Showcasing a wide range of quality handpicked lifestyle products, Island Bazaar remains a great place to find unique gifts; a quintessential souvenirs and artwork purveyor for the traveler to take home. The high-quality products offered by Island Bazaar are well-thought out and truly represents the creative spirit of the Maldives.
Coming from an Interior Design background, and a passion for arts and crafts, the founders of island Bazaar combined their talents to explore a love of design, travel, and a deep-rooted appreciation for the Island lifestyle.
Island Bazaar came into being in 2015, founded by Fathimath Salah and Hassan Rameez; MFR sat down with Fathimath Salah to discuss the unique endeavour.
The Maldives Financial Review: Tell us about Island bazaar and the Products?
Fathimath Salah: Island bazaar started with a couple of cushion covers and a few artworks with the support and encouragement from family and friends. Artworks were made in our home, out of photographs taken on our travels within the Maldives and on our morning walks around Malé and Villingili. We displayed these along with a few other products by local artisans on our Instagram account of very few followers in the initial months.
As a lifestyle brand, our products range from apparel and homeware to jewellery, accessories and even things like puzzles. We also proudly carry a local artisanal collection, an incredible range of curated Maldivian crafts, art, and brands. All Island Bazaar products are designed in our studio and at home. Some are made in the Maldives, but the majority are currently manufactured overseas.
Ten months after we registered the business and started our Instagram account, on 2nd September 2016, we opened our humble boutique in Malé and grew slowly, and organically, and continue to do so thanks to our loyal followers.
MFR: What are the target goals and customer base like?
Fathimath: Our goal is to continue designing and producing creations unique to Island Bazaar, inspired by our culture and island life, and bringing them to both local and international clients. We always strive to improve the quality of our products via sustainable and socially conscious ways of production.
As a start-up, we wanted to grow organically instead of depending too much on advertisement. One of the main reasons was that, we were not particularly business savvy and did not want to risk being unable to deliver. We applied the same principal to social media, which grew over the years and primarily via local word of mouth. International customers got to experience our products through stockists in various Maldivian resorts, and subsequently expanded our social media presence as well.
MFR: What are some of the hurdles faced in establishing the business?
Fathimath: One of the earliest challenges was that we were creating something unfamiliar to the Maldivian market: a lifestyle brand. It required a lot of patience and proved to be an important learning experience for us. Banking also proved to be more challenging than we anticipated. Few banks decided that we were no longer eligible to bank with them as a small business in the Maldives. Local banks were not used to financing and working with small businesses.
I had been working as an Interior Designer for more than seven years and used savings from that period to finance the start of Island Bazaar. It was officially registered and began with one product (cushion covers), operating as an Instagram-only business. We also started sourcing local artisans and their products, curating, and featuring them on our social media.
During the initial years, the founders did not take a salary, as they were also working in their respective professions in addition to running Island Bazaar. This helped greatly with finance, and even now, their salary is nominal. Another factor in saving was the decision to open our boutique after nine months already in business and avoiding the high rents of Male' by choosing a small, first-floor location.
Over the past six years, we have kept a small multitasking team, doing most designing and marketing in-house as well. However, it is the belief we have in this business that keeps us going, and that one day it would become something special.
MFR: How do you plan to take the business to the next level?
Fathimath: We always had the dream of going international with our online shop. For a business owned and operated solely in the Maldives, it has not been an easy process. There have been challenges with banking, payment processing, and shipping out of Maldives, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
We are proud to have started our online shop in March 2020, fully integrating payment gateway with the help of a Maldivian software company in the year 2021 and continuing to work seamlessly both locally and internationally. We would love to see a day where the many local talents we work with are featured on a global scale alongside Island Bazaar.
MFR: What are some challenges in the Maldivian SME industry?
Fathimath: Some of the challenges we believe are:
- Having a fast, reliable point of contact for business banking issues.
- Getting the most up to date information relevant for SMEs communicated clearly, especially for people who are not well-versed in business.
- The lack of an official, reliable source to get foreign currency for overseas procurement purposes.
- Legal protections for SMEs when dealing with issues of receiving payments from large businesses or corporate clients.
Policy makers can address such issues by listening to feedback from SMEs regarding these issues when making policies and implementing them. They could also streamline the process of starting a business, offering guidance, support, and incentives, such as giving people small loans without collateral. Helping local producers to sustain their business through challenges faced due to COVID-19.