When Nora Bouzihay launched Nowara Co., the first Arkansas-based hijab and scarf company, in March 2018, she said she did so to honor her late grandmother, who had nicknamed her “nowara” as a child. Bouzihay, 25, said the word means “flower” in Arabic, and her grandmother used the term of endearment to encourage Bouzihay to “blossom into a flower and inspire young women and girls to be something in life.”
Bouzihay said Nowara Co.’s mission is to empower women and girls by providing them high-quality scarves they can wear in multiple ways, with emphasis on women being able to choose how they do so. For some, this can mean wearing the scarf in the hijab style, with the scarf wrapped around the head to conceal or partially cover hair, and for others the scarf is a purely stylish choice — one entirely separate from religion.
“When [my grandmother] passed away in 2017, I was wondering, ‘How can I keep her legacy going? How do I inspire young women and girls?’ ” Bouzihay said. “And [after] I got my master’s [degree], I thought, ‘Let me bring women and girls together through scarves, empower them through scarves, because women and girls wear them in all kinds of ways.’”
In the year since its launch, Nowara Co. has sold scarves at pop-up shops, festivals and markets; through its online shop, the company has received orders from Abu Dhabi, Dubai; Germany; Spain; and Canada. Bouzihay said the scarves are handmade by a vendor in China and then shipped to her home in Jonesboro, where she then sews Nowara Co.’s tags onto the scarves, packages them and sends them out to customers.
Nowara Co.’s selection includes several different shades of jersey and chiffon scarves, as well as a grid-patterned viscose collection. Scarves are priced between $10-$20 and arrive packaged in a small reusable drawstring bag. The company’s Instagram account features models wearing the scarves as hair wraps, headbands, turbans, around their necks and in the hijab style.
In February, Nowara Co. was selected as a participant in Momentum, a five-week small business accelerator program hosted by Remix Ideas and the Arkansas Women’s Business Center, a part of Winrock International. In March, the company hosted a fundraising gala at the Clinton Presidential Center in collaboration with the authors of “Muslims of the World,” a book based on the popular Instagram account that shares stories of Muslims living in the U.S. and around the world.
Bouzihay, whose family immigrated to the United States from Morocco, said her Muslim and Moroccan heritage, as well as her international travels, have inspired her to ensure Nowara Co.’s mission reaches women and girls around the globe. For every three scarves purchased, one scarf will be donated to a refugee. Bouzihay added that she plans on delivering those scarves herself when she visits a Rohingya Muslim refugee camp in Bangladesh later this year.
“[Nowara Co.’s mission] is beautiful now, and to give a scarf to someone in need is even more beautiful,” Bouzihay said. “That women are coming together to help that cause has been a blessing, for sure. You have to have meaning behind everything. And the meaning is going to connect with your customers. … When you’re genuine, people know that. They recognize that.”
Bouzihay said that while she wants Nowara Co. to empower all women and girls, she places special emphasis on being a positive example for young Muslim women.
“One thing that I always want to do is to be a role model for young girls, especially young girls that come from my background,” Bouzihay said. “I can say, ‘Hey, I’ve done it, you can do it, too.’ Sometimes [representation] is missing in the media. Now it’s slowly becoming more known, but [I want] to give them that example. You can do something with your life. You can be whatever you want to be. You’ve just got to have faith.”
Bouzihay, who began wearing her hijab in 2016, said she hopes the diversity of Nowara Co.’s models and customers will help people understand the multiple ways men and women wear scarves, as well as the different meanings behind the garment. Bouzihay said the scarf means something different to every individual who wears it, including those who wear it for nonreligious reasons.
“When I [first] wore the scarf, there was a different sense of beauty that came with it,” Bouzihay said. “I never felt [that] confident in my life until I wore a scarf. And some people see me selling them and [think,] ‘It’s a religious thing.’ So it’s redefining what a scarf means, because people wear it in different ways and feel beautiful in [their own] way.”
Wearing the hijab can make her a “walking target” for harassment, Bouzihay said. She’s found it takes “a whole different type of strength” to wear the scarf, and it makes her “even more proud to represent myself in that capacity.”
Bouzihay said she is the first woman in her family to graduate from high school. She holds a master’s degree from the Clinton School of Public Service and is a doctoral student in education at UA Little Rock. Bouzihay said her access to education is not something she takes for granted.
“My high school diploma was for me, my undergrad diploma was for my mom, my master’s degree was for my grandmother, but my doctorate degree is for everybody that wasn’t able to have an education,” Bouzihay said. “My whole family that wasn’t able to do it — it’s not for me, it’s for them. … Because they can’t, I did it for them.”
Bouzihay said she’s finished with her coursework for her doctorate, so she’s now studying for her qualifying exams and beginning her dissertation. She hopes to continue to grow and expand Nowara Co.’s operations by attending more festivals and doing more out-of-state travel with her products.