Shadia Al Hili - Various careers to Food Entrepreneur

“There’s no point telling our kids that they can be anything they want, if we show them we’re too scared to be what we want!”  

“In 2016, at the young age of 45, I reached my now or never moment.”

“I’m simply happier when I’m driving my own destiny - not being in the passenger seat of someone else’s dream.”

Overview of earlier career

At the age of 26 after finding herself a newly single mother and struggling to find a job after the Manchester bombing in 1996, Shadia began to sell shoes from the back of her car. Within days realised she was making a profit! 

After doing a basic Women into Business course, she launched the first ever independent shoe store in the famous Affleck’s Palace and from there, onto a stylish clothing unit. 

Five years later, Shadia spotted a gap in the beauty industry. Her Moroccan-born mother had taught her the artistry of threading as a young girl. 18 years ago, the popularity of the Kardashians saw this art trickling across to the UK. 

With zero beauty experience, she saw an ad in a glossy magazine suggesting Harrods 5th floor Beauty department were struggling to find therapists, let alone teachers who knew the art, to meet demand.

She called the Beauty Manager, secured an interview later that week and was employed on the spot! Commuting between both Harrods and the sister company in Harvey Nichols she quickly attracted a high-income, celebrity clientele who were hungry for the latest L.A. craze and would pay £50 for a 15 minute treatment. 

While she appreciated that being employed meant that her employer paid for beauty courses to advance her career, she struggled with restrictive, time-based employment rules and felt her life had become controlled. 

12 months later, even though she felt fearful about taking on sole financial responsibility, Shadia decided she had to take the plunge.  She set up her own beauty business, specialising in threading, with a beauty concession in one of the best hair Salons in Manchester (James Roberts) and shared their red-carpet-loving clientele. 

Her reputation saw her faithful clientele follow her and the business evolved to teaching others the art of threading. 

Once again, she was fully in control of her time. Even though Shadia understood that Saturday was the busiest day for a beauty therapist, she refused to work on Saturdays. Weekends were reserved for her kids - to watch her son swimming or to take her daughter to dance classes. 

The trigger for change? 

“One day I was making Ful madamous - a fava dip which is a favourite staple in the Middle Eastern diet. It was one of the many dishes my parents introduced me to as a kid growing up. 

I made a fleeting comment to my sister wondering why it wasn’t available to buy ready-made.  

Something triggered.

It was a lightbulb moment. 

But, this time it felt different. I truly believed this was my calling in life. With only one problem:I knew NOTHING OF THE FOOD WORLD!

First steps? 

I kept working in my beauty business (3 days a week) so that I could finance and test the new business, Cuzena, from home (2 days a week).  I did that until I couldn’t keep doing both...and stay sane! 

My ex-clients, many of whom had become great friends, implored me not to change career. 

People around me could see that my life was financially settled, so it didn’t make sense to them. I was fully booked everyday, weeks in advance and couldn’t take on new clients.  I was the one-man-band providing for my children and taking them on lovely holidays. So, financially, others didn’t think I should rock the boat.  

It wasn’t about the money. 

I just felt I had more to give. 

I owed it to myself not to stay stagnant just because it was easier. 

I needed to know who I could be. 

I wasn’t done with my life story. 

I knew I had more to give. 

I just didn’t know how I could truly do it or where to start. I knew nobody in the food industry let alone the food world! 

I think other people’s fear of failure can easily influence you and make you want to ‘stay safe”.  It took time to convince myself that I could and should do it.

Then I decided...F*ck it, I’m doing it! What’s the worst that can happen? I could go back to doing brows and waxing fanjitas until I’m 65!....that was the worst thing that could happen...I could always go back! 

In 2016, at the ‘young’ age of 45, I reached my now or never moment. 

I had to know IF I could really introduce this amazing food to the world. 

I re-mortgaged my house and got the cheapest, shared office I could find as a base for the dream to become my reality. 

I’d never owned a laptop. I couldn’t even copy and paste. I’d always been creative but I was not techy! I got free lessons at Google and before long I was in the kitchen, sending emails and dropping samples to deli owners who were potential clients!

Ful madamous was not on the British market. It hadn’t been done but, like everything in my life thus far, that wasn’t enough to deter me!  

I see Madamous, just like Houmous, which was introduced to the mainstream by Waitrose. I’m doing the same with Madamous.  I know that sounds ambitious but if your dreams are not scary then you have to figure out why they are not scary enough! 

Shadia 2 products.png

What Shadia learned?  

  • Dreams will remain dreams until you take action. 

When you take action the road opens up to you. You must take action and those daily steps will take you closer to whatever you want. 

  • Don’t fear failure - learn from it instead.  

So what if you fall flat on your face? Get up! Next time you’ll know to put your hands down first! And you’ll never have to live with the regret of not trying.

  • You have to believe it’s possible and not be deterred just because it’s difficult. 

There was a time when you couldn’t read this line. You were probably pushed to invest time to learn to read. That’s a clear example that your ability improves only when you put the time in. You cannot undo your ability to read - it’s yours forever. 

Growth in any area is success and that is yours forever!  

  • People say ‘if it was easy everyone would do it’. I think that’s such BS!

If it was ‘guaranteed’ everyone would do it. There are millions of people that work hard for years in jobs they hate - which is far from easy but a monthly wage is guaranteed!

That’s the difference between those who choose to walk their own path. It’s not guaranteed to work or be successful.  

