How I Made It

Sulafa Silim, Founder of a Health Wellness Social Club for WOC

Sulafa Silim is the founder of Dawa Apothecary, a Toronto-based health and wellness space for women of colour. Here, she tells FLARE how she made it.

Sulafa Silim wears white shirt and blazer with gold hoops

Sulafa Silim, @dawa.apothecary

How do you describe your job to your family?

I am the owner/founder/curator of Dawa Apothecary, a health wellness social club providing access and opportunity for women of colour. The various descriptions family use to describe my business are interesting: they often refer to it as either a project or initiative—it makes me realize that the needle hasn’t shifted for female entrepreneurs, particularly ones that are service-driven but also women-centered.  Women-centred businesses are seen as soft or non-profit work and aren’t seen as a vital business market or need.

Where did you go to school and what did you study?

I have a masters degree in multimedia journalism from Bournemouth University in the UK ; it was a pivotal program in terms of thinking how to shape narratives online.

What was your first paying gig out of school? (In your field, or not.)

At one point I had three gigs: temping for the MS Society; hitting the lines as a telemarketer supporting the social sector and also working at the jewelry counter at the Bay.

What’s the weirdest gig you’ve ever done solely for money?

I’ve taken every opportunity to make money as a form of survival, including selling household water jugs door-to-door in Ottawa to make ends meet.

Name one piece of career advice you always give.

‘We don’t save lives.’  Your worth is not wrapped in the urgency of the work. Learn to prioritize and don’t be a slave to the knee-jerk mentality that workplaces reward.

What’s the worst career advice you’ve ever gotten?

Recently I heard an executive say that stress is part of being in the working world; so if you want to succeed you should strive for imbalance. However what she failed to mention is that sustained stress has a negative impact on your livelihood and your overall quality of life.

How would you describe your industry in terms of representation and inclusivity?

Health and wellness is a white, privileged woman’s industry. So as a plus-size Black, immigrant, Muslim woman, my goal is to trump the ‘conventional’ idea of perfection and idealism and infuse integrity and authenticity in my work. I come from people who are full of nuance, vibrancy and their own traditions of health and wellness, and I want to merge those traditions with what exists in Canada and the western world in general.

What’s the most pressing issue facing women in your industry right now? What would fix it?

Access, opportunity, funding, space, time and mentorship. Where are the incubators for women who aren’t working in the tech fields? Where is the funding to upskill? Where are the opportunities for women of colour in the health and wellness ecosystem, without tokenism?

I believe Canada has a rich entrepreneurial ecosystem that is focused on a few industries and my solution is to create avenues for more funding opportunities and training for business owners/entrepreneurs.

Do you think you earn a similar wage as your male counterparts in your industry?

As a female entrepreneur? No. As a Black, Muslim immigrant? No. I am not at the table with venture capitalists and often this is seen as a ‘little woman’ thing; in other words, when women of a specific demographic are the key stakeholders of a business, they’re perceived as having little purchase or decision-making power.

When you’re feeling low about your work, what’s the one thing you always do/watch/read/listen to bring yourself back up again?

I listen to my cheerleaders—people who remind me that I am on my life’s  purpose;  that I am meant to support people in making positive impacts on their holistic health.

I also lean on siblings and my parents for different reasons: my father for his tenacity and his ability to push through adversity or naysayers, my mother for her fearlessness and her ability to say, whisper or yell words of wisdom, like Swahili sayings such as ‘haraka haraka haina baraka,’ which means ‘blessing don’t come from rushing.’

Lastly, I really focus on my purpose and intention; I remove myself from the space or the challenge and free myself to be me. Who I am outside the business is very important to me.

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