They met in the Maldives, studied their individual crafts in Hamilton, and now Shazly and Ismail Rasheed are driving two flourishing Lower Hutt-based enterprises – both with distinct business models.
Located in the middle of the Indian Ocean, the Maldives is the flattest country on earth – a series of atolls where no ground surface exceeds three metres above sea level.
By the end of the century, thanks to climate change, it’s predicted the Maldives will lose almost 80 percent of its land area* – prompting its president to announce in 2008 an interest in purchasing a new homeland for the country’s estimated 373,000 people.
For Shazly Rasheed, growing up in the Maldives was a special time of fun, laughter and long hot days on sparkling white beaches. But there were scarier moments too, such as tidal waves flooding the streets of the capital Male, where she lived.
For Maldivians global warming is very real.
Through her brother-in-law Shazly met Ismail. As soon as they married they began making serious plans for their future. With the country’s uncertain outlook, particularly around politics, the economy, and rising Islamic extremism, they could see no future there for raising children.
Ismail had travelled extensively, spent time in the US and UK and, wanting to study law, had been offered placements by universities in Australia, Canada and New Zealand.
“I chose to come to New Zealand [with Shazly] simply because I had friends living here.”
It was 1995 when they both arrived on these shores he recalls.
“It was definitely the right choice.”
When Ismail was given the opportunity to study at Waikato University, Shazly saw the chance to train as a hairdresser – a desire she’d carried with her since childhood.
“I remember my mum always dressed us beautifully and took us to proper hair salons to cut our hair. I was fascinated with hair and how the hairdresser could magically create different cuts,” she says.
In Hamilton Shazly finished top in her class and was offered an apprenticeship. A nine-month battle to get a work visa followed, crucial for completing the apprenticeship. She’s grateful for the support and belief from her boss back then, who kept her job open, and whom she regarded as a “father figure”.
Ismail knew it would be tough to break into New Zealand’s legal profession. So after some market research he decided to focus on the somewhat unpopular, but highly demanding and complex area of tax law. After getting an A+ in all tax papers, he secured a position at Inland Revenue’s head office – which necessitated a move to the capital, and a somewhat reluctant one for Shazly.
After finding a home in Lower Hutt, Shazly began work at a local hair salon – a job arranged through her previous employer. Over six years she steadily built up a considerable clientele. It was only a matter of time before she would open her own salon.
Having grown up in a business family back in the Maldives, Shazly had seen the challenges and rewards of doing business. “So it’s really in my blood,” she says.
With Ismail’s encouragement, Shazly stepped out of her comfort zone and opened Salon @ Shazly in 2005. It rebranded to Shazly Experience Hair and Day Spa in 2013 after she closed the doors on another passion of hers – a clothing boutique (Boutique @ Shazly) featuring her own designs.
Through all those years, while Shazly was winning numerous hairdressing and business awards, including Best Small Business award from the Hutt Valley Chamber of Commerce in 2009, and Most Inspirational Role Model award from Her Business in 2010, one major concern still weighed heavily on her mind. Shazly had never forgotten the devastating impact of global warming on her tiny homeland. The damage to the Maldives from the 2004 tsunami provided a stark reminder.
Last year when the 41-year-old mother of two decided to move Shazly Experience to new premises in Lower Hutt’s refurbished art deco Post Office building, she had already spent a year investigating how to set up a ‘green’ salon – working with the Sustainability Business Network and the eco-team at Hutt City Council.
The new salon would be New Zealand’s first purpose-built sustainable salon.
Salon with a purpose
The burning question for Shazly when designing her new salon was ‘why can’t we meet the needs of our generation without compromising the ability of the next generation?’
Thanks to extensive planning and research, the environmental credentials of the new salon, which opened late February this year, are comprehensive.
Energy efficient LED lighting, water-saving devices, and a zero-to-landfill policy are some of the more obvious initiatives. Less obvious is the composting of all hair, the use of recycled tinfoil, recycling magazines and, most importantly, choosing an environmentally-friendly range of ethical hair products, including CHI hair colour – ‘the first ammonia-free colour in the world not tested on animals’.
“We were looking for not just natural, but sustainable products as well,” explains Shazly. “So we spent several months of testing and trialling on different hair types and skin types.”
She believes the hair industry is slowly working towards more natural, sustainable products. Even the bigger brands are getting on board.
“I truly believe it’s the future of the industry.”
Her eight staff, all trained in-house, are enthusiastic about the changes. They appreciate the absence of nasty chemicals in the new products. And it goes without saying that clients are extremely positive about the salon’s plans to go green too.
Sustainable salons are already big in Europe and experiencing growth in the US. Shazly hopes to be a role model in New Zealand and encourages other hair salons to go down the sustainable path.
“If everyone does a tiny little bit, such as recycling, it all helps make a difference to the wider community,” she says. “It also helps grow your business because people are now much more conscious of what they’re putting in, and on, their bodies.”
Law practice with a difference
While Shazly was developing and building her own business over a decade, Ismail was her number one supporter. But when Ismail started his own specialised tax and immigration law practice, IR Legal, in October 2015, the tables were turned and it was time for Shazly to wave the supporter’s flag for her husband.
Ismail knew he would never reach his full potential in his government job.
“Lawyers need challenging work and need to be creative for themselves and their clients,” he explains. “Whether you’re interpreting a case in a novel way, trying to grow the pie in a negotiation, or reframing a bad fact situation, you need to hone your creativity. You cannot do that if you are working in a large organisation under the direct control of micro-management, or employed as a staff solicitor in big law firm.”
