came up with the idea, you thought of a plan, and Insha’Allah, you can do it!
10) How would you encourage women with start-ups to continue with their hard work and dedication in spite of the rejection they receive from others, if any?
Rejection is a part of life. We can’t make everyone happy. All that matters at the end of the day is if you are happy and content. There will always be someone to dampen your spirits. I’ve had my fair share of people laughing at my idea, people very close to me in fact. Once they see that nothing can dampen your spirits, they themselves will get tired of rejecting your ideas. Work past the rejection. You are not doing what you do to please those people, you are pleasing Allah swt in every good thing you do. Keep that in mind. I know it hurts and sometimes causes a waterfall of tears, but think of it as a test from Allah swt. Are you going to give up because of a person? Or are you going to trust your Lord with something He has brought you to? Pray that those people see your vision the way you see it, and if they don’t, well… some people just don’t have a vision!
11) When you don’t find yourself immersed in the kitchen trying out different ingredients and tasting all the mouthwatering marshmallows you make, what do you enjoy spending your time on?
Ha! The two minutes a day I am not working on marshmallows or at my other job, I try to sleep as much as I can, or at least I try to. But in all honesty, I’m a very artsy person. I enjoy painting, cooking for fun (yes, some people like it!), and being silly with my husband. I also love, love ice cream, so if there’s ice cream in the house and I’m “free”, I’ll most probably be eating ice cream.
12) What future plans do you have for your business?
Insha’Allah I hope to get in to retail stores like Whole Foods and Trader Joes, maybe even Target! We also want to be beneficial to our community, so when it comes time to hire employees, we’d love to start by hiring refugees in our city.
I have personally tried Simply Mallows, and they are really delicious! Very fresh and fluffy. Asfana is also an absolute pleasure to do business with. Stop by her Etsy shop to order some yummy marshmallows for yourself, or as a gift! She also does ‘party favors’ and custom requests. You won’t be disappointed, in shaa Allah!
13) Anything else interesting you would like to share!
Hmmm… There’s so much to say when the floor is open! I do want to tell my fellow sisters this: create a bond with your Creator. All the worries in life: finding the right spouse, financial hardships, fertility issues, family troubles, whatever it may be, leave it in the hands of Allah swt. You will find so much peace that way and it will make life so much easier if you know that He is with you along the whole way!
About the author
Ibtihal is a striving Muslimah currently majoring in Islamic Economics, with the intention of spreading awareness about Islamic shari’ah law in this field in sha Allah. At the moment, she enjoys writing Islamic articles to share the knowledge she gains with others, hoping to inspire and motivate herself and others to be positive contributors in this world.