Virginia resident seeks equal space for women worshipers and spreads powerful messages while she’s at it.
STAFFORD – Imagine this. You walk into a gorgeous building, filled with elaborate décor and plenty of space. But rather than remain in the spacious area, you go to a separate, considerably smaller room. That’s the tiny, designated spot where you can worship, solely because you’re a woman.
It’s an issue that Ayesha Noor came across years ago, as she entered mosques to pray.
Thankfully, the unequal situation wasn’t the norm in Noor’s life. In fact, it was quite the opposite.“In my community, they always made sure men and women had equal space,” Noor said. “If it’s a small space, even then, they would get the equal space.”
That’s why, after entering a few mosques where women did not have an equal space to gather, she decided to bring attention to the issue she observed.
“I saw beautiful mosques, which were amazing. They had massive chandeliers and massive prayer halls” Noor said. “But they put women in, like, a side room. That wasn’t acceptable to me.”
Noor began documenting mosques in 2014, blogging about both the positive and negative experiences she had, given each house of worship’s space.
An Expanding Opportunity
As her Equal Entrance online presence grew, so did a business opportunity of the same name. Aside from looking for equal worshiping spaces, Noor also sought out fashionable items that spread various powerful messages.
Unfortunately, she found few options to wear over her outer cover, which conceals the clothing she wears underneath.
“Whatever t-shirt I’m wearing, whatever message [t-shirt] I’m wearing, I’m not showing it to people – and I wanted to show it to people,” Noor said. “I would search scarves because I wear a headscarf all the time when I go out. And as I was searching for headscarves, I could not find any with a message on it. I came up with my own plan.”
Noor sought to spread messages of empowerment for women, in addition to spreading love for all.
“I thought, you cannot go wrong with that,” Noor said. “It’s an all-encompassing motto and message.”
She started her line based off of those two principals, designing scarves with a purpose. Also, owning several scarves herself, she knew the best materials to source for both fashionable and utilitarian purposes.
As more and more people became familiar with her products, customers requested additional options.
“Men were like, ‘Can we have it on a t-shirt?’” Noor said. “So men bought it as well.”
Reaching Out in Virginia
“I think the messages that were close to my heart, I just wanted to share with people,” Noor said.
A welcomed surprise came when Noor realized her clientele wasn’t contingent on one faith tradition. Instead of ordering headscarves to use solely as hijabs, people also bought her scarves as a fashion statement.
“Most of my clients are not Muslims. They’re from all religious backgrounds,” Noor said. “This is what makes it interesting.”
The business owner strives for her line to represent all kinds of people.
“It worked,” Noor said. “People loved it.”
In fact, people love the products so much that Noor ships orders all over the world.
The COVID Conundrum in Virginia
The business was a hit. Then, suddenly, it took a hit. When COVID came to Virginia in March, like many small businesses, Equal Entrance’s sales went down.
“At the beginning of the pandemic, it was definitely very slow,” Noor said.
People weren’t leaving their homes, so there wasn’t as much of a need for clothing designed for going out.
Noor needed a new plan. She quickly devised one. In addition to offering headscarves and t-shirts, she also started designing face masks in Virginia.
Noor offered the facial accessories as quickly as she could, selling them at affordable prices.
She also came up with another design, based off of an idea her clients provided – a virtual meeting scarf. It’s a lighter material than the headscarves Noor traditionally sells because it’s main purpose gives a pop of color to an outfit for Zoom meetings.
As Noor came up with new, innovative ideas for Equal Entrance, keeping her business afloat wasn’t her only ambition during the pandemic.
“I tried to make sure that I’m also giving my share to the community,” Noor said.
The businesswoman donated to local organizations, including student organizations and children’s organizations.
“At this time, this is not a time to make money,” Noor said. “This is a time to stop this virus as much as we can.”
As the holidays approached, business boomed once again as people purchased quality, meaningful gifts for others.
“I’m seeing a big shift toward the small businesses, the women-owned small businesses, where people are promoting on Instagram and other people are promoting,” Noor said. “I’m just loving, loving, loving the idea of a lot of women in businesses now, and side businesses, and the way that they’re handling it right now. There’s an element of compassion there.”
A bright future
In the future, Noor hopes to expand her line to include more options, reaching an even broader clientele.
Additionally, she hopes to add to her Equal Entrance blog more regularly as more religious centers continue to open their doors. Her blog initially took a hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I want to create not just a big business, but also I want to create a community where I am able to talk about the issues that I care about, other people. Creating a safe space,” Noor said. “My whole idea of creating this space is for women to be able to have equal space, whether it’s a mosque or a church or a public transport or a concert. I don’t want women to ever feel they can be sexually harassed. I want that kind of public space on the internet too, where women are able to talk about their issues, their problems, their solutions and how they can take it from there.”
Interviewed by Amie Knowles. Originally published in Dogwood News.