Ismail had the expertise, experience, confidence and energy; he also had a passion for two specialised areas of law – tax and immigration.
“Tax is a very specialist area. Most accountants are not qualified to offer tax law advice and most lawyers do not practice in that area. In fact, very few law students study tax in law school because it is too hard,” says Ismail.
Although he immigrated to New Zealand 22 years ago, Ismail still identifies with the hopes and dreams of today’s migrants. “I understand their cultural needs and the feelings of displacement they experience when removed from the family support, social values and cultural habits they understood. How they miss the comfort and security offered by the country they’re leaving behind.
“It’s very satisfying to know that I can help people who are in search of a new life and a new home.”
IR Legal can be described as a ‘new-school’ law practice. Ismail quickly realised that most of his potential clients were socialising on social media. He had seen research in the US on the benefits of social media marketing for lawyers. In the US at least one-third of consumers are increasingly relying on social media – with Facebook, Instagram and Twitter the most popular – to make their purchasing decisions. And that includes sourcing the services of a lawyer.
Ismail designed his own website, templates and Facebook page. The day the Law Society approval came through, Ismail ‘went live’ that night.
His marketing strategy paid off instantly. Starting from scratch, in his first week, just through Google AdWords and Facebook, he secured nine clients – three professional firms, one Maori trust, two corporate entities and three individuals.
“After 12 months my law firm generated more revenue than I earnt as a senior solicitor at Inland Revenue. That’s more than the average barrister or a partner in a medium-size law firm would earn in a year.
“So yes, business growth really exceeded expectations. It’s ‘holy guacamole’!”
Ismail runs his cloud-based practice from home, but has access to serviced offices in central Wellington and Auckland, and another ‘virtual office’ at an associate law firm in Lower Hutt. He also partners with several specialist contractors as and when necessary.
He’s particularly proud of his online presence which he personally feeds through daily postings on Instagram and Facebook, which after 18 months already has 3000 likes.
Search ‘immigration lawyer’ or ‘tax lawyer’ on Google and “nine times out of ten” IR Legal comes up number one.
“You must remember that websites are static – whereas social media sites are active,” he says.
Ismail is also satisfied by the results he achieves for his clients. “In the past year I saved seven businesses from bankruptcies or liquidations. Those clients instructed me after their accountants and lawyers failed to negotiate an arrangement with Inland Revenue.”
He has also clocked up many successful residence visa applications, and has a dogged determination to achieve a positive result in immigration cases that at first may appear daunting and complex – even if he has to work late into
Running his own practice makes Ismail not only a lawyer, but a business owner, and that makes him more sympathetic and understanding towards clients’ needs, he believes.
“You must constantly think about risk management, financial management, employee issues, upskilling staff, regulatory compliance issues, client care and conduct rules, marketing and business sustainability, just to name a few.
“It is a huge challenge that a lawyer who works for a government department or large organisation, or a staff solicitor in a law firm, can hardly imagine.”
Ismail’s goal is to build a lawyers’ network on social media.
“I have a growing number of US, UK and Australian law firms following me on Instagram. Eventually, I’d like to form a strategic alliance of international lawyers who share the same values and ethos as me. I know it’s ambitious, but I can do it.”
Structure and discipline
With two successful businesses and two boys (aged nine and eight), the Rasheed household has every reason to be chaotic – but Shazly and Ismail’s expert planning and organisational skills ensures every day is structured and everything runs with almost military precision.
“I always look at what’s on for the boys for the week, such as piano lessons or cricket, and plan who is doing what,” says Shazly. “I also put the jobs that Ismail has to do in his diary so there’s no confusion.
“We both like to be involved in the boys’ everyday life, so we plan our life to ensure that one of us is always with them. I work two late nights a week, so in the weekends I prepare extra meals to leave in the fridge.”
Her recipe for a successful marriage is spending time together and communication.
“We always have one complete work-free day in the weekend to spend together as a family. We love lunching or dining out in the weekend and it’s really nice to just sit at a table and talk without distractions.”
Of course, talk at home can sometimes turn to business, and the couple are always happy to share marketing ideas and opinions with each other.
What is obvious is the mutual admiration between Shazly and Ismail around each other’s business skills and tenacity.
“What I’ve learnt from my association with Shazly is that small business isn’t for the faint hearted,” says Ismail. “It’s for the brave, the patient and the persistent. It’s for the overcomer.
“I would not have gone out as a sole practitioner without that business experience. So, I thank Shazly for allowing me to be involved in her business until I started my own.”
Both believe their life and business challenges have been crucial to moulding their skillsets and character. And the key to achieving their goals has been planning – the couple has always written down six-month, one-year and three-yearly plans since the day they were married.
As for the success of her brand (and her name is her brand), Shazly puts it down to having never compromised her services, her passion for learning, and the desire for ongoing education in order to be the leader in the hair and wellness industry. Her short-term goal is to train and educate more people on the benefits of sustainable hair and beauty. Long-term, she hopes to open “a few more” salons around the country – maybe one in the Maldives.
Clients already travel from as far away as Levin for the Shazly ‘experience’ – which includes such extras as a free neck and shoulder massage with every hair wash.
Her advice for other budding salon owners?
“Plan well, work hard, be determined – and when things get tough, don’t quit.
“And never accept ‘OK’ as a standard.”