Say hello to Sana Saleh, the founder of founder of Lala Hijabs. TikTok has become the latest star-building tool for up-and-coming social media influencers, but for Sana and the @salehfamily account she runs with her husband Will counts as just the tipping point of her success.
When tie-dye made a major comeback in 2020, Sana’s love for colour spurred her to hand-dye her own. With people asking her where she purchased her hijab from, Lala Hijabs was born and Sana and Will have not looked back since.
SC: Tell us about your hijab story. When did you start wearing your hijab and what does it mean to you?
SS: I grew up in a very small town in Western Canada. We had 100-plus Muslims in our little town but not a single one of the women wore hijab. It was not the norm, and so my parents also did not force me to wear it. Our religion teaches that it should be organic and although it is mandatory to wear it after the age of puberty, it should never be enforced.
I grew up practicing my faith without the hijab. In college, I joined a community group called Interfaith Bridging as the only Muslim representative. People would often ask me ‘What faith are you from?‘ during the conferences. That is when I realized I looked just like everyone else. Hijab is not only an act of worship, it is also our outward identity as Muslim women. That is the time when I started thinking about how people can recognize who I am.
It was also around the time when social media became popular and I started following Muslim girls on YouTube who would do hijab tutorials. I started to experiment with it in university and although I felt uncomfortable, I felt called to try it. As I started wearing it out in public (on weekends at first), I started gaining confidence in wearing it. I was always worried about what my friends or peers would think, so I decided that I would embrace the hijab full-time once I graduated from university, and that is exactly what I did. The day I finished my last class, I put it on and have never taken it off. I feel so confident in it. It is my source of strength and identity. I feel more connected to my faith, and Creator and I love that it was an organic process for me.
SC: What inspired you to start Lala Hijabs?
SS: My husband Will was laid off at the start of the pandemic. He worked in the aircraft industry, which was the hardest hit when the pandemic began. This is around the same time our first lockdown happened and when everyone joined TikTok to pass the time. We joined just out of boredom and posted one or two videos where we made jokes about each other. We then realized that people enjoyed it, so we continued creating more content.
I was scrolling the ‘For You’ page on TikTok one day and saw that everyone was tie-dying their clothing while in lockdown. From there I went to Walmart the next day, grabbed a few bottles of dye and grabbed the only off-white hijab I had in my closet. In addition, I dyed it pink and purple and fell in love with the design. No one in the hijab world had anything like it. I started wearing it while filming videos on TikTok and that is where the interest began. Everyone started asking where I got it from and that is when we sat down and wrote out the vision for Lala Hijabs. Our five-year-old daughter came up with the name and now we are expanding every second of every day.
SC: You have so many collections. How do you come up with ideas for all of them?
SS: We go by the season as well as what is trending. Our first collection was pastels – something that is rarely seen in the hijab world – with bright pinks, blues, yellows and purples. Then we expanded into more neutral colours. We are always looking at what colours are trending and what people are looking for, and then we design our collections accordingly.
SC: Can you tell us about your design process? What materials do you use and where are your hijabs made?
SS: William does all of the designs. I might come up with the colour range and blends, but he does all of the designs himself. He is incredible at coming up with tie-dye techniques and it makes them so unique. Our entire process of dying takes two to three days per hijab design.
From the time we get our raw material, to the point of dying them, it takes a few weeks usually. We dye every single hijab by hand, making each hijab a unique piece of art. Although we try to keep every hijab looking similar to one another, every single one will be a little bit different and unique as they are all done individually. Then we hand rinse them and hang them to dry. Our philosophy is to use as little energy as possible in manufacturing them. Air-drying them uses no energy and it keeps them wrinkle-free too!
SC: Why is it important for you to use non-toxic, eco-friendly dyes?
SS: Our entire brand is based around being earth-conscious. From the time we manufacture and dye our hijabs to how we package our products, we are always thinking about the earth. Our packaging is 100% plastic-free as we use only compostable materials. And so we knew our dyes had to be the same. Our dyes are non-toxic and eco-friendly, making them perfect for sensitive skin. It makes us happy knowing we can do a small part in reducing the impact of waste on the earth. Especially when we are rinsing dozens of hijabs per day with the dye.
SC: What’s the key to making a comfortable hijab?
SS: Soft material! We searched high and low for the most comfortable fabric. Our hijabs are honestly the softest jersey you will ever feel. We wanted our hijabs to be a material that can be worn every day of the year. Some hijabs are made to be worn for special occasions but we wanted comfort and softness to be at the forefront. Not only that, but they are also breathable so they can be worn during the hottest days and on the coldest. They are truly the most versatile hijabs ever and can be wrapped in any style with ease.
SC: You mention on your website that colour is clinically proven to enhance our emotions and mood. What colours do you like to wear when you want to lift your spirits?
SS: Our pastel collection was all based on colour theory. This is the collection we launched our business with. Colours are so important and impactful on our mood. When I wear any one of our hijabs from our pastel collection, it instantly gives me a boost. Yellow is known to be energetic and uplifting, blue is calming and relaxing, purple is creative and peaceful and pink is full of love.
We have had hundreds of customers leave reviews on our site talking about how our hijabs lift them up and make them feel better when they feel like they are having a gloomy day. Colour is truly an amazing thing, and it was lacking in the hijab world. When we started our business we knew that every hijab brand lacked lustre and the brilliant colours of life, so we started our first collection with something no one had ever seen before. Even people who were afraid of colour embraced them!
SC: Since both you and your husband do not have a background in fashion or media, were there any learning curves when it came to running your own business?
SS: We had tons of learning opportunities as we grew our business. William is an aircraft maintenance engineer by trade and I am a social worker. We both are self-taught when it comes to running our business. I built the entire website on my own, I also run all of our social media channels and work the entire customer service side of our business. We are a two-person show and I am so grateful we have taken the opportunity to learn and grow together.
These days, you can honestly D.I.Y anything. I learned everything there is to know about building our site and business through Google, YouTube videos and podcasts. The information is all out there, you just have to be willing to be a sponge and soak it all in!
SC: You and your husband have grown a huge audience on TikTok where you address the misconceptions surrounding Muslims and Islam. How has your content helped others better understand Muslims and their religion?
SS: We are a very unique dynamic as I grew up in the Islamic faith while William only embraced it in his twenties. So, we seem to have a lot to say when it comes to all things about our faith. We came to realize early on in our social media career that people were curious and wanted to know the basics, like ‘Who can see my hair?’ or ‘Why do Muslims dress like that?’. Thus, we began creating informative videos with a spin of comedy to teach those basics, and we receive literally hundreds of comments and messages each day from people who have said they grew up in a small town or were not exposed to the Islamic faith, and now all of their preconceived notions and misconceptions are gone.
In sum, we are so grateful that we can use our platform to educate while making people smile. And in doing so, we can humanize Muslims. It truly is a blessing. We love our TikTok community and none of our success would have been possible if it was not for TikTok. It was the catalyst for everything we do and we are so connected to our community there.
SC: Your website features women of all colours. Why is it important to you to feature women from different cultures and ethnicities?
SS: Our faith teaches us that we were created in different tribes and nations so we can come together and know one another. When we started Lala Hijabs, we knew we wanted to represent that. Women are so unique and beautiful and our models truly represent the diversity in this world. We want everyone to feel included and represented.