Sisters start up children’s clothing store

Married at 14 and a mother at 15, Malak Akkam thought her chances of an education and a career were little more than a fantasy.

The 34-year-old Syrian refugee, her sister, Nour (23), and their mother, Aicha Dawara, came to New Zealand with nothing after their home in Aleppo was levelled by the civil war.

Now the sisters are studying accounting together at Otago Polytechnic and have opened their own clothing store in George St.

Despite losing their brother and father, Malak and Nour have put their lives back together, piece by piece, by studying English, and now training in accountancy.

Former Syrian refugee sisters (from left) Malak and Nour Akkam, and their mother, Aicha Dawara,...
Former Syrian refugee sisters (from left) Malak and Nour Akkam, and their mother, Aicha Dawara, have opened their own children’s clothing store in George St, Dunedin. PHOTO: STEPHEN JAQUIERY
"Everything was new for us. Culture, people, language — it was very difficult," Malak explained.

"I married early and I couldn’t continue my study [in Aleppo], but when I arrived in Dunedin I had a good chance to start again," she said.

She is taking every opportunity that comes her way, and is running with it.

Earlier this year, the sisters opened their first store in Dunedin — a children’s clothing shop called Katakit.

The sisters spent months planning, budgeting, and negotiating with Turkish-based clothing suppliers.

Language barriers, time differences and gender stereotypes were some of the hurdles they faced along the way, Malak said.

"Especially outside of New Zealand. When people heard us and knew that we are women, they think of us as weak."

She said she persevered because she wanted to be a role model for her family.

"I want my children to see me succeed so that they have a goal ... to be successful."

She said they opened the clothing store because there was a demand for it in the community, and also because it was a great opportunity to put into practice what they had learnt in their accounting lectures.

"And we think in our future we will learn more from this job and our mistakes, evolve our idea and become more successful with the business."

Nour said they were taking a consumer-oriented approach to their clothing store.

"We asked people what they like and what they are looking for and would prefer.

"We don’t think about the money, we only think about people and what they like, and seek to cover their needs."

Ultimately, the sisters aimed to expand their business to include adult clothing, before attempting to start their own accounting firm together.

Their overall objective was to demonstrate the importance of education and how it could change people’s lives.



Now that is an inspiring story! Good luck to both of you.

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