In 2001, Raana Smith started Silver Envelope, a company that sells party decorations, greeting cards, wrapping paper and other celebratory trimmings with a Muslim twist. Now the mother of a preschooler, she balances a growing worldwide business and family life, all from her home in Doha.
How did Silver Envelope get started?
I grew up in a multicultural family with an American father and a Pakistani, Muslim mother. We celebrated all sorts of holidays—Christmas, Easter, Halloween—but when it came to the Muslim holidays, I noticed there wasn’t the same stuff available in the stores.
Yes, cards, decorations, wrapping paper, all of the fun trappings people in the West use to celebrate the holidays.
So you decided to start a company!
No, that’s the funny thing; I never set out to start a company! I just have a creative side, and I decided to make some cards to celebrate Eid. Then people started asking me if I could make them some cards to send out, and it took off from there.
Why did you name your company “The Silver Envelope”?
I wanted a name that everyone could relate to, that wasn’t limited to one culture or demographic. I love silver and the way it sparkles, and I thought my company could help people add a sparkle to their celebrations. Silver Envelope is a great name to present that sparkle to the public.
Where were you living when you started the business?
I was living in the United States, and then my husband and I decided to relocate to Jordan where we could study Arabic. When we moved to Doha, the business moved with us.
Has the business changed since you have been in Doha?
It has really changed. We started with just a few greeting cards, and I did everything, from create the designs to filling the orders myself. Now we have 150 unique SKUs [products] and ship all over the world. I have found that people in Doha are very open to celebrating the Muslim holidays in a new way. I now have products in several retail stores, and that’s a big change for me.
What’s it like seeing your products in stores?
Silver Envelope has been mostly an online business, so I have been very curious to go to the store and learn what people like. The best thing is to see people giggle when they look at one of my products, because they see a new and fun way to celebrate Eid or Ramadan.
Tell me about your designs.
I do a lot of the designing myself, and I create what I think is beautiful. I love traditional Islamic designs, and I am finding people are looking for cards with that imagery for other occasions, too.
You also create children’s products?
I spoke with a designer who works for a greeting card company, and I asked her, what are some images that resonate with children, regardless of culture? She mentioned things like ladybugs and rockets and robots, fun and cute images that children gravitate to. Then we gave these images a Muslim twist: the giraffe wears a hijab and the robot wears a kufi. It’s joyful and I think it represents the celebratory spirit of the holidays.
What types of products do you have for children?
I am so proud of the children’s party kit. It comes with invitations, a pin-it game, decorations, cookie cutters, cupcake wrappers. It’s a wonderful way to plan a party with the children—easy for the parents, everything is there and the family can prepare and celebrate the holiday together. I create products that I know my son and I would love. I test them out on him, as well as his friends and their moms. It’s great: playgroups become market tests!
How has your work changed since you became a mum?
I have to be much more productive in a shorter amount of time, and I get less sleep! I wake at 4:30 am and work until 6 am, and then again after I drop off my son at school. When I’m with him, he’s got my undivided attention. After he sleeps at night, I try to work for an hour or so before bed. I’ve hired people to help me, which has increased my productivity.
What advice do you have for women who have an idea for a home-based business?
Test the market before jumping in. Start small, have a plan and work within your means. And remember your priorities: for me, my family is a priority, my son is growing so fast and I want to make the most of the time I have with him. He won’t be this small for long.
How do you approach the creative process when you know you are communicating a deeper, spiritual meaning?
The products we create are to add a festive sparkle to the holidays. The deeper meaning is already there in the atmosphere of the Muslim homes: the fasting each day, remembering the divine and worshipping in the days and nights of Ramadan. We make products to amplify and add a festive atmosphere. It’s about making memories during Ramadan and Eid, creating a special time that brings loved ones together
To learn more about Raana and Silver Envelope, visit her online at www.silverenvelope.com. Silver Envelope products for Ramadan and Eid can be found in WH Smith, I-Spy (City Centre) and the Tribe Bookstores in Qatar University and Education City.