The success for me lies in your ability to take action even if success is not guaranteed..

  • Beware the employment trap.

Employers see your value and ensure they tie you in with ‘golden handcuffs’ or more training. You see it as personal growth, they see you as a commodity who can deliver more in the same hours!  

Either way you’re now invested too and legally bound to stay for a period of time, even if your not happy! It's a trap!

Choosing when and how you work is...priceless!’

  • Know your worth. 

Believe me, if you set your own rules or boundaries, your customers will adhere to them

In the beauty business, I knew my worth. I never worked on Saturdays even though it was the busiest day. 

I never lost a client because they made time to fit into my schedule.  Even if I did lose a treatment fee, it certainly wasn’t measurable against the quality time I gained ensuring family time at weekends was not compromised. 

  • A pay cheque to me is as addictive as crack but we accept it like sugar!  It grips you for years and convinces you that you can’t do without it. But, you can drop the habit! 

The security of a monthly cheque is truly addictive. 

The comfort of a regular monthly pay packet creates a false sense of security. Worse still, you just do your job and go home without knowing how great you are. Or what you’d be actually capable of achieving if you gave it everything! 

People are so fearful of losing their stability they convince themselves they’re better off.  Even though they are largely controlled 5 days a week with time restrictions: when they start; when they eat; and when they are “allowed” to go home.  To me that’s an open f*ckin prison!

  • Becoming self-paid is exhilaratingly addictive. 

Once you’re ‘self paid’ you’ll never want anyone to pay you again…they won’t be able to afford you! 

You get to control and choose how you spend your day. 

You work hard but on your own terms. 

  • Don’t try to reinvent yourself. 

Be authentically you or the mask will slip. It’s ok if you don’t know everything in your new field - you don’t have to! Life is a learning process.

  • The only reason we don’t follow our ambitions, ideas or dreams is because of FEAR.   

It’s so easy to think about what we could lose that most people never consider what they could gain. 

I read a lot. I get inspired by people who have the courage or tenacity to travel a path less travelled. I know, it’s scary but necessary, if you want to do something amazing!

In building Cuzena, I knew it had to be different. I wasn’t going to be a one-man-band this time. I want to create a legacy brand, to build something incredible, to make a difference employ people and be the best example I could be to the two people I love most, my children Eilsel and Zena.

  • Why not me? 

Sometimes, women especially, talk themselves out of their best ideas.  

For instance, if no one in the market is doing what you want to do, we can think that there must be a good reason that no-one has done it and conclude that there is no point of trying.  That’s just fear of failure talking. 

  • I’ve trained myself not to be afraid but I work at it every day. 

I’m as scared as everyone else but I start every day getting my head in the best place to perform and to reduce my fear. 

I always start with gratitude for my health and the health of my family. I use powerful affirmations, meditation, journalling, exercise and gratitude to help me. 

I also pretend I’m living my last day as often as possible. It pushes me beyond my fears of rejection. On the days when life gets too hectic to practise, I’m less productive.   

  • Grow a pair! 

Accept that failure is part of the journey. Getting up after every fall allows us to grow and get better.  I’ve experienced lots of failures in front of many and plenty of “I told you so” moments. 

But the only opinions that matter to me are from the two people I brought into this world. I am their example.  There’s no point telling them they can be anything they want if I’m too scared to be what I want! 

  • Some days are bloody tough!

The road is full of tough setbacks, knockbacks and many lonely hours! However you control your own time and to me that’s everything. You owe it to yourself not to live a life of regret, wondering ‘what if’ had you just had the courage to try!

  • The glory moments happen in the dark.   

The reality of owning a business is that you work harder and longer hours than most people do in jobs. You don’t have a boss to congratulate you when you do something well (or remind you that you missed a target!)  But it’s all worth it. 

Self employment empowers you in every facet of your life. It speaks volumes that you are a person who had the courage to act which shows belief in yourself. 

If you can go to work everyday, you better believe you’ll show up for yourself everyday with gusto!

On the days you just don’t have the resolve that's ok too, because we are human and sometimes life just gets in the way...your A game will come back.  

  • It’s about the journey not the destination. 

I set out to put Ful Madamous (the fava beans dip) on the map and available to the mainstream. I have succeeded in doing that. 

Our first big launch was in Whole foods and then Selfridges. We have many independents in the pipeline since getting a national distributor listing.

We’re in talks with a major retailer which is kind of unbelievable really.  

I just got my first unshared office and have employed three people for the first time. 

How it feels on the days when Shadia knows she has made the right decision?

It feels right! Satisfying. It’s motivating having no one to answer to.  

I love the freedom of not being controlled. 

I feel like I owe it to myself to see how far I can go. 

I’m simply happier when I’m driving my own destiny - not being in the passenger seat of someone else’s dream. 

It has stopped being about now and is about building something for the future.

Regrets?

None!

I wish I’d gone for it sooner, although I’ve reached a time in my life when I believe everything happens for a reason. 

I truly believed we arrived at the right time - people want to go back to healthy eating, there’s a rise in veganism and plant based eating there’s so much understanding of the benefits of eating pulses etc perhaps the stars were aligned for me to launch Cuzena. 

If you’d like to find out more about Shadia and her business Cuzena, contact her here:

Buy their goodies:

Stockists: Whole foods, As Nature Intended, Selfridges, Marigold, Cotswold Fayre.

Twitter: @cuzenabrand

Instagram: @cuzenabrand

Facebook: @cuzena


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