Pioneer women designers tap unmet demand for modest activewear
Inspiration struck at the top of Mount Kilimanjaro. Two friends, Haya Al-Ghanim and Amina Ahmadi, the co-founders of Oola Sports, made it to the summit of the Tanzanian mountain. They wore sports clothing that was appropriate for the conditions, but it did not give them the coverage they desired.
So began their visionary mission to create a range of high-quality modest fitness clothing, suitable for women across the Middle East.
That arduous climb took place in January 2015, and was the start of a long journey.
Haya, who was Innovation Director at Qatar Science & Technology Park, explains: “While we were training for Kilimanjaro, we really wanted to train outside, but we were struggling to find something to wear that was appropriate.”
Amina says: “We knew at that point that we wanted to do something about it, but it was the experience of Kilimanjaro itself that brought Oola to life. We made up our minds that we were going to go back home and take action.”
Oola Sports now provides women with modest, loose-fitting activewear that performs well in action and aligns with their cultural values.
Made from functional cutting-edge fabric, the sleek kit replaces the multitude of items Haya and Amina had to cobble together previously in order to cover up.
They found that other women were also searching far and wide for appropriate gear. They realised there was a huge unmet demand for modest long-sleeved sportswear made from ultra-modern technical fabrics.
So, on their return from Africa, they teamed up with Lilian Gabriel Barbosa, a fashion designer with a background in physical therapy. She embraced the challenge of designing a line of activewear that is loose fitting and stylish, without compromising on sports and fitness performance.
They launched in June 2015, partnering with Behold, and leveraging Indiegogo crowdfunding.
Businesswoman Haya used her experience in creating support programmes for entrepreneurs, including accessing accelerator and investment funds, to push the process forward.
She says: “I’ve been working with entrepreneurs for my entire career. Being so close to the entrepreneurship ecosystem and enabling entrepreneurs certainly inspired me to form a team to solve the struggle of exercising outdoors for many women.
“While forming a community around outdoor sports, I used lessons learned from forming a community of entrepreneurs in Qatar and globally.”
She adds: “I grew up believing the sky is my limit, thanks to my upbringing and the support available for us in Qatar. My family encouraged me to learn, explore and pursue what I enjoy.
“Their support, coupled with the incredible support we get from the government in terms of education, career development opportunities I got through Qatar Foundation, as well as the incubation of Qatar Business Incubation Center, all paved the path to get Oola to where it is today.”
After a rigorous process of sketching, multiple visits to factories around the world to identify suitable trade partners and numerous prototype iterations, a first collection of Oola sportswear was produced.
It included various sport headpieces, and a multi-sport top. This was followed by other styles, including trousers and jackets.
Haya says: “Modesty is a relative value that varies from one person to the other. We want to provide modest sportswear options to as many women as we can. Providing variety is something we aspire to – this is not a ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution. Women need a range of clothing to suit different needs.
“I want Oola to become the comfortable, stylish option for women seeking function and fashion.”
These energetic businesswomen hope to inspire and empower a new generation of Qatari women to get fit.
Haya says: “My hope is to impact the health and wellness of the next generation. Giving women access to outdoor sports means their children and younger relatives will join in too. This will, hopefully, have an impact on their lifestyle, making it more healthy.
“Given the link between physical activities and metabolic diseases, such as diabetes and obesity, encouraging healthy lifestyles should make the next generation healthier, more active and more productive.
“I’m proud of Oola every time I see a woman wearing our outfits, working out outdoors and sweating. This brings pure joy to my heart and makes me forget about all the challenges of setting up a new business.”
And, of course, there is another upside to Oola’s continuing success. Haya says: “Now my sports bag is lighter, and I get the coverage I want and look fashionable. It is win-win.”
About Oola Sports
Oola means ‘the first’, or ‘the pioneer’. The young entrepreneurs believe every woman is a pioneer in her own life and Oola reflects this ethos.
Oola Sports sells clothes specialising in cycling, hiking, running, golf and tennis.
You can buy their products in stores in Qatar and the UK – and online around the world.
“My hope is to impact the health and wellness of the next generation. Giving women access to outdoor sports means their children and younger relatives will join in too. This will, hopefully, have an impact on their lifestyle, making it more healthy.”
– Haya Al-Ghanim