Hana grew up in a small Tunisian town in the northern part of Africa. Coming from humble beginnings, the love of family has always been a prized form of wealth to Hana and her family. As her family spreads through Mediterranean, Arab, and African tribal roots. “Parents, sister, aunts, uncles, and cousins. I grew up in a really small house with a lot of my family!” Hana exclaimed. It became apparent that Hana’s upbringing instilled quality values that enable much of her success today. She admitted, “I was a really mature child, haha. Yeah, I was like a really big nerd.” Most people would affectionately describe Hana as a person with an old soul, creative spirit, and a young heart.
Hana and I sat down in the main space of her new store, Soul.eil (Pronounced S0-Lay), located in the Arts district of Richmond. Still in the pre-grand opening phase, it was special to see her online boutique become a physical reality. Hana’s line features hand selected vintage pieces from some of the world’s top independent designers. She received her sociology degree from Virginia Commonwealth University and got her start in fashion as a buyer for Annie Creamcheese in Washington DC. Her brand has been featured in a plethora of vogue publications. Covered in Nylon, RVa Mag, Ink, and SocialnNewYork.com, just to name a few. What’s special about Hana is her culture, her humility, and her compassion for others. She fosters hope and inspiration through the curation of fashion. That’s dope! I present a cultured visionary with a modern savvy for business in this week’s #ShineHardconversation.
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Who did you look up to as a kid?
Hana: Definitely my grandpa. I grew up in a poor town with my Dad’s side of the family. My grandpa, who’s my mom’s dad, used to travel to America to visit me and take me traveling to different countries. He wanted to make sure to raise me around art and museums. He bought me a piano so I could learn classical music. I was really lucky to have that experience, being from such a small town. He allowed me to become a more cultured person. He inspired me and taught me important things from a young age.
What is your passion and when did you know?
Hana: Well, I don’t have just one passion. I feel like I’m inspired by different things everyday. They all mold together to become what I’m doing at the moment. I have a passion for many things, right now it’s vintage clothing.
I’m the co-founder of a non-profit, “Sanctuary.” It’s based on an open-minds program that’s inside the Richmond city jail. I was taking a class there and mass incarceration is an issue that’s dear to me. I was inspired and I reached out to my professor who was teaching and we talked about turning it into a center for when people get out. We’re opening soon. We have open mics and a recording studios. It’s ultimately a safe space for people who have been incarcerated.
So tell me about Soul.eil and how it got started.
Hana: It’s pretty much a “store story” of my life. Soul.eil means “sunshine” in French. From the aesthetic to the clothing. It’s reflective of my childhood and my upbringing. Where I’m from and where I visited. It’s my brand that I’m growing and the first stop was the store itself here in Richmond.
Where do you get the idea for your collections? Do you design all of them?
Hana: No, most of them are vintage. They’re pieces I’ve collected from the 60’s up until the 70’s, some 90’s pieces. One’s I’ve collected for a long time from many different places. A lot people, when they think of vintage they stick to the American “Marilyn Monroe” vintage. I’m inspired by the things my grandma used to wear. Kaftans, and head wraps, and beautiful colors! I’m definitely inspired by African fashion. Although I did design a few pieces the last time I went to Tunisia. Those are in the forecast for the future.
Why should someone shop with Soul.eil? What’s special about your brand?
Hana: All pieces are hand-picked and you probably won’t find a lot of the pieces anywhere else! But also, the shop is really a cool place to be, though. On most days throughout the week, you can enjoy live music or poetry or maybe someone even doing some live art. It’s just a great gathering of many Richmond’s creative souls.
What inspires you to succeed?
Hana: I want to be able to take care of my family. I think that’s what everybody would say because it’s the most important thing. My biggest dream was to bring my grandma from Tunisia to America, but then she passed last December, which is what kind of sent my life in overdrive. That’s when I started my online business. I was like OK this is it. Life is short. I need to start this now so I have time to take care of the people who are taking care of me.
What has been the biggest challenge for you in your career?
Hana: Probably that I always want to do a million things, so it kind of distracts me from what I’m doing at the moment. A lot of people get mad at me for that haha. I’ll start a project then drop everything I’m doing and start another project, which leaves too many unfinished things. It’s just challenging because I have so many ideas to limit them to one.
What frustrates you the most about today’s culture?
Hana: Well, I will say, what frustrates me at the moment is there is no more originality. But being in Richmond, it’s kind of changing my perception. I haven’t been here long, but I’m starting to feel that in DC everywhere you go it’s the same people, same clothing, same taste in music. I see in Richmond, there’s a really great community of individual people with individual minds and interesting stories. So I guess that’s changing.
What accomplishment are you most proud of?
Hana: I’m proud of starting this. I went through a few periods of my life that were really, really low and I almost dropped out of school and I was failing everything that I was doing. It was really hard getting out of that little hole. So, like I said when my grandma passed my life changed. I’m going to go back to school. I’m going to start the business. I’m going to start doing things. I’m doing what I said I would and I’m proud of that.
What would you say is the #1 factor to your success?
Hana: Support System. I think that’s important for anyone that’s successful. No one has really done it on their own.
What are your long term goals for the brand?
Hana: Soul.eil in different cities, whether it’s a boutique, art gallery, or restaurant. For a start. 😉
What advice do you have for aspiring business professionals out there?
Hana: I mean it’s really cliche, but seriously just follow your heart. Don’t do what’s on trend. A lot of people see what other people are doing and see the success in that, so they say, “I’m going to do this too.” but there’s not always enough heart in it and it comes out looking very unauthentic. So if you’re going to start something make sure you have your own vision. Make sure you know what you want to do and not just what’s popular.
Johnny: Steer clear of the trend! There’s never any traffic when you stay in your lane! Hana, welcome to the @ShineHardFamily!