Woman for the women
Nawal Haddad / @nawalhaddad: Founder of Nawal Haddad Fitness (@nawalhaddadfitness), boss behind GLOWco (@glowco.shop), doesn’t sleep so she has enough time to divide between her fitness routine, her businesses and her family
I started my own fitness company offering ladies-only, hijab-friendly fitness classes eight years ago, when I realized that some women feel shy and self-conscious exercising around men. I wanted to foster a woman-centric environment filled with feminine energy that women felt comfortable exercising in. These classes were also hijab-friendly for Malay Muslim women who are more comfortable working out around other Malay Muslim women. I started out teaching one class a week when I was still working my previous job doing cancer stem cell research. It was a stable job that paid well, but I didn’t want to do it for the rest of my life. When the demand for my classes grew to two to three a week, I entertained the crazy thought that maybe doing this would be able to sustain me. I ended up running with that crazy thought and took the huge risk of quitting my job to pursue my passion by starting Nawal Haddad Fitness. You never know if a business is going to work out, so I gave myself a timeline of one year. If things didn’t work within that year, I would call it quits.
The beginning was a struggle. Social media marketing wasn’t a thing eight years ago, so I spent a few hours a day giving out flyers advertising my fitness classes at the MRT station near my house. I also stuffed these same flyers into random mailboxes in the area I was teaching. It was tough. Many people who took my flyers, glanced at them and went, “No, thank you.” I had a lot of that. I didn’t earn anything for a month because I offered free trial classes in hopes of getting people through my door. The very first class I taught had a grand total of five people, all of whom were my friends; fortunately for me, I started seeing more new, unfamiliar faces pop up in my classes after a month or two.
"Not everyone has the same access to the fitness instructors and exercise venues that I do, and I didn’t want to waste it."
I have to constantly think of ideas to market my brand. But fortunately as the business grew, so did my capability to market it to a wider audience. In 2018, I reached out to the Breast Cancer Foundation, proposing a fitness-cum-charity event after being inspired by a relative of mine who was diagnosed with breast cancer. About two hundred women showed up to the event, including many breast cancer survivors we had personally invited. We worked out for a good hour and a half to the beat of Latin music blaring over the speakers, and at the end of it, participants could make donations to help fund patient treatment. Not everyone has the same access to the fitness instructors and exercise venues that I do, and I didn’t want to waste it. I wanted to do something for the breast cancer community, especially after the eye-opening experience I had seeing my relative through surgery and chemotherapy sessions. A business has to make money to be sustainable, but I am lucky in the sense that mine also serves a cause and a community I am passionate about.
The same applies to GLOWco, which I started six years after opening Nawal Haddad Fitness. GLOWco is Singapore’s first modest activewear marketplace, which I founded as a complement to my fitness classes in hopes of closing a huge gap in the market. The activewear available in the market tends to be a bit revealing, which makes it unsuitable for the Malay Muslim women who attend my classes, myself included. If the piece looked good, then it wasn’t modest enough. If it was modest enough, then it wasn’t sweat wicking enough. I started GLOWco so these women could leave their house in activewear without having to pop into the changing room to change before class starts, and to be able to leave class and head home the same way they came. Helping women feel good about themselves is extremely rewarding, whether it is through a fun workout, making an outfit they think they look great in or celebrating the hardships in life that they have overcome. Women should empower each other. After all, if we don’t, then who will?