Saira Khan – Miamoo: Extraordinary Entrepreneur

Many will remember Saira Khan as the runner up on the first ever series of The Apprentice in 2005.  She made quite an impression on the British public as the fiercely ambitious, free-spirited Muslim woman who continuously kicked against cultural constraints.  She has come a long way since then, and in October 2006 she created Miamoo, the organic skin care range for babies.

The company name is a play on her niece’s name, Miya, who was called Miyamoo by the family when she was a baby.  After playing around with it, Saira eventually settled on Miamoo.

Much has been made of the fact that Saira, who was born and raised in Derbyshire, comes from a traditional Muslim family.  Her appearance on The Apprentice has been described as that of … “a power-suited parody of post-feminism and modern multiculturalism. She wore her religion lightly, sipping champagne and shrugging off the need to pray five times a day, despite coming from a traditional Pakistani family.”  But what is sometimes forgotten is that Saira didn’t go on the show to showcase her heritage or her religion – she entered a competition with her peers to win the coveted accolade of working alongside Sir Alan Sugar in his Amstrad empire, a feat she nearly pulled off.  Despite not winning, her effusive personality and go-get-‘em attitude ensured that she would not be easily forgotten!

The idea for Miamoo came one day when Saira was walking down her local high street.  She observed a young mother in one shop carefully reading all of the labels on the skin care products for babies and then come away without buying anything.   On pondering this situation later that day, she decided that she would create her own range of organic skin care for babies.

It was this take the bull by the horns attitude that secured her a post in Sir Alan Sugar’s organisation for six months despite being the runner up. By her own account she was well looked after but unhappy; she wanted more.  Working at Amstrad helped fuel her belief that she was really an entrepreneur at heart.  “My dream, even before The Apprentice, was to have my own business.  I had always compared myself to my bosses, and realised if they could do it, so could I.  I was getting a fantastic wage at Amstrad, Alan Sugar really looked after me, but it’s not about the money, it’s about lifestyle and satisfaction.”

Running Miamoo gives Saira tremendous satisfaction.  She has been very hands on in every stage of the development of the products.  Running her own company has been a steep learning curve for her, but she has taken it fully in her stride: “It’s taught me so much about business, it’s incredible: I’ve had to get to grips with PR, marketing, book-keeping, forecasts and patents.  I’ve been responsible for the packaging, for formulating the product; I worked with chemists and manufacturers testing it, I’ve worked with my designer and I’ve come up with the names for each product.”

There are some who question whether her success as a business woman is due to her appearance on The Apprentice.  Her products have received a lot of press coverage and she admits that minor celebrity had helped to open some doors but refuses to play on that.  “I believe that in order for me to be a genuine entrepreneur, the product and the brand have got to be good, and that’ll speak for itself.”

sairaandzacEarlier this month, the BBC showed Saira and her former colleague on The Apprentice Nick Hewer, take on the second leg of the BBC’s round-the-world adventure to raise money for Children In Need.  Their journey took them to Turkey, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan, an experience Saira thoroughly enjoyed.  She recalls: “Because it was a race against time we didn’t get much of a feel for the places, but my highlight was travelling with Nick and getting into mischief!”

Saira is joining us on November 18th as one of our Extraordinary Entrerpeneurs for Women’s enterprise day.

Saira Khan facts
• She has written a self-help book called PUSH for success
• She runs an orienteering business called West is East
• She is the eldest of four children
• Though brought up strictly at home, she had boyfriends at University…she just didn’t tell her parents!

Belinda Nnoka
Belinda Nnoka

Belinda was a staff writer for Women Unlimited from 2009-2010

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