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Zareen Roohi Ahmed Brings Gift Wellness Products to Market

Zareen Roohi Ahmed gift wellness

Zareen Roohi Ahmed Brings Gift Wellness Products to Market is an excerpt from her book “The Gift” telling the story of her journey to getting Gift Wellness products on store shelves.

Following the Allergy & Free From Show in 2013 I made contact with a buyer from a well-known health-food chain who had given me her business card during the exhibition. Upon reaching out, I was asked by the buyer’s personal assistant to submit an email introducing my company, brand and product range.

Promptly obliging, I was soon contacted by a junior member of the buyer’s team. She expressed enthusiasm and optimism, informing me that the retailer had yet to introduce menstrual products and the company was considering expanding its inventory in this direction. If approved, my products would pioneer the company’s feminine hygiene category. She invited me to present a box of samples in person for final approval. Her enthusiasm was infectious and exciting, but as it turned out, it was too good to last.

The bubble of excitement burst all too soon. Upon my arrival for the meeting with the buyer, the woman’s demeanour faltered noticeably. I could see that she hadn’t expected to meet an Asian woman wearing a headscarf. Born and bred in the West Midlands, I have a distinct English accent, but my name tends to mislead people over the phone, often being misheard as Selene, Elaine or even Lorraine. Typically this leads to light-hearted clarifications or slightly awkward remarks about my ‘sounding English’. This time, however, her reaction was markedly different, unapologetically betraying her disappointment that I wasn’t Caucasian.

The meeting swiftly descended into a farce, her initial anticipation devolving into blatant indifference and disregard for my products. Her aloofness was palpable, reflected in her lack of eye contact and stony countenance. My attempts to highlight the unique features of my tourmaline-infused products and the philanthropic angle of my buy-one-gift-one policy were met with curt dismissals. Abruptly concluding the meeting, she informed me that my brand was too new, lacking the established reputation of some competitors under the company’s consideration, and suggested I reapply when it gained prominence.

Leaving the meeting, I was a whirlpool of frustration and sorrow. Needing to confide in someone who could soothe my frayed nerves before I took any rash steps, I reached out to Ash, my husband, but he was unavailable. Unable to drive while in this emotional state, I called my older brother, Sohail, who has always been a guiding figure in my life, especially since our father’s passing.

As I relayed the events to Sohail, I was so overwhelmed I could barely form coherent sentences. I was heartbroken that my race and appearance had seemingly influenced the decidedly negative experience. Patiently listening to my account, Sohail advised against any immediate reactions, asking that I refrain from responding while in my current emotional

state. He suggested that I take the night to sleep on it and email the buyer who had first made contact the following morning.

That night was far from restful. The next morning, fuelled by a mixture of anxiety and determination, I drafted an email to the buyer outlining the distressing events of the previous day’s meeting. To my astonishment, her response was almost instantaneous. She expressed sincere apologies for any perceived racial discrimination I might have experienced and gave me her word that the matter would be investigated. In addition, she extended a personal invitation for a meeting.

Cautious, but hopeful, I made my way back to the retailer’s Nuneaton headquarters. The buyer was genuinely welcoming, an attitude that drastically contrasted with the earlier reception. She seemed truly interested in my products as I presented them nestled in a craft cardboard box, lined with bright teal paper that matched the tissue surrounding the pads. She mentioned having noticed the flock of women at my Allergy & Free From Show booth, a refreshing acknowledgment after the dismissive treatment from her subordinate.

During our meeting, the buyer showed genuine enthusiasm for Gift’s mission, appreciated the design of my packages and asked all the right questions. The proposal she offered was to list Gift pads subject to certain terms and conditions, which I agreed to provisionally, provided they were favourable. We explored pricing details, with her specifying a 65% profit margin – considerably above the 50% I had accounted for. However, she informed me that this was standard for high-street chains and retailers. Although the company didn’t cover delivery costs, I could incorporate these by implementing a minimum order quantity.

Other requirements were placing an ad in the company’s in-store magazine for customer introduction to Gift pads, and mandatory participation in shop promotions, which occur quarterly and whose costs I would partially bear after each campaign. Payment terms, she stated, were non-negotiable at ninety days, given the risk the company was undertaking with a new brand.

Despite the stringent conditions, I knew that breaking into the high street was critical for elevating brand visibility. I accepted, especially as the buyer mentioned she was considering another European brand, and I didn’t want to miss this opportunity.

Upon reaching my car, I immediately called Sohail to share the thrilling news. As I relayed my journey, tears welled up, streaming down my cheeks. My father, an immigrant who’d moved to Britain in the early sixties, had faced an incessant tide of racism throughout his life. He had always underscored to us, his children, the necessity of exerting twice the effort of our white peers to gain any recognition. These words, ingrained in us, prepared us for future challenges.

This is an adapted book extract from The Gift by Zareen Roohi Ahmed.


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Zareen Roohi Ahmed
Zareen Roohi Ahmed
Dr Zareen Roohi Ahmed is an entrepreneur, philanthropist and founder and CEO of Gift Wellness, which produces a range of sustainable, natural, high-quality sanitary products that empower women while promoting kindness and compassion. She is also the founder and Chair of The Halimah Trust, through which she transformed personal grief into global good, founding the charity in honour of her daughter. The organisation works to improve the lives of orphaned and needy children through education and responding to the needs of people in crisis.  In addition, Zareen holds a PhD in multiculturalism, specialising in women’s rights, has spearheaded urban regeneration initiatives, represented Britain on foreign office delegations as CEO of the British Muslim Forum and is a well sought-after keynote speaker and podcast guest. Zareen's new book, The Gift, tells the story of how she turned a personal tragedy into real action and purpose, embarking on a journey to build a global business for good.

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